Mission Possible: Anti–Human Trafficking

A social justice ministry 

by Major A. A. Margareta Ivarsson

A tri–fold adventure has impacted my social–justice journey; being a female leader with two passports (Sweden/USA), serving in lay and ordained ministry as a Salvationist influenced by Scandinavian Ecumenism and Wesleyan love, and accompanied by degrees in music, ministry, and spiritual formation. 

Most recently, my journey has touched the margins of society in New York City through P.E.A.R.L. Essence Outreach, an effort of The Salvation Army that focuses on illicit massage parlors and strip clubs where women and girls are often exploited for sex. Our mission is to offer first–step services to empower women who are highly vulnerable to trafficking because of extreme poverty, trauma, immigration status, and other social issues. 

Through the eyes of P.E.A.R.L. Essence Outreach, we learn to serve out of our experienced faith. We come face–to–face with trafficked survivors, who often define themselves as lost causes by default. Nonetheless, we convey that they are the crown of God’s creation; “Purposed, Empowered, Appreciated, Respected, and Loved” (P.E.A.R.L.). Surprisingly, they often already know that God loves them. They typically offer up a “God Bless you” before we part company. 

The ultimate invitation to lived theology is through personal and corporate transformation in the “real” world. We educate ourselves and debrief our efforts together with volunteers and ministers in training at the Salvation Army’s College for Officer Training in Suffern, N.Y. 

In this space of grace, our inherited bias meets its antidote in the call to welcome others as sent by God with something to teach us. In these moments, we surrender to practicing the ways of Jesus, who had no time for those who rejected His initial invitation, while He commands us to go out and find those people who would respond positively (Matthew 22:1–14). Our talk becomes a credible walk, and worthy of our intellectual and spiritual efforts. 

Many people aspire to a seat at the table of power during meetings about anti–human trafficking. Few are willing to sacrifice time spent receiving training in this discipline and give up a night’s sleep to hand out warm gloves, offer the ministry of presence, and share Kingdom hope where traffickers have their heyday. 

Occasionally, a survivor may reject a small gift or a word of appreciation due to a feeling of unworthiness. This interaction sometimes triggers tears of sadness among volunteers. Why? Because somewhere deep inside of us we have all had moments when we’ve defined ourselves as something other than beloved children of God. Our hurts and wounds are wrapped up in the fact that “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together” said Bishop Desmond Tutu. Human beings share in the common journey as survivors of personal trauma. 

What will happen next regarding the Salvation Army’s mission to affect an anti-human trafficking response? 

As we move between direct outreach and online meetings, I ask myself; 

Will we get the balance and dynamics right between theology, doctrine, and orthopraxy? 

Will we hide behind our laptops and seek theoretical solutions to a world in desperate need of personal ministry? 

Will we search our souls for God’s will, obey the call to stand up against the evil one, and bravely challenge a corrupt industry that continues to benefit the offenders? 

Will we be The Salvation Army for the sake of Jesus Christ and the good news of the Gospel? 

Our individual and collective responses will determine our future. Will you join the fight? 

Anti–Human Trafficking spiritual exercise: the spiritual discipline of presence 

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Cor. 13:1, NLT) 

Being present with God 

❚ Find a place where you can be still or move around physically undisturbed. Take a few deep breaths, gradually slowing down your mind and heart as you welcome just being present with God. 

❚ If you feel the need, create a physical or mental ‘parking lot,’ writing down things you need to deal with later. Leave your parking lot in God’s care. 

❚ Be kind to yourself if you become distracted. Acknowledge every thought, and release it back to God. Continue to breathe in the presence of God’s love and light. 

Being present with others 

❚ Acknowledge your experience of God’s Love in your distant and recent pasts. 

❚ Write down words or draw a picture symbolizing these events. Thank God for them. 

❚ How is God’s love realized in how you love self, family, and friends? 

❚ Thank God for good and hard times. Thank God for forgiveness and restoration in personal relationships. Ask God for forgiveness where you have fallen short of loving well. Receive God’s forgiveness, mercy, and peace. 

Being present in Anti–Human Trafficking ministry 

❚ As God’s Love stirs your heart, how would you be able to share love with someone outside of your immediate circle of self, family, and friends? 

❚ How do you feel about this article and other information about Anti–Human Trafficking? 

❚ Ask God to shine a light on personal bias that may be helping or hindering you in considering Anti–Human Trafficking ministry. Receive God’s gracious revelation. 

❚ Where in your neighborhood and sphere of influence might hidden trafficking take place? How could your family or local church share God’s love with trafficked survivors? 

❚ Share your experience from this Anti–Human Trafficking spiritual exercise with a trusted friend. Discern if or how your respective stories intersect. What are the promptings of The Holy Spirit? How would you respond? 

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