Last month, I spent a sunny afternoon outside with my family. The trees lining my street were beginning to fill with leaves. My children were running around with their friends, in shorts and tank tops, asking for the sprinkler to be turned on. It was a day like many others. It was on that day like any other that God opened my eyes to human trafficking.
As I watched the familiar sight of my children playing freely outside, I noticed another familiar sight: two young people walking down my street attempting to sell something. They approached me, holding a makeshift, wooden box, secured tightly. Not more than thirteen years old, they didn’t smile, but upon approaching me, kindly asked if I would be interested in buying any perfume samples. With a smile on my face, I declined, and they continued down the street. That was when I noticed something.
While everyone on the block was dressed for a warm summer day, these young people were wearing winter coats and jeans. After noticing their strange apparel, I realized that they were being tailed. Every five minutes or so, a car with four young men would slowly drive down the street, not blatantly staring these two down, but passing just frequently enough so that the two young people would know they were around.
All of the sudden, it hit me. These kids were not from my community. They were brought here. They were brought there for a purpose: to make money. Since that sudden realization on that warm afternoon, I have gone over the situation in my head again and again, trying to look at it from a new angle. Were those children victims of human trafficking? Were they runaways or orphans caught by predators in a web they could not escape? More importantly, what should I have said or done differently? Could I have helped?
According to a recent report, 27 million people are currently living in slavery. When you hear the term slavery, what do you think of? Indiscernible dark faces, separated from us by continents? Or the boy selling candy on the street corner? While slavery takes a variety of different forms, is it any less dehumanizing? Less crippling?
A couple of years ago, I discovered that my father was once caught in a web of human trafficking. My father was born in the south of Lebanon. His father died when he was young, and his mother struggled to care for him and his sisters. When my father was twelve, his mother decided to send him to Liberia where one of his sisters lived. His sister was married to a man who worked as a merchant there. My father’s mother couldn’t afford a plane ticket, but learned that if she signed a paper saying that my father would work for a certain man for a year, the man would pay my father’s way to Liberia.
She signed the paper, and my father went to Liberia. After a year of working for this man, the man told my father he owed him another year. Once he realized his entrapment, my father was able to escape by fleeing to a neighboring country. However, many people are not so fortunate.
The two children walking down my street selling perfume reminded me of my father, and the 27 million other nameless victims of human trafficking. How can we as Christians not only serve as a voice for the voiceless, but also actively work to protect contemporary victims of human trafficking in our neighborhoods and around the globe? When does God call us to say something, even if it means risking being wrong, or risking our own safety? How can Christians combat human trafficking in practical ways?
[Photo: flickr user mohamedn]