Impacting Human Trafficking
Surprisingly, victims of human trafficking span all geographic and demographic markers. According to the University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work, there are more than 300,000 victims of human trafficking in Texas, including almost 79,000 minors and youth victims of sex trafficking and nearly 234,000 adult victims of labor trafficking. Awareness about this epidemic has inspired many United Methodists in the Texas Conference to take action in recent months to support the yearlong fundraising campaign led by the TAC Center for Missional Excellence.
Racing for a Reason
Earlier this year the Southwest District raised over $68k to land a big punch to this alarming and oppressive trend. The district is awarding these funds to the work of Harvest House and Agape International.
In the Northwest District, Tammy Woodard at Bullard UMC and Martie Belt at the district office joined Rev. Joseph Thomas, Mount Vernon UMC/Pert and Neches UMC to raise funds via the Eat Fresh Fun Fresh event in Tyler and sent donations to the Conference office. “After 10 years in public education, I have a heavy heart for kids to know Jesus and to know him in an environment that is positive and uplifting,” shares Pastor Joseph. “If this race helped even one child get out of trafficking because of our efforts, then that is a victory for the Kingdom.”
This April, Lakewood UMC Houston raised $1,270 through Rusty's 5K Run 2017 to fight human trafficking. Over 100 women, men and children participated in this annual run in memory of their beloved pastor, Rev. Rusty Watkins. This year's proceeds went to benefit Redeemed Ministries. Lakewood has raised thousands of dollars for Redeemed Ministries through various fundraisers, and from the sale of drink coasters made by women rescued from human trafficking. Desirie Dougall, Operations Director for Redeemed Ministries says, "We are very grateful for this donation which helps us care for survivors who reside in the safe house as they receive counseling, art therapy, and equine therapy.” Additionally, Lakewood’s UMW Board also voted to send $500 from their garage sale profit to Houston’s Free the Captives organization.
Pastors, such as Rev. Leah Hanks at Carthage UMC - are leading by example. “Human trafficking is an issue that has been on my heart for several years,” shares Leah, “so I participated in the Trail Run in our district because it seemed like something tangible I could do! I look forward to being involved in other events of this type.”
Get Educated, Get Engaged
St. Paul's UMC Houston is teaming up with South Main Baptist Church for a Human Trafficking Awareness Van Tour on Sunday, September 10, 1:30-4:30 pm. Participants will be in 15-passenger vans driving around Houston, including a stop at Elijah Rising's modern-day slavery museum. Elijah Rising’s mandate in Houston includes driving the reality of modern-day slavery into the consciousness of our society via van tours of high-probability trafficking areas in Houston, Cypress and Katy. Each tour features visuals, testimonies from Elijah Rising’s knowledgeable staff, relevant statistics, and the urgent need for prayer. Details: http://www.elijahrising.org/van-tour-faqs/
“FUMC in Nacogdoches invited Rev. Diane McGehee as our guest pastor for UMW Sunday and requested that she focus her sermon on human trafficking -- how it affects not only large metro areas but also towns the size of ours, and what resources we have to create awareness,” shares church member Colleen Abernathy. Diane and Rev. Jeff McDonald discussed ways the church could leverage a local charity run to raise awareness and funds for human trafficking. Their UMW chapter is donating bake sale funds of $800 towards Refuge of Light located in Tyler.
UMW leaders of St. Luke’s UMC in Kilgore are recruiting other UMW groups in the North District to join them in helping Rahab’s Retreat and Ranch to minister to women freed from sex trafficking. Pat Rudy of the United Methodist Women thanked her associates, saying, “Your response to contribute over $2,000 to help fill Rahab’s Pantry was overwhelmingly generous. This made it possible for us to fill three large grocery carts and have funds left over to give to the Retreat.” Adds Pat, “Watching the staff receive this food was like watching children opening Christmas gifts! This was a modern day miracle because you are following the example of Christ.” Additionally, a group from UM ARMY helped replace a roof and do some cleaning at Rehab’s Retreat, and “The Menders” group from Marvin UMC worked a week helping with painting and other projects. Rehab founder Teresa Richenberger adds, “We have so many Methodists helping our girls, it is just tremendous. Some groups provide monthly support, some have adopted a room and accessorize it, and some ladies even taught a crochet class for our girls. It was a great way to interact and love on them in a special way.” Teresa is happy to speak to groups anywhere, and excited to have Rahab’s Retreat.
What Can You Do?
Regardless of age or residence, everyone can impact this issue.
Spread the word (raise awareness through conversations with children, and comments on social media)
Invest time or money
Pray for victims and organizations helping them
Provide pro bono legal work or help with aftercare
Sign up for a race in your area and fundraise with your church or district