The Blue Bird Cafe is tucked into Budapest’s historic Jewish Quarter. It is Euro-whimsical with spirally staircases and bird-infused wallpaper percolating caffeinated warmth. Tourists like its vibe. Locals like its roast. The beat of old-school music can almost erase the memory of the 1940’s when the place of this cafe was a hole of death. It almost erases it, but not quite.
Evil tapped a victory dance here and the Nazi war machine devoured people. I used to say that if I had lived then, I would have raised my boney fist and screamed down the gates of tyranny. I no longer voice that sentiment — not since a Christian friend working for a secular, cross-governmental, anti-trafficking organization mentioned that he meets a lot of Christians like me.
Many people tell me what they would have done in another period of history, as if it would have birthed a different response in them. I tell them, ‘No, you would not have done that. If the story of the current 32 million slaves in the world does not move you, neither would any other plea from humanity.”
In patient tones, I explain to him that the Church feels helpless, like our hands are tied. He responds, “Like a 12-year old trafficked and sold for sex?” And, he watches me shift uncomfortable and then he implores the Church to act.
Governments, NGO’s, and even global partnerships are not enough. The Church is uniquely situated to win this war but without an intentionally focused Christ-body, this generation loses the fight for freedom. So, how can your local church or you, as a Christ-follower, practically make a difference for freedom?
Be aware of vulnerability
Everyone must learn to spot and protect vulnerable people. And, vulnerable people, such as children, the impoverished, the neglected, must learn how to recognize and to reject exploitive persons. In other words, layers of society need to be educated about awareness and that education looks different for each group.
- Churches can participate with other organizations, secular and religious, to provide prevention resources and to teach prevention.
- People in the church can become educated about vulnerability.
- The church can learn what it means to be a sanctuary for the vulnerable and the victimized and then work toward becoming a genuine place and people of protection.
- The church can root itself into a community and become that layer of protection to identify the next girl to be prostituted and the next boy to be pimped.
It is worth noting that many exploiters, especially young men, enter into the trafficking industry for economic reasons. Often, young men see no other viable options for making money. The Church must recognize that there are liminal points in the life of the young men who eventually grow up to exploit – they too are vulnerable and victims of a system.
When businesses, neighborhoods, organizations and churches begin to harness the power of their presence for active prevention, then, awareness becomes real power.
Be Present in difficult places
Governments and NGO’s have money, but often lack grass-roots infrastructures for effective prevention and rescue, but the Church is present at an unprecedented, hands-on level in communities across the globe. These are spaces where the local church can develop economic options that remove vulnerability in order to establish financial independence. This is crucial.
To intentionally live and work with vulnerable people can develop relationships that will strangle the trafficking pipe-line. This war will be won in a one to one, every-boot-on-the-ground battle. Effective anti-trafficking will not be sanctioned by government, or cured with programming alone. The end to slavery will happen when holy people, in combination with government and programs, are motivated to be actively present in hell on earth.
Step away from the church culture
Christians tend to enclose themselves within the safe walls of the church and have developed a vocabulary and culture that is odd with others. Secular organizations can be hesitant to partner, fearing manipulation or poor practice. Church people must learn to communicate in authentic, professional and intelligible ways that are free of the christian dialect.
Healthy evangelization means working with secular people for temporal good. Focus on building healthy relationships of respect and be ready to give witness when you are invited to do so. Learn to see people as people, not as salvation projects.
Change the boy culture
Historically, the Church has focused on teaching women to dress modestly for the sake of her male counterparts. We heap guilt and responsibility on young girls by telling them that their sexually suggestive clothing leads men astray and gives permission. We emphasize purity with girls but we have a ‘boys will be boys’ mentality. We say much less to men and with much less fervor about a man’s responsibility to submit their thought life and sexual practice to Christ. In actuality, there is very little intentional, robust teaching on this topic in the Church in comparison to the emphasis we make to girls.
- Support efforts that target those who create demand. Promote media campaigns that create a culture of shame around paying for sex. This helps to dismantle the ‘boys will be boys’ culture. For example, Sweden prosecutes those who pay for sex, not the prostitutes and pimps. By targeting those who create demand, the country has developed on of the most effective anti-trafficking cultures on the globe.
- The Church needs to develop and teach a much more robust theology of human sexuality.
Stop sexualizing wealth
Sex sells — in the media, in sports, in fashion, in food, in cars, in video games. Sex is everywhere and men are inundated with warped messages of masculinity, power, and wealth. Culture perpetuates greed and lust. Breaking the connection between sexuality and material happiness demands that the Church takes a hard look at the idolization of money and wealth — inside and outside of her walls.
Create economic alternatives
Statistics show an alarming rise in force labor, with 50% of all human trafficking now the exploitation of people, including children, for work.
Just as sex sells, poverty creates disposable people. In his book, Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, author Kevin Bales explains that the situation for a 21st century slave is graver than his 19th century counterpart. ‘Humans are easily used up and discarded by those who exploit them. Today, an average illegal child laborer can be purchased for $90. At that cheap price, the smartest business decision is to simply use up a person and then buy a new replacement.’
Profit margin based upon cheap labor drives the industry. But, faith communities can create economic alternatives.
- How can you work with a pimp to create other employment options?
- Are there creative ways to help businesses be financially profitable without exploiting people?
Long before the Nazi war machine roared to life, Irish philosopher Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Those are painful words, Mr. Burke. Some centuries later, German theologian and anti-Nazi dissident, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, echoed Burke with these words, “We are not simply to bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” Bonhoeffer must have pictured Nazi tanks as he made his plea.
We are not simply to bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke in the wheel itself. -Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The call to the Church is to go beyond patching wounds and the ‘spoke in the wheel’ that Bonhoeffer refers to is our very life. Today, The Church is called to rise up, to move in, and to speak out as the Jesus-body for this generation.
Pick up a spoke and stop the machine.
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. -Edmund Burke