The World Cup not only created a flurry of new interest in soccer in the United States, it also inadvertently brought focus to the global problem of human trafficking and prostitution.
In Germany, concern that up to 40,000 prostitutes would be brought into their country to accommodate the sexual demand of visiting World Cup fans caught the attention of German police and immigration officials.
It also underscored the rising voice of Baptist leaders committed to bringing the gospel to bear on the injustice of this oft-ignored trap for impoverished women and children.
In wealthier countries, prostitution often preys upon women who are victims of violence, sexual abuse at a young age, drug addiction, or a toxic combination of all these factors. This route to prostitution has its own unique call for ministries of compassion and healing.
But prostitution in countries with 80-90 percent unemployment is too often the result of unscrupulous business practices by “employment agencies,” which promise destitute women and young girls an opportunity for employment, security and ample money to send home to destitute families, only to sell the vulnerable women to brothels where they are forced into a life of prostitution.
A recent rise in African prostitutes in Italy and Amsterdam is likely the result of this kind of employment tactic.
With estimates of up to 800,000 people entrapped in human trafficking, Baptists in Europe have created a unique network of churches and federations mobilized to combat the hopelessness of the sex trade.
Three years ago Swedish Baptists brought the issue to their annual conference. It struck a chord among those committed to bearing God’s love to the least of these.
In 2005, a conference in Budapest brought together a plan of action now being implemented by European Baptists, according to Rev. Lauran Bethell, an American Baptist international consultant on women and children’s issues, now working from the Czech Republic.
Bethell presented a report to the Freedom and Justice Commission of the Baptist World Alliance meeting in Mexico City last week.
The European group is creating a network of churches and individuals across the Baptist unions that can assist in rescuing, healing and making whole the women who have been caught in the trap of human sex trafficking. It has also produced a book, due out in September, that gives a biblical and theological context for addressing this concern, as well as resources for local churches called to this ministry.
A conference earlier this year brought various concerned Baptist groups from around the world to the American Baptist center in Wisconsin under the theme “Living Hope.”
“What struck me was the gentleness and kindness of those seeking to minister to people caught in prostitution,” said Bethell.
A new group called the International Alliance on Prostitution has emerged that connects the gospel ministry of various denominations to women and children in need. It has already created a four-minute DVD to heighten awareness, build a grassroots concern and invite participation in both combating the evils of human trafficking as well as providing viable alternatives for former prostitutes through job training and the creation of living wage jobs.
World Cup fervor will diminish soon, but if these Baptist servants have their way, advocacy will only increase for women and children caught in the vicious cycles of prostitution and human trafficking.
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Joe Phelps is pastor of Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., and a member of the BWA Freedom and Justice Commission.
A minister in Louisville, Kentucky, for 21 years as pastor of Highland Baptist Church, Phelps is now Justice Coordinator for Earth and Spirit Center. He leads, along with Kevin Cosby, EmpowerWest, a black-white clergy coalition calling for recognition, repentance, and repair of injustices to black Louisvillians.