BUDAPEST, Hungary–European Baptist leaders pledged prayer and action against the worldwide sex industry in an April 14-16 consultation on “human trafficking” sponsored by the European Baptist Federation.
The Budapest conference pledged to engage Baptists in the fight against what planners called a “modern form of slavery.”
Tony Peck, general secretary of the EBF, which is based in Prague, Czech Republic, said modern-day human trafficking had reached alarming dimensions.
Every year, an estimated 500,000 women are involuntarily taken from their home countries, hauled to Europe and forced to work as prostitutes, according to European Baptist Press Service.
Seventy-five percent of them are from the former Eastern Bloc. In the first 10 years following the fall of the Iron Curtain, 400,000 young women from Ukraine alone were forced into prostitution in Western Europe. Ninety-five percent of all prostitutes are involuntarily involved in this trade.
In a conference message, 80 delegates from 29 countries said Baptist congregations have not “faced up to” this form of human trafficking, “either in the countries of origin or the countries of destination.”
The conference challenged them to “seek a fuller biblical faith and theology” regarding human trafficking.
“Every woman and child involved in trafficking is an individual made in the image of God, whose human dignity must be fully acknowledged and protected,” according to the statement.
The Baptists’ message confessed that “sometimes our mission vision has been too narrow and has not always cared for the victims, nor spoken out against the perpetrators of human trafficking.” It also acknowledged Baptists’ “long commitment to justice and human rights and
active involvement in the fight to end slavery.”
While victims of the sex trade might appear to be willing prostitutes, they are actually forced into their lifestyle through deception, drugs, violence, rape or threat of harm to a loved one, George Walker, U.S. ambassador to Hungary, told the conference. “Whether locked away in brothels or forced to walk the streets, these women are powerless to escape their brutal captors,” he said.
A former Czech prostitute, Sasja, cited her own experience to describe the plight of such women. She was lured to the Netherlands under false pretenses and forced to work as a prostitute in Amsterdam.
Her passport was taken away as soon as she left her home country, and she entered the Netherlands with bogus papers. In Amsterdam she was forced to serve as many as 10 customers a day to cover the daily rent of her bordello room.
She eventually escaped thanks to the love of a certain man and found new support in the Christian faith. She said her religious encounter with Jesus Christ helped her overcome the trauma of her former life.
British Baptist sociologist Elaine Storkey, a senior research fellow at Oxford University, urged conference participants to devote themselves more holistically to people in need and to prostitutes in particular. She said an intellectualized “head faith” can be overcome by practical deeds of Christian charity.
Monika Lazard of the International Organization for Migration in Budapest offered practical steps for liberating women from prostitution. Homes are needed where such women are
protected and sealed off from their former surroundings. Cell phones are not allowed, because the women’s “employers” often attempt to force the women to return by threatening other family members.
The conference program included a visit to Budapest’s red-light district, where participants prayed for the area’s prostitutes.
The Baptist project “Rahab,” which attempts to offer Budapest prostitutes other employment options, was also introduced.
Regina Claas, general secretary of the Federation of Evangelical Free Churches women’s program in Germany, disputed the assumption that such issues do not affect congregations within her own church.
She said she knows from counseling sessions that a number of church members visit prostitutes. Claas said congregations can no longer avoid their mandate to spread also in red-light districts the news regarding the new beginning made possible by the Christian faith.
Klaus Rosler is news director of European Baptist Press Service.