Not too long ago, I ran into Kyle Henderson, pastor of First Baptist Church of Athens, Texas, in a downtown Dallas hamburger place.
We had a lot of things to talk about, but I remember his energy and focus when he said about people of faith: “We need to be about bodacious things in the way of Christ.”
About a week later, I talked with Sandy Wisdom Martin, executive director-treasurer of Texas Woman’s Missionary Union, and Carolyn Porterfield, WMU’s multicultural consultant, about how to live out a bodacious thing in the way of Christ to help victims of human trafficking.
Texas is a highway for trafficking. The stories of our Texas teens lured into trafficking are horrendous.
To make matters worse, these domestic victims are often left without the same level of help and services that immigrants and refugees get.
We started with a list of people who inspired us – all across Texas – who are doing something to stop human trafficking and start the healing process for victims.
Within our Texas Baptist family we quickly got up to about 30 congregations or individuals who are fashioning some part of their ministry to help human trafficking victims.
After prayers, phone calls and e-mails, we were in a room together. We are now a group called Freedom Ring.
People showed up. People like Jay Abernathy, pastor of First Baptist Church of Palestine, Texas, and Refuge of Light Ministry, a group that is in partnership with Buckner for a residential facility for domestic victims.
Other Baptist children and family ministries like Buckner International, Baptist Child and Family Services and South Texas Children’s Home Ministries are deeply engaged in human trafficking ministries in Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Moldova and on the Texas border.
Baptist associations in Beaumont and Austin are convening groups to provide safe house services for their areas.
Baptist Student Ministries (BSM) is promoting and staffing Red Light Bakery in Thailand through Go Now Missions this summer.
We are mobilizing to educate churches along Interstate 10 where trafficked victims are found.
Freedom Ring will host a concert tour through Texas college campuses and along Interstate 10. Sara Johnson is bringing her musical talent across Texas, and the Texas BSM is helping on campuses to raise awareness, prayer and money for ministry.
Freedom Ring will have a special exhibit area and breakout session at the Texas Baptist Annual Meeting in Corpus Christi.
The victims of trafficking in Texas are often recruited from vulnerable situations. Runaways are initially befriended by pimps, told they are loved and beautiful, only to be entrapped and threatened into prostitution and addiction.
Young U.S. citizens whose parents have been deported are targeted by traffickers along the border.
Young and inexperienced girls are recruited for prostitution by young men whose sole purpose is to seduce them away from their group of friends and pass them off to a trafficker.
At a Texas senate hearing, one victim told of being prostituted from the age of 9. Her traffickers told her that by running away from them, she would only learn that the people out there wouldn’t care, that she would be treated worse.
“None of my teachers ever asked about my bruises and when I was pregnant and delivered at 11, no medical person took up for me, but believed whatever story they told them,” she said.
Texas State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who chaired the hearing, took time to say that the faith community led the way on this issue by persistently bringing attention to the plight of victims several years ago.
Now 33 laws in Texas have been changed to prosecute the crime, train law enforcement and help victims.
“Lawmakers followed the lead of the church,” she added.
Texas State Sen. Jeff Wentworth also expressed his commitment to end trafficking and affirmed the role of the faith community.
Freedom Ring is a bodacious step, one already speaking with the voice of Christ.
Suzii Paynter is director of the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Her column first appeared on the CLC’s website.
Suzii Paynter is the current co-director of Pastors for Texas Children, and the former executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. She lives in Austin, Texas.