by Omar C. Garcia
September is Human Trafficking Awareness month in Houston. Throughout the month, churches and faith-based organizations will host justice-related initiatives throughout the greater Houston area. This morning, Kingsland Baptist Church’s Justice Ministry
hosted their Fourth Annual Just Run for a Just Cause — designed to raise awareness about human trafficking and the plight of the oppressed. More than 1000 people from our church and community showed up to participate in our 5k and 10k run and 1 mile family walk.
As part of Kingsland's efforts to educate folks about human trafficking, we set up our justice wall
—a display that stretched sixty-feet across our parking lot. Each panel in the wall sequentially illustrates the story of how young girls are trafficked and how those who champion justice come to their aid. In the coming months, our justice wall will be on display at other justice events to help compel people to become champions on behalf of the oppressed. For many today, the story on the wall was their first exposure to the truth about a reality they may never see — the dark world of human trafficking.
We at Kingsland believe that the church must be engaged in the fight against human trafficking. We also understand that this battle will not be won in our generation. We are, however, determined to do all that we can to make a difference. We are also determined to equip and pass the baton along to the next generation, those who will champion the cause and come to the aid of the oppressed long after we are gone. If the church is absent from the front lines of this battle, many will continue to suffer unimaginable horrors. We must be engaged in this fight.
I am grateful for Paul Crandall, our Recreation Pastor, and to Kingsland member and race coordinator Rebecca Kratz. They did an amazing job of mobilizing an army of volunteers and coordinating a thousand details to make this year’s race a huge success. I have to add that Josh Stewart, Ely Butuyan, and Breanna Derbecker sang one of the most beautiful renditions of the Star Spangled Banner that I have ever heard. Amazing!
I am grateful that Kingsland is a church that refuses to be silent about human trafficking, that invests financial and human resources to speak and work on behalf of those who have no voice, and that is determined to stay on the front lines of this battle. The most convicting thing on our justice wall is a quote by abolitionist William Wilberforce: “You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know.” We refuse to look the other way.
by Omar C. Garcia
I had a pleasant and uplifting surprise today — one that warmed my heart and made me smile. Grace Carmichael, one of our Kingsland kids, brought a special offering to church this morning. Last week, Grace set up a lemonade stand in her neighborhood to raise money to fight human trafficking. She enlisted the help of her grandparents who provided baked goodies and also recruited some friends to help her. Grace raised $65.00 and brought her gift to church in a zip lock bag.
Grace’s mother Rachel said, “Grace knew very little about problems outside of her small world until this church purposefully took a stand and action” to fight human trafficking. She added, “It was a marvelous sight to see my nine-year-old teach people about the problems of human suffering and give selflessly.” Grace modeled what we often tell our kids at Kingsland: you don’t have to be a grown-up to make a difference in our world.
One of my favorite songs is entitled “By Our Love” by singer Christy Nockels. One of the verses of the song says, “Children, you are hope for justice, stand firm in the Truth now, set your hearts above. You will be reaching, long after we’re gone, and they will know you by your love!” If we teach our children about justice today, then it’s possible that our children will become champions who will come to the aid of those who will suffer oppression in the next generation.
At Kingsland, we encourage and guide parents to be the primary faith trainers of their children. Our prayer is that as we work alongside parents, we can teach our kids to be a little less selfish, a little more thoughtful of those in need, and much more willing to make personal sacrifices in order to make a difference. We also hope that as a result of intentionally teaching our children about justice, our children will do something to make a difference both now and in the years to come.
I am proud of Grace and encouraged by the fact that she did something practical and measurable to help people in desperate need. Her gift will help us as we continue to work on behalf of the 27 million people in the world today who are trapped in some form of slavery. One-hundred percent of her gift will be used to help victims of human trafficking both locally and among the nations.
May we continue to teach our kids about the unfamiliar passions of God — caring for the least of these, helping the weak, and championing the cause of the oppressed. And may we continue to teach them that they can make a difference now. I appreciate the fact that Grace’s parents and grandparents encouraged her to follow-through on her idea to set up a lemonade stand for justice. That’s a great way to raise up a generation of champions.
by Omar C. Garcia
Yesterday, the Kolkata edition of The Times of India newspaper featured a story about another small victory in the fight against human trafficking. Six years after her arrest, a brothel madam was convicted of human trafficking and sentenced to “seven years rigorous imprisonment” — something that is supposedly akin to hard labor under tough conditions. Although it took a long time, the victim finally had her day in court and justice prevailed.
The news account is instructive because it describes the methods that traffickers use to trap and subdue their victims. The process generally starts with deception. Many of the stories about sex trafficking victims begin with an account of how they were deceived and lured away from their homes by people they trusted.
Jesus said that the devil “is a liar and the father of lies”
(John 8:44). And, those in league with the devil know how to cleverly use lies and deception. Isaiah 32:7 states, “As for the scoundrel—his devices are evil; he plans wicked schemes to ruin the poor with lying words, even when the plea of the needy is right.”
According to the victim, the brothel madam “turned up at her home in a poverty-ridden village in North Bengal and promised her a job in Kolkata.” However, once she arrived in Kolkata, the woman forced her young victim to work in Sonagachhi, the largest red-light district in Kolkata. “She forced me to serve customers,” the victim told the judge, “and do bad work.”
In 2007, the Kolkata police, with the assistance of International Justice Mission, raided the brothel where the young woman was forced to work. They rescued her and arrested the brothel’s madam, owner, and manager. The pregnant young victim was placed in an aftercare home where she later gave birth to a boy. She also received counseling and vocational training and now works for a boutique that employs trafficking victims.
In India, where there is such a backlog of cases before the courts, it can take years before a case is brought to trial. But, six years being arrested for forcing a young village girl to work in filthy brothel, the woman responsible was finally held accountable for her deeds. John Gibson (1780-1853), a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice, said, “The millstones of justice turn exceedingly slow, but grind exceedingly fine.”
I was so happy to read this story because the Kingsland women who have served on our justice initiatives to Kolkata know this young lady and her little boy. She is a reminder to us of why we are engaged in the fight against human trafficking and why we invest in aftercare initiatives in Kolkata and beyond.
We are motivated to do something about the issue of human trafficking because the plight of the oppressed is something that breaks God’s heart. Isaiah 58:6 says, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?”
May we continue to embrace God’s passion to reach the lost, rescue the oppressed, care for the suffering, and to speak on behalf of those who have no voice. And may we continue to work toward the day when "man who is of the earth may cause terror no more"
(Ps. 10:18) in the lives of young girls.
by Omar C. Garcia
The Sundarbans en route to Kolkata, India | 23 July 2013
Early this morning, our team of Kingsland students boarded our boat to leave the Sundarbans near the Bay of Bengal to begin the journey back to the mainland. While the Sundarban Islands are beautiful, life for those who call these islands home is tough. The people contend with weather-related challenges, the threat of crocodiles and tigers, mud that never dries, unbelievable heat and humidity, and more. At best, many of the islanders experience subsistence living. Life for them is a struggle in the midst of beauty.
Once we reached the mainland, we loaded our gear onto our vehicles and headed towards Kolkata. Our plan for today was to stop at a school for the children of brick-makers and to spend a couple of hours with them, sharing Bible stories. The families of these children are unskilled migrant laborers from the Sundarbans. They bring their entire families to work at the brick kilns only to make barely-livable wages. Because payment is made to the head of each family based on the number of bricks they make, they need to involve their children in the work in order to maximize their earnings.
The work at the brick kilns is seasonal because of the rains. And because we are here during the monsoon season, there are only a few workers present to keep watch over inventory sitting amidst puddles of water. We had an opportunity to see the places where these families live and to learn about how easily they are exploited. The only bright spot was learning about a woman who ministers to the children of the brick laborers. She has started a little school to help educate these children in the hope of giving them a way out of the misery they live every day.
As with other children we have served on this trip, the kids in the school here are beautiful. They absolutely loved learning new songs and sat in rapt attention as we acted our Bible stories and continued to teach them through our craft projects. The lady who cares for and teaches these kids is amazing. She has found the greatest significance in her life in serving these children who are brimming with potential. She sees in them what others do not see and knows that God values each of them.
I never cease to be amazed at the people I meet as I lead teams to serve in so many places on the planet — people who serve God’s purposes in obscurity, not concerned about fame or riches or comforts. Because of the investment of one woman who saw a need and decided to do what Jesus would do, the future is brighter for the children of men and women who are doing all that they can to provide for their families, even working under extreme conditions for little pay in order to buy their next sack of rice. Because she is here, there is hope for those who live among the brick kilns of West Bengal.
by Omar C. Garcia
Malala Yousafzai started her journey toward national prominence in Pakistan when she was asked to write Diary of a Pakistani Schoolgirl
— a blog featured on BBC’s Urdu-language website. The eloquent eleven-year-old chronicled the hardships of life under the Taliban in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. When the Taliban took control of the area, one of the first things they did was to close all schools for girls. This action forced Malala and other girls to go underground in their quest for an education, clearly a risky venture. Malala, however, continued to use her voice to highlight Taliban atrocities and to champion education for girls. She gained so much popularity that the Taliban actually feared the growing influence of this young girl who refused to allow fear to silence her voice! So, in typical Taliban fashion, these stupid-in-every-sense-of-the-word-thugs went after this now fourteen-year-old girl on the grounds that she was “promoting secularism” —a crime deserving of death.
Earlier this month, Malala and her friends were on their way home from school in northwestern Swat when a gunman approached their vehicle. Once he had identified Malala, he shot her in the head and injured two of her friends. Fortunately, Malala received timely medical attention in Peshawar where military neurosurgeons removed the bullet from her head. She was later flown to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England, a hospital that specializes in this kind of trauma. Latest reports are that Malala will recover from her wounds but will require additional surgeries to replace damaged bones in her head as well as undergo neurological treatment.
In the meantime, this failed attempt to silence Malala has helped others throughout Pakistan and the world to find their own voices. Thousands of outraged Pakistanis have rallied in support of Malala while demanding that those who attempted to kill her be brought to justice. President Zardari said that the attack on Malala “is an attack on all girls in Pakistan, an attack on education, and on all civilized people,”
He’s right! Sayeeda Warsi, Britain’s Foreign Office minister for Pakistan, wrote in The Sun newspaper: “The Taliban have failed. Malala’s message of freedom and equality has now gone global. Our duty isn’t just to help this little girl. It is to carry on spreading her message.”
I agree! By trying to silence one voice the Taliban unwittingly helped thousands of others to find theirs. May God help young Malala to recover fully, and may He give each of us the courage to add our voice to hers. She is a courageous champion, an inspiration, and a reminder of what one person who refuses to be silenced by fear can do to help make our world a better place.
by Omar C. Garcia
It’s probably safe to say that most of us had similar childhood fears. I remember going through the “being afraid of the dark and there might be monsters under my bed”
stages of fear. More than once I turned off the lights in my room and jumped into my bed in a single bound in order to avoid a hairy and clawed monster hand grabbing me by the ankle and dragging me under my bed. Disney’s award-winning animated film Monsters, Inc.
, one of my favorite movies, explored this particular fear in humorous fashion. I also remember being a little frightened by thunderstorms. However, Julie Andrews was never around to calm me by singing “My Favorite Things” like she did for those well-dressed Von Trapp kids. I had to muddle through on my own. And then there was the fear of ghosts fueled by more than a few stories told around summer campfires. These were and are typical childhood fears that tend to become less and less ominous the older we become.
This morning, we shared a special lesson with the kids at the Imparting Smiles orphanage
— a lesson about how to guard against those who traffic in human beings. This is not a lesson we have ever taught at any of our Vacation Bible Schools in America. However, because Poipet is such a high-risk area for kids, Imparting Smiles founder Steve Hyde
asked us to teach the kids here about this particular kind of stranger danger. As my friend Janet introduced this lesson, she asked the kids to tell her the kinds of things they feared. The initial responses were typical as kids talked about being afraid of snakes and ghosts and storms and the floods that are so common in this area. But then, kids began to share about another kind of fear — the fear that someone would take them away from their homes and do bad things to them. This particular fear is very real to these kids because they have heard stories of what has happened to other kids who disappeared and never returned home. They know that bad people in this area try to lure kids away from their homes.
The danger to kids in Poipet and the entire Bantey Meanchey border province is real. The government has placed several billboards throughout the town of Poipet and the province advertising a hotline number to call if child sexual abuse is suspected. There are also signs from the older “Please Protect Our National Treasures” campaign encouraging people to turn in suspected child sex tourists. I have also seen the same information in hotel rooms in other parts of Cambodia. These are indications that the problem of trafficking and abusing children is real. The kids in Poipet certainly know that the danger is real. Kids in every small group that we taught today shared the same fear of being kidnapped and taken far from home by bad people. It should be enough that kids here have to wrestle with the common and usual childhood fears of monsters under the bed and thunderstorms. It’s a shame that they have to fear unscrupulous individuals who traffic in humans.
Cambodia is a source, transit, and destination country for modern-day slaves — men, women and children sold into the sex trade. Some non-government organizations estimate that as many as 50,000 to 100,000 women and children are at risk in Cambodia, a popular destination for those seeking sex with children. Cambodia has a long way to go in the fight against human trafficking. I am thankful that the government is taking some responsible measures to protect children. I don’t underestimate the good that may result from someone seeing one of the billboards and reporting suspicious activity. When it comes to the fight against human trafficking, every small step in the right direction can lead to more victories for the cause of justice. I pray and long for the day when God will “do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more” (Ps. 10:18) and children who live in dangerous places like Poipet can sleep in peace with one less fear to worry about.
by Omar C. Garcia
Last month I posted a blog entitled Hope at Freedom Place
, a Christ-centered safe-house for victims of domestic sex trafficking. Situated on a 110-acre wooded campus on the outskirts of Houston, Freedom Place
is the state’s first privately run safe house that provides long-term housing for American girls who are victims of sex trafficking. It is a safe haven where girls are not considered offenders but regarded as victims. We are blessed to have Freedom Place in our community and should do all that we can to support their good work.
Earlier this year my friend Nikki Richnow, Chair of the Freedom Place Executive Council, asked if Kingsland’s missions ministry would create a prayer garden at Freedom Place — a tranquil oasis where their residents can spend quiet moments with God. I am happy to say that the project is now complete, thanks to the help of Jon Davis, our Missions Associate, Kingsland member Fred Abbot, and a number of Kingsland volunteers. The final plants are in the ground and situated so that they will grow to provide a canopy of share over the main gazebo. May the Freedom Place garden indeed be a place where young girls whose lives have been damaged in unspeakable ways will have an opportunity to connect with God and to continue their journey toward healing.
By Chris Berridge, Justice Partner in the Field
The air was abuzz with sounds of laughter and joy as over one hundred girls streamed off their buses. For many, this was a rare opportunity to venture outside of the Affection* aftercare home for some different fun. An afternoon of dancing, art, bumper cars, bowling and video games awaited them. Not exactly your typical day!
Every summer, various NGOs host “summer camp” activities for the girls of Affection*. The activities usually fluctuate, but they are always a blast for the girls. And of course, managing all those young girls has its challenges. Finding a place for an outing can be very difficult indeed. Fortunately, a place was found, and the afternoon was set. A massive warehouse of entertainment was exactly what they needed. You have almost certainly been to a place like this, or at least taken your child to one for a birthday party! Maybe they lacked laser-tag, but they made up for it with no lines for all the girls and full, exclusive access. They had the entire place to themselves! It was a dream-come-true for any adolescent child.
The expansive entertainment center filled all 144 girls with awe. According to one staff member from the aftercare home, “(The center) had a mix of everything! The girls could bowl, draw pictures, play games, dance, watch movies, eat or whatever they wanted to do. It was a great change of pace from everyday life at the home.”
If one were to stumble upon the site that day, there was no way to tell that the girls were survivors of commercial sex trafficking. To me, it looked like one hundred something girls, regular girls, just laughing, playing and enjoying themselves. No pretense. No baggage. Just fun.
What an amazing day of vitality and joy.
Again, I want to thank you all for the support you are showing to these amazing survivors. Your love is going a long way.
By Omar C. Garcia
Human sex trafficking is not just an international problem — it’s a domestic problem as well. The city of Houston is one of the largest hubs of human trafficking in the United States. The commercial sex trade operates inconspicuously throughout our community in places you would least expect. Among those trapped in this dark world are young American girls, minors as young as 12 years old. According to National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Throwaway Children, there are an estimated 6,000 runaways in Houston. One out of every three of these children is lured into sex trafficking within 48 hours of being on the streets. Once they are trafficked, these unfortunate young victims lose all remaining remnants of childhood innocence — one rape at a time.
Those fortunate enough to be rescued from sex slavery need a safe place where they can begin the process of healing and rehabilitation. While there are federal funds set aside to assist internationally trafficked women and children, little or no funds exist to help the young victims of domestic trafficking. To make matters worse, there are fewer than 100 beds available nationwide in rehabilitative safe houses for victims of domestic child sex trafficking, making it difficult to give these children the specialized kind of care that they require after they are rescued. Fortunately, this sad scenario is beginning to change. Freedom Place, a Christ-centered safe house for the victims of domestic trafficking, recently opened its doors. Situated on a 110-acre wooded campus on the outskirts of Houston, Freedom Place is the state’s first privately run safe house that provides long-term housing for American girls who are victims of sex trafficking. It is a safe haven where girls are not considered offenders but regarded as victims.
A few months ago, my friend Nikki Richnow
, the Church and Community Liaison for Freedom Place, asked if Kingsland’s missions ministry would create a prayer garden at Freedom Place — a tranquil oasis where their residents can spend quiet moments with God. Jon Davis, our Missions Associate, agreed to serve as our point man for this project and recruited the help of Kingsland member Fred Abbot. Jon and Fred visited the site and sketched out the plans for a beautiful garden on a napkin! The plans include a large central gazebo with decks that lead to two additional seating areas. Once the decks and gazebos are completed we will add a water feature and some beautiful plants.
Over the past weeks, Jon and Fred and a number of Kingsland volunteers have made great progress on the garden. Now that I am back in town, I had the opportunity to join our men this past Saturday. Things are taking shape and should be completed within a few weeks as our weekend warriors continue their labor of love. I am grateful to Jon and Fred and all of the men who have invested their time in turning this dream into a reality. The young women who reside at Freedom Place absolutely deserve to be surrounded by beautiful things, especially after being rescued from the hell created by unprincipled and unscrupulous individuals.
Please pray for the work of Freedom Place and consider making a donation. Freedom Place receives no government funding but instead depends totally on private donations. Learn more by visiting their website at FreedomPlaceUS.org
. Let’s make sure that the girls rescued from sex trafficking will always be able to find hope and to make a new start at Freedom Place.
By Chris Berridge, Justice Partner in the field.
Hello Kingsland! It is my sincere privilege to be guest writer for your “Kingsland Justice” weblog. As a partner in the field, I take great joy in being able to share the amazing works that God is doing here in Kolkata. And with your support, I might add!
As many of you are well aware of, I am sure, there is an unbelievable amount of injustice going on all around the world. I do not think I need to regale you with tales of woe: infants starving in the slums, HIV/AIDS continuing to ravage rural communities, little boys given guns and told to fire upon their neighbors, generations of families working 18 hour days in rice mills to pay off an unrelenting debt. Of twelve-year-old girls taken from their homes, promised jobs in the city and instead taken to brothels, where they are raped for money, all day, all night.
Because you have been burdened with knowledge of the plight of your fellow men and women, and of children, maybe not much older than yours, you are faced with a choice. The choice comes to all who know of such things.
You can turn a blind eye. You can just ignore it, tell yourself that “it’s not my problem” and go on your way. It’s pretty easy to do. I know I’ve certainly done it.
But you can choose to confront injustice. You can choose to take a stance against the marginalization, the victimization of millions.
I continuously thank God that churches like Kingsland have chosen the latter. To know that you take your time, your resources and your love and send all of it to people you have never met is so encouraging.
But forget about people like me who are working in the field. You know who really cares about your decision? Those twelve-year-old girls. How do I know? They told me so.
There are well over one hundred girls at Affection* (a pseudonym has been used for security reasons) aftercare home. Most of the girls here have been rescued out of the commercial sex trade, with all too many of their stories echoing the aforementioned scenario. They are girls of all ages, all former victims of some sort of injustice, but more importantly, they are all survivors. Each girl, in her own way, has found a way to endure, to persevere despite her circumstance. Their courage in the face of horrific injustices is unparalleled. But, regardless of their determination, there are still basic necessities each must have to survive. They need a safe shelter, food, clean water and a place to rest their heads at night. Additionally, because they are survivors of intensely traumatic events, they need professional counseling and therapy. The provision of all these essentials is critical to the restoration of each girl.
The aftercare home is a place where these needs are met. It gives them a chance to live a life that was once taken from them, a life that they deserve to live.
Around two weeks ago, 30 recent high school graduates from Kingsland came to Kolkata for a service trip. I was amazed at the amount of young people who were willing to take time from their summers to come and serve complete strangers. They served all over the city, including Affection.*
I met with a small group of young women a day after their weekend spent with the girls at Affection. Despite being exhausted from a long service trip, their faces lit up with joy as they recounted their experience with their new friends. They made bracelets and all sorts of crafts, they danced, they drew beautiful henna on their hands and arms. And although they did not speak the same language and they grew up worlds apart, they thrived in one another’s company. They connected at one the most fundamental of levels, they were able to be little girls, together.
“The simplest things brought them so much joy. It was amazing to have such an opportunity,” said one of the Kingsland women. “We loved being there and hope to come back soon. I know they want us back, they told us!”
When I took a look around Affection* after the Kingsland women’s visit, the place was abuzz with happy girls running everywhere, some dancing, some playing in the square. I was astonished by the even greater amount of joy I saw on their faces than usual. I was quickly brought to the place where all the crafts from the weekend were stored. The girls held up all sorts of beaded “lizards” and bracelets, they showed me their henna. All of them were so excited because of the time they had with the women from Kingsland. Because of security reasons, I cannot show you their faces, but trust me when I say, the most radiant of suns on a hot Texas day could not compare to the brilliance of their smiles.
You are making a difference. These girls need a place like Affection.* They need more places like it. They need bigger places like it, because the need is so great. God is moving here, and I am so grateful that you are choosing to be a part of His movement.