I bolted upright in bed, tears stinging my eyes and sweat drenching my hair. The shrill screams for help still rang in my ears. Instinctively, I cried out, “We’re coming for you!” But there was no response, only silence. These girls were in my dreams now.
Anyone who’s a first responder will tell you they encounter things they can never “un-see.” First responders—paramedics, firefighters, law enforcement and medics—observe human suffering up close, sometimes too close. When instinct says to look away, these heroes zoom in on the pain. Years later, many can still see the faces and hear the screams. Tragedy and injustice are not easily forgotten.
Over the past four years, my husband, Nick, and I have learned that firsthand. After seeing “tragedy” I couldn’t ignore any longer, Nick and I became first responders, founding The A21 Campaign in 2008 to help fight human trafficking in Eastern Europe. Until then, like most people, we had kept a safe distance—unsettled by the idea of modern-day slavery, but not yet upended.
With little knowledge and a lot of passion, we began to zoom in on the pain and quickly learned that sex trafficking is a $32 billion-a-year industry and the world’s fastest-growing organized crime today, second only to drug trafficking.
What we saw was astonishing. I couldn’t get away from it, not even when I slept. I still can’t.
When you meet a young girl who was burned and whipped by her captors, you don’t forget that. When a hollow-eyed survivor asks softly, “Why didn’t you come sooner?” you don’t forget that. When a woman is so traumatized from abuse that she can no longer speak, you don’t forget that.
Like I said, some things you can never un-see.
A Holy Resistance
These images—these people—are a part of me now. They remind me that atrocities aren’t confined to history books; they slip off the pages and crawl into our local communities. If no one stands against them, they will rehearse their evil practices of the past.
There must be a holy resistance. I believe that resistance is the church.
Today, more than ever, I’ve come to realize that the battle against injustice is not a calm fight. Evil is not solved; it must be overwhelmed.
That means we, as the church, must embrace a level of radical behavior that makes many people in the church uncomfortable. But when I read the Gospels and the stories of how Jesus identified and fought evil, I can’t help but think, Isn’t “radical” what we were originally called to be? Isn’t that how the church was founded—with radical Christians who had walked with Jesus, watching Him breathe life into the dead, refute the Pharisees and ultimately give His life?
They heard firsthand Christ’s command to “go and make disciples of all nations.” The early church defied tyrants, demolished prejudices, overran obstacles, and outlasted persecution.
When I read the stories in Scripture, I’m overwhelmed with evidence that the church was never intended to be a safe place, but rather a saving place. As He prepared the disciples for ministry—those who would build His church—Jesus told them, “Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4, KJV).
The early church of the book of Acts was a constant center of activity—a movement, not a museum. The church was created to be active and alive. When the church is working like Christ mandated, it is as much a verb as it is a noun—loving, moving, building, comforting, charging, rescuing.
A Kingdom Fight
Our work to abolish human trafficking is a simple exercise in this radical behavior. We are the arms of the church. One arm fights violently against the devil, while the other arm extends healing to those the devil has tried to destroy.
And we’re not doing it alone. The church is rising up and fulfilling its call. Every shelter that has been built and every girl that has been rescued are direct results of the generosity of the saints of God and the local church.
Radical generosity is making a radical difference in Eastern Europe. We’re seeing it firsthand.
It’s astounding to think of what God has done over the last four years. Together with ministries such as Joyce Meyer Ministries’ Hand of Hope, we are rescuing women from some of the worst environments imaginable.
With shelters in Greece, Ukraine, and Bulgaria, we are infiltrating the very heart of darkness and exposing the enemy’s evil. I call these shelters the point of the sword, fighting human trafficking on its own turf—prying victims from their tormentors’ grip.
However, we know the battle against human trafficking won’t be won through rescues. We need a long-term, sustainable solution.
That’s why in addition to building shelters, we’re raising awareness of the global sex trade, offering employment to those at risk, educating “clients” to the realities of what they are engaging in and offering transition programs so that no victim ever finds herself in that place again. We are in the schools, on the streets, working with the governments and constantly in prayer.
Yet the strongest anointing isn’t in the fighting, but rather the extension of a radical, generous love to girls who had given up hope that such a thing could exist.
A Rescue Story
As I think about all of this, I’m reminded that God was the first on-scene responder. He saw us in our brokenness, He ran to our rescue, He simply couldn’t un-see our pain. We were forever on His mind. Throughout the Old Testament He called out, “I’m coming for you.”
The Bible is a rescue story. Before there was racial oppression or human trafficking, we were slaves to our own sin. We were beaten and battered, assailed and assaulted. But God saw us in our lowly state, and in His radical generosity sent a one-man rescue team to become a holy atonement for our sins, forever closing the gap between Him and us.
This example—our own rescue—inspires us to do the same for others. Whether you’re reaching out to underprivileged kids in the inner city, helping care for single mothers in your community, stocking the local food pantry, or staring down human traffickers, it is all a response to the rescue you have already received.
I think about 1 John 4:19: “We love because He first loved us” (NIV). That Scripture could just as easily read: “We rescue because He first rescued us.” This is the beauty of the church. Redeemed people, rescued people, sharing redemption with others.
I so love what my friend and mentor Joyce Meyer says about living out your faith. I can still hear her saying with her trademark passion and conviction, “You have to start somewhere. Just go do something for God!” Time and again, she has shown me that faith is more than a concept. Faith must be lived out loud. We can’t just talk about standing against injustice; we must do something about it.
The Great Opportunity
I have great hope for A21 and the church at large. I believe that God is raising up a generation of men and women who are passionate about living out their faith with a generosity that can change our culture and illuminate the darkest places.
I believe an awakening is taking place. I see leaders who are running to the battle rather than sitting on the sidelines and watching things become progressively worse. On every continent of the globe, families are standing against injustice, cruelty, and oppression.
But to be a leader during this time in history isn’t for the weak of heart. Binding up the brokenhearted and preaching freedom for the captive are as real for us as they were for Jesus 2,000 years ago.
This isn’t a part-time endeavor, and it can’t be done from a distance. It requires on-site response. You have to zoom in on the pain.
For A21, this means finding real girls experiencing real pain in a really broken world. They aren’t someone else’s problem. They are our pursuit.
I always ask people who say they want to make a difference in the world around them today: “What is your pursuit?” When you understand that you have the great opportunity to live a life demonstrating the radical generosity of God’s love, it’s one of the most incredible and life-altering things you can experience.
And in the moments when you feel overwhelmed, or can’t sleep because of the call in front of you—when the names and the faces and the cries stay with you—don’t despair. Take heart. You’re in good company. Jesus understands your call. He feels your burden. He lies awake with you. Jesus is your rescuer, too.
Reprinted with permission from Ministry Today, September/October 2012. Copyright Charisma Media, USA. All rights reserved. www.ministrytodaymag.com