By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
BRENTWOOD — With an urgent desire to fulfill the biblical principle of bringing light to dark places, a large collection of churches in the mid-state area has become actively involved in the battle against one of the country’s most horrific problems: human trafficking.
In addition to raising awareness of the issue, the churches are immersing themselves in each area of the problem, including the rescue and reintegration of the victims and the prevention of future crimes through community assessments.
Many of the churches are following the guidelines that are outlined in a curriculum called Engage Together, an initiative developed by the Alliance of Freedom, Restoration and Justice, Inc. (based in Smithville).
Brentwood Baptist Church recently hosted an equipping event in which attendees were able to learn more about human trafficking and further develop their strategies for combating the issue. The event included representatives from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Nashville Baptist Association, Brentwood Baptist Missions, the Alliance of Freedom, Restoration and Justice, Inc., and several other organizations.
Vicki Howell, the community missions minister at Brentwood Baptist, said the idea for the event began to develop after it was learned that numerous churches in the area were working through the Engage Together program and had completed the community assessments.
Howell said those churches, along with Brentwood Baptist, were ready to make an impact: “What we found out was that (the other churches) were in the same place as us. They were saying ‘Okay, now that we’ve learned these things, what do we do with it?’ ”
Howell said there was a consensus among the group that it was time “to take the next step and go from learning to engaging.”
The Alliance of Freedom, Restoration and Justice, Inc., is helping churches take that step. The AFRJ exists “to mobilize a global collaborative network to end human trafficking and the exploitation of the vulnerable.”
The event at Brentwood Baptist, which was open to the public, was an exchange of ideas and experiences. Howell said these types of forums, where the lines of communications are opened between various churches and multiple organizations, are one of the starting points in making a difference.
“We are encouraging collaboration, and we’re working across denominational lines and making sure that Christ is at the center of this,” said Howell.
Many anti-trafficking organizations are open to having involvement from the church, Howell said, and are willing to hold seminars and other events. One such group, called iEmpathize, recently shared an exhibit at Brentwood Baptist to help bring awareness to the cause.
“(Our strategy) is really about coming beside our local law enforcement and working hand-in-hand with various ministries that are on the ground every day with people in vulnerable situations,” said Howell. “And that’s where we have the potential to change someone’s story.”
Human trafficking, according to the TBI, is the second fastest-growing criminal industry, ranking behind only drug trafficking. It is described as “an industry that profits billions of dollars and enslaves millions of people.” And although it is a global problem, it is vital to realize that it isn’t an issue that only takes place in far-away places.
“We have to understand that it’s happening in our own backyards,” Howell said.
Nashville has become increasingly visible in the fight against human trafficking. The city is the home of Hope for Justice, an organization that works internationally to stop human trafficking. Christian recording artist Natalie Grant is the co-founder of Hope for Justice, which also has offices in Cambodia, England, and Norway.
Anti-trafficking awareness has been on the rise for the past several years. And in the past year, Howell said, the issue has become even more of a focal point.
“It has been brought to our attention again and again and again,” she said. “So now it has become a question of who and how do we engage this very dark and very real thing that is in front of us? In the process of trying to figure out what our role looks like, we realized that we really need to do our homework. We need to figure out what’s happening and also what’s not happening, so that we can start learning ways that we can step into this issue. We wanted to really help move things along and not just nip at the corners.”
Currently, many churches in the mid-state area are working with local law enforcement agencies and the TBI in an effort to put themselves in the proper position to make an impact. Howell said these churches are seeking “helpful and healthy” ways to be involved.
The Alliance of Freedom, Restoration and Justice, Inc. has been helping lead this charge. Although the organization works with secular groups, it has developed a program that is designed specifically for churches.
“During this process, it’s been very exciting to see how God has brought people to the table at the right time,” said Howell. “We’ve been able to bring several organizations together to really figure out who is doing what and how we can work together.”