On February 14, Nazarene congregations around the globe are committing to stand against human trafficking through participation in Freedom Sunday. Last year, more than 200 congregations worldwide participated in the event through prayer, worship, preaching, and support of church-based anti-trafficking ministries.
This is the third year the Church of the Nazarene will join other denominations within the Wesleyan Holiness Consortium to observe Freedom Sunday. In 2014, the Church of the Nazarene's Board of General Superintendents endorsed the Wesleyan Holiness Consortium’s Declaration for Freedom, a document drafted in part by Nazarene Theological Seminary President Carla Sunberg and other Nazarene leaders. The Wesleyan Holiness Consortium chose the first Sunday of Lent for Freedom Sunday as a way to focus on the fast spoken of in Isaiah 58:6: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” (NIV).
While precise numbers are difficult to verify, expert estimates suggest at least 20 million children, women, and men are in bondage today through a criminal industry that profits approximately US$150 billion each year through slave labor. Human trafficking is a problem that affects nearly every country in the world.
Jamie Gates, director of the Center for Justice and Reconciliation at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California, says the church has an integral role to play in the fight against human trafficking.
“It has mostly been the church who has been paying attention to human trafficking over the past few years,” he said. “A great example … was the [U.S.] Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000. It was church people that got that off the ground.”
This year, the university's Center for Pastoral Leadership and the Center for Justice and Reconciliation are partnering to encourage churches on their district to participate in Freedom Sunday through Freedom Jars. Inspired by a project started last year by Bakersfield, California, First Church of the Nazarene, the jars will be used to collect money to benefit PLNU’s Beauty for Ashes fund, which supports scholarships for survivors of trafficking.
“The Beauty for Ashes Scholarship Fund started as a dream … to help survivors find a new life,” said Kim Berry Jones, program director for PLNU’s Center for Justice and Reconciliation. “We welcomed our first survivor this January to campus. It’s exciting for all of us — she can’t believe it’s really happening, and we are honored to have her as a student at PLNU. … You can imagine the kind of tenacity it takes for someone to pursue a university education. We’ve been amazed at the resiliency of the survivors we are talking to who are currently considering applying to the university or are in the application process.”
On Freedom Sunday, congregations are encouraged to take a Freedom Offering, which will support church-based ministries, including a mobile intervention clinic in Moldova, ministries focused on at-risk children, church-based prevention education, scholarships for trafficking survivors, and a drop-in center in Mumbai, India.
Becky Sukanen, a Nazarene missionary to Moldova, is working with Pastor Sergey Talaly to reach out to victims of sex trafficking in Moldova through a mobile intervention clinic that will travel to different areas in the country to provide health care and referral services to women who are being prostituted.
“We started out with an a phone survey asking girls if they wanted out of the life and if they had any health concerns, spiritual concerns, etc.,” Sukanen said. “After research into it, we found … that there was a gap in services that the Church of the Nazarene could step up and provide. We also wanted them to get a chance to meet us face to face so that we could share Christ's love with each of them and start a long-term trust-building relationship with the girls as they start to realize their need to get out.
“It is my hope that we will be able to see men and women set free from sexual slavery, intervene on their behalf, and prevent this from happening in families that are at risk, all in Christ's loving name and all with long-term holistic healing and restoration in mind.”
In Ukraine, Nazarene Compassionate Ministries recently partnered with A21, an international anti-trafficking organization, to host training for children’s ministry leaders. According to Andriy Takhtay, NCM coordinator in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Region, the event was an eye-opener for participants.
One of the children’s ministry leaders from Kyiv, Ukraine, reported, “After returning from the conference, I have surfed the pages of the children from our Sunday School in such social networks as Facebook. I realized that they unknowingly published a lot of information about themselves, which makes them potential victims. The very next meeting of the Sunday School, we talked about the danger of falling into trafficking and about precaution steps. Our kids not only removed all information about themselves that makes them vulnerable, but also told their friends about the possible danger.”
Stephen Gualberto, Church of the Nazarene field strategy coordinator for the Philippines and Micronesia, says human trafficking prevention and education through local churches will be a key focus in the Philippines beginning this year. The West Mindnao District in the Philippines recently hosted a forum on human trafficking for pastors from a variety of denominations in Zamboanga City, which is a gateway for trafficking people from the Philippines to Malaysia.
In Mumbai, India, the Sharon Bethel Church of the Nazarene is in the beginning stages of opening a drop-in center for children of women who are prostituted in a nearby red-light district. The church was inspired by God’s words in Jeremiah 29:11.
“Every woman in the red light area is God’s child, whether she is forced, trapped, or sold,” Sanjay Gawali said. “God never planned for them to be into prostitution, but He does have plans for these women to have a wonderful life without harm and destruction, and we [the church] could be a channel of help for these women to find prosperity in life, better than prostitution.”
Churches can sign up to participate in Freedom Sunday and download free resources, including a bulletin and prayer resources in both English and Spanish, at ncm.org/freedomsunday.