Mark R. Elliott
Editor’s Note: The first half of this article appeared in the East-West Church and Ministry Report 13 (Spring 2005),1-2. It is an abridged and updated version of a paper given at the Lilly Fellows Program National Research Conference, “Christianity and Human Rights,” Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama, 13 November 2004.
Catholic bodies have been particularly active in Europe publicizing the plight of trafficked women and taking steps to provide protection and care for women leaving prostitution. The international Catholic charity, Caritas, organizes prevention campaigns, operates safe houses, and assists in the repatriation of trafficked women. In addition, it helped launch a joint Protestant-Catholic coalition: Christian Action and Networking Against Trafficking in Women (CAT). In 2003 CAT published Christian Action and Networking Against Trafficking in Women, aptly described as “an action-oriented guide for awareness-raising and social assistance.” In addition to outlining the alarming dimensions of trafficking, the study provides sound, practical advice for Christians motivated to move beyond concern to action.1
Sister Eugenia Bonetti leads the efforts of some 200 nuns in the Italian Union of Major Superiors, working fulltime to provide housing and security for hundreds of women trafficked to Italy from Eastern Europe and other parts of the world.2 In addition, two Italian priests also assist many victims of trafficking in Italy. Don Cesare Lo Deserto founded a safe house where, to date, over 1,000 victims of sexual trafficking have found safe haven, protection, and compassionate care in his shelter.3 Similarly, Father Oreste Benzi, founder of the Pope John XXIII Community, has helped over 2,000 women escape the control of traffickers and pimps. On 15 May 2002 this man of compassion accompanied 500 former prostitutes, mostly from Eastern Europe and Africa, to a general audience with John Paul II.4
Additional Protestant Efforts
Other West European, mostly Protestant, direct intervention charities ministering to prostitutes and former prostitutes include The Scarlet Cord (Amsterdam), Christian Aid and Resources Foundation (Amsterdam), Door of Hope (London), One25 Limited (Bristol), and Alabare Christian Care Centers (Bristol). These groups reach out to local women and women trafficked from Asia, Africa, and, increasingly, Eastern Europe. Other Christian ministries combating trafficking and aiding its victims in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union include Door of Life (Thessaloniki), Lydia’s House (Athens), International Teams (Athens), The Lost Coin (Athens), Rahab Ministry of Hungarian Baptist Aid (Budapest), United Methodist Committee on Relief (Pristina, Kosovo), Ministry to Women in Prostitution (Bishkek, Kyrgyzia), and NGO “Suyuu-Bulag” (Bishkek, Kyrgyzia).5
Emma Skjonsby is a missionary with International Teams ministering in Athens, Greece, to women engaged in prostitution. During Easter season, 2004, she shared the following with her supporters:
Everywhere we went that night, the presence of the Lord went ahead of us. It was the first brothel I’d been in and I cautiously push open the door and stepped inside. It’s a bare room, lined with benches and a curtain. We catch sight of an old, lumpy woman with half her teeth missing and a suspicious look on her face. “What do you want?” she asked. We explain that we brought a gift for the girls working there and asked to speak with them. Another woman, let’s call her Eleni, pokes her head out to see what’s going on. We wish her a happy Easter and invite her to pick a candle. As we offered the brightly wrapped [Jesus film] video and the candle to Eleni and then to the madame, it was so beautiful to watch their expressions soften from suspicion to surprise and joy. When was the last time they were loved?6
More recently, Emma and her co-laborers reached out to “women working out of hotels, cafeterias, bars, brothels, and the streets” during the August 2004 Athens Olympics.7
Make Way Partners is a U.S.-based Evangelical mission that works “to prevent and combat” sexual trafficking in women and children. Founders Milton and Kimberly Smith, with the help of Western churches and Christian entrepreneurs, organize “income generation teams” in Ukraine and Moldova, “planting small businesses through local Christians.”8 Integra Venture, a faith-based community economic development agency based in Bratislava, Slovakia, also believes helping economically destitute women obtain gainful employment is a critical component in preventing sexual trafficking. The economic opportunities offered to victims of trafficking by such groups as Integra Venture, MakeWay Partners, the Salvation Army, and World Vision provide women “not just a way out, but a way of transcending the evil that has imprisoned them.”9
The Romanian Orthodox Church
Unfortunately, most churches in post-Soviet Bloc states do not appear to have recognized the seriousness of sexual trafficking from and within post-Soviet states. One encouraging exception is the Romanian Orthodox Church. Patriarch Teoctist has asked priests to include warnings against trafficking in Sunday sermons. He also has spoken out on national radio against this evil. And the threat of trafficking is now a compulsory subject in Romanian Orthodox seminaries.10
An indomitable American Baptist minister, Lauran Bethell, who in 1987 established a safe house in Thailand for former prostitutes, spearheaded an “International Consultation on Ministry to Women in Prostitution” at Green Lakes, Wisconsin, 7-13 August 2004, with over 200 participants from 26 countries. While the largest number of Christian ministries works in Asia, at least ten groups represented at the Green Lakes consultation provide care for trafficked women in Western and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.11
The Role of Faith-Based Organizations
Whatever Christians have done to date to combat trafficking, it still must be conceded that in this cause the church as a whole has been a sleeping giant. Nevertheless, there is hope in its untapped potential. Sister Mary Ellen Dougherty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops gave a brief but power-packed call to arms at a Vatican-sponsored anti-trafficking conference in June 2004. Her presentation, “The Role of Faith-based Organizations in the Fight Against Trafficking in Persons,” deserves to be studied closely. In it she ably argues there is a “logic” in “lodging anti-trafficking work in faith-based organizations.”
Furthermore, there are reasons for “hope as we pursue efforts to eliminate human trafficking.”
It is imperative for believers to come to terms with the abominable assault on the God-given dignity of every woman and child perpetrated by traffickers, pimps, and johns. And after comprehending the massive dimensions of this international slave trade in women, Christians, West and East, must decide how best to pray and put feet to prayers, how best to comfort the afflicted, and how best to afflict those who ignore the most basic of human rights and who grievously harm millions of women and children created in the image of God.
Mark R. Elliott is editor of the East-West Church & Ministry Report.
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© 2005 East-West Church and Ministry Report