Amy L. Sherman

The Church on a Justice Mission

On the front lines of the battle against sex trafficking and forced prostitution.

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Subsequent conversations led to a Crossroads team accepting the task of composing a comprehensive briefing book on Sri Lanka, where IJM was considering opening a new field office. Wells traveled there, and eventually the church funded two staff to conduct onsite research. Some lawyers and businesspeople from the church came onboard as well, and within seven months they completed a detailed assessment of local and national laws and of the scale of the problem of child prostitution and other violent forms of injustice. Unfortunately, around the same time civil conflict in Sri Lanka became so intense that IJM reluctantly decided not to pursue the new field office.

Undaunted, the Crossroads team continued dialogue with IJM. Together, they concluded that the church's efforts could best be focused on victim aftercare. "IJM had developed significant success criteria on the legal and interventions fronts but there needed to be more attention and a lot more resources put toward aftercare," Wells explains.

Since 2006, the church has invested over half a million dollars in helping IJM's various aftercare partners to provide quality residential counseling and vocational rehabilitation for children and women rescued from sex trafficking in Mumbai, India. Nearly 100 volunteers from Crossroads have come onsite, doing everything from painting murals and making repairs at the facilities to researching gaps in the aftercare system to leading photography workshops with teens rescued from the brothels. The hands-on engagement has turned some parishioners' lives upside down.

Todd Bretz says that his wife "dragged" him to Mumbai in February 2009. The burly, 31-year-old salesman admits he was full of fear—and not particularly interested in what was happening half a world away. When he arrived in India, he encountered "poverty like I've never seen before. Mumbai is hell on earth."

The 22 young teen girls at the aftercare center melted Bretz's heart. The last night of the trip, one of the women from Crossroads asked the center director if she thought her charges would be up for a foot-washing ceremony: the Crossroads team wanted to show their love and respect for the girls in a manner radical in the caste-conscious culture. This act of servanthood by the Americans would make a loud statement about the young women's value and dignity. The director gathered the girls upstairs to consult with them—and soon the team heard weeping. The teenagers were overwhelmed that their new foreign friends would want to do this for them.

Bretz washed the feet of three of the girls. And then they undid him by asking if they could wash his. "I started bawling. It was the most holy moment of my life," Bretz told the congregation on an emotional Sunday morning after the trip. "These little girls who had been raped by people like me—a man who comes from a world of excess, and I can't even imagine the life they've been through—and they're telling me 'it's going to be OK.' And for me, that was the moment I met Jesus face to face."

Andrew Peters heads Crossroads' justice work, and thinks the church's deep commitment in Mumbai stems from congregants' ability to "really identify" with these girls. "Not that we've been raped hundreds of times, but from the standpoint that we've felt written off—we've been told we're not redeemable." Crossroads loves to welcome those who've felt shunned by traditional churches. Peters continues: "We know the feeling of not having your stuff together. We have people here who thought, 'I can never be loved, accepted, encouraged, or any of those things.' And then we actually met Jesus. We've experienced a level of freedom here—and acceptance—and discovered a Jesus who can change screwed-up lives."

Crossroads members are active in justice work not only overseas but also locally. "We love our city," Peters emphasizes. "We say that our city has value and importance—so we want to focus the best of what we've got right here at home where God has placed us. That's not an excuse to not get involved with our neighbors that happen to live in India," he says, "but it's simply a recognition that we can do both."

Crossroads provides substantial support to End Slavery Cincinnati, a coalition of secular, faith-based, and public agencies raising awareness about human trafficking in the region and providing training to police and "first responders" to recognize and assist victims. Over 25 volunteers from Crossroads, led by attorney Deborah Lydon, conducted research and interviews to assess both the extent of the trafficking problem regionally and the adequacy of existing state laws addressing it. Lydon was part of the team that wrote the Sri Lanka briefing book for IJM. She hadn't been aware of the extent of sex trafficking until she read Good News About Injustice. Family circumstances prevented her personal involvement in Crossroads' Mumbai work, but she responded eagerly when the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati sought out Crossroads' help in investigating domestic trafficking. End Slavery Cincinnati's coordinator, Jessica Donohue-Dioh, says the religious community is at the forefront in drawing attention to domestic human trafficking, and Crossroads has been a lead actor.

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