Last month, directors of human trafficking shelters across the U.S. gathered at Country Lake Christian Retreat to encourage one another, create a unified plan of action and seek God’s face as they battle for lives. These men and women live in an everyday world of life and death, never knowing if the woman who walks out of the shelter door will be alive the next day.
They deal with fatigue, budget issues, discouragement, staffing and frustration in the hard fight against trafficking. Since many are the only program for trafficking victims in their state, it’s easy to feel isolated with little support in the battle.
Jeanne Allert, executive director of The Samaritan Women, is a 13-year veteran in the fight against human trafficking. She’s cared for survivors, fought traffickers, testified before Congress, been a guest on national television programs, led workshops and written extensively about trafficking. Currently, Allert is working on her doctorate in psychology, focusing on parents who sell their own children. It is an evil reality, even in Kentucky.
The Samaritan Women began as a residential restoration program for women who have been trafficked. The ministry is a favorite destination for Southeast Christian Church missions teams to work on construction projects and retreats for staff and women in the program.
In 2018, Allert continued to study the landscape for survivors across the nation and came to the conclusion that The Samaritan Women could serve more survivors if it shifted to training and mentoring the next generation of shelter providers.
“There are 107 faith-based shelters in the U.S.,” Allert said. “But 16 states have no shelter program and four states have just one. Our goal is to unify, encourage leaders and give tools to advance Christian care for survivors. The goal of the new program is to increase stability and success of faith-based shelters so survivors in every corner of the nation will have access to qualified, compassionate care.”
The goal is to create 24 new shelters by the end of 2024.
Allert organized the conference at Country Lake after White House officials asked her to bring faith-based shelters into the anti-trafficking conversation.
The agenda for the conference at Country Lake focused on faith and government partnerships, but God had a bigger plan.
“Everyone turned to repentance, prayer and praise,” Allert said. “The Lord united this movement as leaders began to think bigger, press harder and lean into Him for strength. We are the church. We must be willing to go into dark places. That includes dealing with a mom who sells her own child. How much darker can that be?”
La Grange Campus Pastor Brian Sites and his wife Karissa worked with Allert on the conference. The La Grange Campus focuses on educating and mobilizing Christians for the fight.
“This is modern day slavery,” Karissa Sites said. “Everyone can do something big or small to stop this. In Luke 9, the church is called to rescue the oppressed and preach good news to the captives. To be like Jesus is to enter into this kind of battle. My verse for this is Hebrews 13:3 – to suffer with those who suffer as if it is you. Getting involved in trafficking is messy but transformational.”
Sites said parents can no longer afford to think trafficking is an issue that affects people outside the church.
“Every kid with a vulnerability is a target,” she said. “Kids get trapped so quickly as they exchange pictures and information. The first thing we must do is become educated about trafficking, then get involved as moms and dads, business owners, truck drivers, church leaders, those in the community.”
Ben Thornley, who works in Southeast’s Missions Ministry, attended the conference.
“God has really drawn our church into the anti-trafficking industry in a big way,” he said. “Between many members with strong hearts for the issue, strong partnerships in the industry and great connections in government and law enforcement, Southeast is in an exciting position to make a significant impact. Having the opportunity to host this conference was truly an honor as God continues to allow us to be part of this incredibly important movement in our nation.”
Trafficking in America
Consider what is statistically “normal” for a victim of sex trafficking in America:
>It’s normal for her to have been a victim of childhood sexual abuse.
>It’s normal for her to have been introduced to pornography by age 7 and drugs by age 10.
>It’s normal for her to have been sold into commercial sex trade by age 14.
>It’s normal for her to have dropped out of school by the eighth grade, been arrested multiple times and carry the burden of a criminal record.
>It’s normal for her to have suffered multiple miscarriages and forced abortions.
>It’s normal for her to believe that there is no one who cares, no one coming to her rescue, no chance that her life will ever be different.