HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) -- The numbers of orphans and at-risk children worldwide are overwhelming with 253 million having no parents—or at least one able or willing to care for them.
For one Tennessee congregation, it is an issue that led them to look into how to care for abandoned and neglected children—many of whom are easy prey for human traffickers and, worse still, ready targets for sexual slavery.
Realizing the daily struggle these children face just for the basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter, First Baptist Church in Hendersonville began a task force to help the congregation understand the problem and how to help.
Globally, about 600,000 to 800,000 are victims of human trafficking each year, and half are children. About 50,000 persons are trafficked in the United States, annually. In Tennessee, 94 children are enslaved every month.
Moreover, in Nashville alone, 100 minors are sex trafficked a year according to the latest reports.
Regrettably, no segment of the population is immune. Trafficking has been uncovered at truck stops, among tourists, amid conventions, in one of the region's most affluent communities, and even on a military base.
"Exploitation, especially sexual trafficking, is a massive problem," said Janet Hutton, a leader for the one-year-old 4Freedom Human Trafficking Task Force at First Hendersonville. "One of the most disturbing statistics is that 1 in 3 girls are sexually abused by the time they are age 18. Most Americans do not realize how bad the problem is, and that's one of the things we are trying to change."
The 4Freedom Task Force coordinates education and awareness initiatives at First Hendersonville and represents the congregation with outside entities like Rescue 1Global which leads a modern abolitionist movement to eliminate human trafficking in the U.S. and abroad. It is a relationship that allows the task force to stay informed and plugged into regional and local anti-trafficking efforts.
The task force also reaches out to at-risk populations around Nashville with a feeding ministry, and each week FBCH volunteers join other area churches to serve 100 boxed meals.
"We've been offering these meals since the first of March, and it has allowed us to develop relationships, love on them, share the Gospel and pray with them," said Hutton. "Some of them are very close to being homeless and some are particularly vulnerable to traffickers."
Moreover, the 4Freedom Task Force began a meal ministry last month to at-risk populations in Hendersonville, and the team has published a 40-day prayer guide to help congregational members know how to pray for this initiative.
Hutton prays participation in this ministry will grow.
"We need more workers to help us, especially in the street ministry when we go out week after week. We may be serving 150-200 people, so we will need help. We have an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Christ. You know Jesus didn't wait for people to come to Him. He went to them and ministered as He went. That is what our prayer is—that we can minister and make His name known."
She also shared that one of the greatest needs in this ministry area is for a safe house in Nashville, where survivors of trafficking could get treatment for the trauma they've experienced, and begin the transition to freedom which is sometimes a difficult process.
"Right now survivors have to go out of state to find a safe house specifically set up to help victims of trafficking. There's not one in Tennessee. Their age, gender and circumstances determine where they can go. But they have to go out of state. We're praying that God will provide a home in Tennessee soon," she said.
Contemplating the challenge, Hutton said that, largely, human trafficking is a hidden crime.
"We hope to shed light on the problem and to be light in the process," she said. "We want to protect those at risk, rescue the trapped, and minister to survivors, helping them find freedom from trafficking and sharing with each the message of hope found in Jesus Christ."
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