It has been three years since God brought into our collective life a person who had suffered human trafficking. We met this man because he was in immigrant detention. Our visitation team was given his name by another detainee who had listened to the sad story of what had happened to him. We asked ICE to release this man into the care of our church. God granted our request. Although he spoke little English, the man was able to tell us that he was one of many victims – hundreds of victims – from a single case of labor trafficking.
Since then, the Reformed Church of Highland Park has worked to halt the all-too-frequent occurrence of trafficking in the USA. In 2010, we organized a victims’ assistance weekend that brought together 60 victims with 75 volunteers from our congregation and surrounding communities, including interpreters, to listen to the victims’ narratives, write them down, and present the information to federal officials.
In 2010 and 2011, RCHP was a vital part of a state-wide Anti-Trafficking Round Table based at New Brunswick Theological Seminary, exploring ways to work with law enforcement to rescue victims of trafficking and provide transitional housing for them. In 2011, our church held a major conference, Traffick Stop, organized by our seminary intern, to inform other churches, nonprofits, and members of the public about the realities of human trafficking in New Jersey. Our congregation accommodated eight survivors of trafficking throughout the summer, while they were waiting to receive work authorization and reunite with their families.
The Reformed Church of Highland Park directly assisted over 100 survivors of human trafficking. Based on what we learned by doing this, we provided analysis to congressional staffers to improve the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Our next step in compassion for victims, taken in 2013, is the Still Waters program, an effort to develop safe and supportive atmospheres to heal their broken spirits and hear their voices, both to comfort them and to deter future trafficking.
The name of the program is taken from Psalm 23, verse 1: The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.
Program participants, survivors of human trafficking, are invited to spend several weeks with our church to immerse themselves in the fellowship of our congregation, so they can experience deep welcome, rebuild self-confidence, and regain a self-image as an autonomous person (not controlled by others), undoing some of the mental, physical, and emotional stresses that resulted from being trafficked.
The Still Waters program allows our congregation to act on the belief that in Christ, all things are made new, and to show this reality to people damaged and discarded by their traffickers but now by the grace of God welcomed into a brighter future.
Worship Service for Survivors of Trafficking, 12/31/2012
“Continuing our church’s effort to help survivors of human trafficking, church member Jean Stockdale went to Texas at the end of 2012 to meet with nearly 80 survivors who had been interviewed at RCHP in 2010 by volunteers from our congregation and the community. After our volunteers wrote down their accounts of what had happened to them, and assisted them to report it to the federal government, the victims were eventually granted the right to remain in the USA and be reunited with their families, from whom they’d been separated for the past six years.
Ten reunited families were present at the December meeting. Spouses and children of the 70 other survivors will be arriving in the USA later this year. Houston was chosen as the site for the meeting because it is centrally located to the places where most of the survivors are currently living and working. To read Jean’s statement at the meeting on behalf of RCHP, click here: Worship Service with SURVIVORS OF TRAFFICKING