UMATILLA–A conference designed to shed light on an industry making more money last year than Google, Nike and Starbucks combined–human trafficking—encouraged churches to take a stand against this unjust industry affecting over 40 million victims globally.
The “Taking A Stand: Human Trafficking Conference,” held Saturday, Nov. 9, at First Baptist Church in Umatilla, drew more than 150 persons in attendance.
Among the speakers was Rainey Cannavino-Nave, a victim and advocate of human trafficking, who urged participants to act immediately.
“We need more people in the trenches with us, being the hands and feet of Jesus,” said Cannavino-Nave. “We need people like you to take action.”
Human Trafficking is federally defined as “the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.” Often described as “modern day slavery,” human trafficking can take on many forms including sex trafficking, slave labor, child soldiers and organ harvesting.
Ranking third in the U.S. for number of reported and verified cases of human trafficking, the state of Florida is in desperate need for local churches to come alongside nonprofits and organizations to help fight the battle against human trafficking.
Keynote speaker of the conference was Kay Bennett, Southern Baptist missionary and executive director of the Baptist Friendship House (BFH) in New Orleans, which has a vital ministry combatting human trafficking in the city.
She and Kendall Woltz, BFH assistant director, gave guidance to conference participants on how to become involved in identifying and fighting this modern form of slavery.
Timothy Pigg, pastor of Fellowship Church in Immokalee, said the local church needs a “correct biblical understanding of the theology of work in order to know what human trafficking and labor force malpractice looks like.”
Pigg advised local church leaders to “make a gospel impact towards this gross sin of human trafficking” by praying and developing gospel-centered relationships with those suspected of facilitating human trafficking. He suggested churches combat this epidemic by hosting free lunches for local business owners to create awareness; making homes and churches a place of refuge; hosting job fairs and resume training; and mobilizing mission teams.
The organization, under the auspices of the Florida Baptists Children’s Homes, has 20 ministry sites in the state of Florida, a safe home for teen girls and many outreach teams and resources designed to “break the generational cycle of human trafficking and break the chains of poverty,” said Hicks.
“We have to be willing to stand beside and help those who are broken and hurting. We need Christ-centered homes and churches to come alongside these children,” she said.
“We are going to best change the world by partnering together and being educated,” said Hicks.
Dotti Groover-Skipper, Florida Anti-Trafficking director for The Salvation Army, is responsible for training, resourcing and facilitating anti-trafficking strategies at locations throughout the state of Florida.
“The Salvation Army has been in the trenches of human trafficking for 154 years,” said Groover-Skipper. “We have a rich and robust history of fighting the good fight against human trafficking.”
Groover-Skipper is credited as a catalyst to peak action against human trafficking in Tampa Bay and recognized by Florida Governor Rick Scott as the “Human Trafficking Advocate of the Year” for the State of Florida 2013.
Groover-Skipper said the Salvation Army Anti-Trafficking team is diligently preparing for one of the largest sex trafficking events of the year–the Super Bowl. Super Bowl LIV will take place Feb. 2 in Miami, one of Southern Baptists’ SEND cities.
Groover-Skipper challenged attendees to get involved with human trafficking on the ground level through their local church. “The church is uniquely positioned to care for victims and survivors of human and labor trafficking.”
The conference was sponsored by the Florida Baptist Convention’s Women’s Missions and Ministries/Mission Education, Florida Baptist Disaster Relief and Recovery and by Send Relief, North American Mission Board (NAMB).
To discover more about how NAMB’s Send Relief is gearing up to fight human trafficking during the Super Bowl read How are Human Trafficking and ‘The Big Game’ connected? A human trafficking awareness event will be held January 25 through Send Relief’s partner, In Our Backyard.