The numbers can overwhelm us: 12.3 million people around the world are caught in slavery. But John Pitt (ThM, 1985) and his wife, Pam, know the impact of rescuing just one girl. Last year they visited a village in Nepal where this child returned to her home to share the hope of Christ. She taught the girls in her village the skills she learned while in rehabilitation, and together they started a garden to sell fresh produce and provide healthy food for their families. Thirty-eight females—including the tribal leader’s wife—now believe in Christ. And God recently raised up a pastor to plant a church so the girls don’t have to walk an hour each way to attend services. So this one girl, knowingly and willingly discarded by her family, took the gospel back to her own unreached community, and in doing so gave every girl there a chance for a better life.
Several years ago the Pitts attended a conference where they learned about human trafficking, sweat shops, and the sexual slave trade. “I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t think slavery still existed,” John said. Over the next several weeks God continued to prod their hearts. John read a National Geographic article about the sex slave trade in Southeast Asia, and he and Pam saw the movie Amazing Grace about the work of English emancipator William Wilberforce. The Pitts knew they wanted to be a part of the solution.
After months of praying and researching, Pam discovered She Is Safe (SIS), a Christian mission organization committed to restoring abused and exploited women and girls in high-risk places, equipping them to live in freedom and faith. SIS comes alongside local Christians in ten countries least reached with the gospel to develop sustainable long-term relationships and together address hard-hitting issues including poverty, physical abuse, child marriage, exploitation, and human trafficking. In the US, SIS raises awareness and organizes advocacy groups. To document the realities for girls in Nepal, SIS was looking for a photographer to join an upcoming trip, and Pam went.
Shortly after returning, she joined the SIS staff as Nepal’s area director. At the time John, a former senior pastor, was working as a businessman, taking vacation days to travel with Pam. Using skills honed in both careers, he communicated with local partners and spoke to church and community groups about trafficking. “He is not only able to get the nuts and bolts we need, but he has also developed a great relationship with the Nepalese partners, strengthening our ability to do the work of the gospel,” Pam said. Now back in the pastorate as senior pastor of Dunwoody Community Church in Atlanta, John continues his partnership with SIS and its local partner. He and Pam fight trafficking through rescue, rehabilitation, and prevention.
According to the International Labor Organization, every month more than one thousand girls are trafficked across the Nepal-India border, many under the age of sixteen. A border monitoring station aptly placed at a busy checkpoint provides the greatest hope of rescue. The ministry works alongside Nepali authorities to search for trafficked children. When they observe a suspicious situation, the workers separate and interview the party,
and explain the ploys traffickers use to lure their prey. Only then does a girl understand she is being trafficked. Once a girl is rescued, workers network to return her to her own community.
Sometimes rescued girls have been enslaved for years and need rehabilitation. When in Nepal, John and Pam spend time in a rehabilitation home, a space where girls can heal. The girls participate in Bible studies, hear the gospel, and experience love and hope for the first time. They also learn vocational, literacy, and other life skills. And they receive medical treatment and trauma counseling. After a year of rehabilitation the girls are reintegrated into local communities. Some even go to college. Many teach skills to others at risk, educating them to the ploys of traffickers.
On a recent trip John and Pam visited a tribe freed from slavery but with no means to make a living. The villagers had agreed to send their five most promising girls to India to obtain jobs to support their families. But the “good Samaritan” who had offered to help was a trafficker, enslaving the girls and abandoning the villagers to loan sharks.
This situation is not unique. Many families of victims believe they are giving daughters their only opportunity for a better life through a once-in-a-lifetime job offer, marriage proposal, or other scheme, only to have the girls sold to brothel owners. That is why prevention is the most effective way to fight trafficking.
In addition to transforming lives internationally, part of the Pitts’ fight against trafficking is raising awareness in the U.S. Pam attends monthly meetings of a local collaboration of anti-trafficking ministries in Atlanta. She and John also speak about modern-day slavery and their own efforts against it, sharing stories of hope, raising awareness, and equipping others to become advocates in the global fight.
Despite the many challenges they face, John and Pam believe they are exactly where God wants them. “Howard Hendricks always used to say, ‘Find out what God is doing, and ask Him if you can get in on it,’” John said. “This has been it for Pam and me. When you look into the eyes of these beautiful young girls who have been rescued from a brothel, or are at great risk of being stolen into one, you know why it’s important.”
Human trafficking is one of the world’s three most lucrative criminal enterprises, and is the fastest growing. Victims are coerced, exploited, and defrauded, and then forced into servitude, the commercial sex industry, or as child soldiers. The number of slaves trafficked across international borders annually is ten times higher than the trans-atlantic slave trade was at its peak. Major trafficking hubs exist in Atlanta, Houston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, as well as other large metropolitan areas in the U.S. But trafficking victims are also found mowing lawns, serving as domestics, and working in fields outside major cities in dozens of small communities. Former Assistant Attorney General Wan Kim suggests, “It could be happening in your neighborhood, and if the human traffickers are doing a good job, no one knows about it because it’s an underground crime. The victims are so scared, so subjugated, so victimized that they will not reach out for help.”
Katy Anderson (ThM, 2005) is the knowledge management coordinator for She Is Safe. She researches female abuse and exploitation in ten countries least reached by the gospel—from West Africa to East Asia. Katy works with project managers and indigenous local partners to determine the best ways to bring physical, spiritual, and emotional transformation to the destitute. Through her travels in India, Katy has seen firsthand the suffering of women and girls, and the saving hope of Christ.