“Don’t tell me how Pentecostal you are. Show me how Pentecostal you are!”
With those words, Beth Grant challenged attendees at General Council 2019 in Orlando, Florida, on behalf of Project Rescue, the anti-human-trafficking ministry she co-founded with her husband, David. She drove home her point from James 2:20 that faith without works is dead.
Jacqueline Toro, the Brooklyn, New York-based missions director for the Assemblies of God Spanish Eastern District, heard Grant speak at the biennial convention.
“The look of righteous anger I saw in Beth’s face shook me,” Toro recalls. “If I’m filled with the Holy Spirit as a Pentecostal, then I am supposed to do something about these evils. We as Pentecostals should step up to the plate and take action.”
Actions taken by Toro, who is on the board of directors for AG U.S. Missions, included contacting Homeland Security Investigations in New York. One of the duties of that office, the main investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, is investigating human trafficking. The Department of Human Services defines trafficking as the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.
HSI New York sent agents from its human trafficking division to speak at a gathering of the Spanish Eastern District, which is comprised of 500 churches. The event raised awareness of the global scourge that impacts communities nationwide, urban and rural alike. More than 150 people, including several from the district’s executive team, pastors, presbyters, and other leaders from local churches, attended a recent daylong event in Manhattan. The theme came from Psalm 82:4: “Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
In addition to HSI New York agents, speakers included officials with the Brooklyn district attorney’s human trafficking office and Stefanie Nance, commander of the Medical Readiness Squadron at Andrews Air Force Base.
These experts on the crime addressed the size and scope of the problem, shared examples of cases where unsuspecting adolescents and children had been lured into sex trafficking, and revealed its prevalence in New York, as well as what can be done to recognize and expose trafficking. Sometimes those illegalities are hidden in plain sight, such as in buildings where gala-attired females come and go at all hours, as do many less-well-dressed men.
“The executive committee decided this is an issue that affects our churches,” Toro says. “Human trafficking is an injustice which is a threat to us all, particularly our children and young people. The church has a moral responsibility.”
HSI New York special agent Miguel Collazo says his office strives to educate community leaders, including clergy. Those in the pulpit can be watchful “to help us root out those who are being trafficked and help us assist the victims,” he says.
The department shares telltale signs of trafficking in a community (such as dressed-to-the-hilt women and girls whom taxi drivers pick up every day or night), examples of cases the department has handled, and resources to help victims. He notes that children and adolescents in foster care are at high risk for being trafficked, but no socioeconomic groups are immune. Victims also come from affluent families.
The rise of social media over the past decade has expanded traffickers’ access to entice kids into sex trafficking, he says.
“Kids are under constant bombardment online,” Collazo says. “Simple innocent online conversations have traffickers on the other end who are fishing to lure in young girls or boys into a life of trafficking.”
Collazo says response at the AG district event has been overwhelmingly positive. A church youth leader approached him at the event about a 14-year-old in her group who received messages offering modeling job offers in a hotel. The leader, who had told the girl not to respond to the messages, hadn’t realized the messages most certainly came from a trafficker.
Collazo told the youth leader she probably saved the girl’s life.
HSI New York awarded a medallion recognizing the district’s collaborative work with Department of Homeland Security to bring awareness of trafficking.