My Friends with Colleague Lauran Bethell
When someone tells me that "experts in the field" will be presenting on human trafficking, I tend to be cynical. First of all, sometimes people introduce me as "an expert in the field", and I am by no means an expert--I have just been on the journey of trying to understand women's vulnerability, the realities of their exploitation, and effective ways to give them alternatives for a while.
One of my tasks for the European Baptist Federation Anti-trafficking Network conference in Spain in April was to provide a Nigerian "expert" to share about the Nigerian trafficking situation and models for assisting human trafficking victims. And, in some ways, I failed in this task. A couple of weeks before the conference, communication with the person I had invited broke off, and he did not show up. (Please pray that whatever caused him to be unavailable is not serious and that he and his family are safe.)
In other ways, I did very well with the task of getting just the right person, or people, as it turns out, on the program. I had invited 4 Nigerian friends to the conference. Five minutes after their arrival, as they ate their sandwiches, I asked them to be our "panel of experts" on the Nigerian trafficking situation that evening.
The 4 graciously agreed. I told a story of a Nigerian woman in Italy who got out of prostitution. Then, I asked the panel questions to which they responded, helping the Eastern and Western Europeans gathered from 19 countries to better understand the many factors that ensnare and hold Nigerian women in the sex industry. My brother and sisters did a great job!
Then, two weeks and a day later, I saw fruit of what the panel shared in Spain. I had the privilege of accompanying a group who had attended the Spain conference to go and meet the women in street prostitution in their area. A couple of the Nigerians we met expressed a desire to leave prostitution. We were able to meet with those women later. The members of the group had a broader understanding of the situation the Nigerians were facing, and we were able to share with those women that there are people who are willing to help them. If they are too afraid to denounce their traffickers and enter Italy's system of social protection and integration, there are still people who will help them get established in a new life. The benefit of a network is that people doing ministry in one town can ask for help from people in a second town who can then connect the women escaping prostitution to people in a third town where they can be cared for and assisted safely.
As my friend Sven-Gunnar always says, "Traffickers are networked, and we Christians must be networked as well!"
Please pray for the two women who want to leave prostitution. Pray for the safety of this outreach group which ministers in an area held tight in the grip of organized crime. Thank God with me for the way my friends were willing to be "experts in the field" for the evening and the way they continued to be present in other sessions and in the discussion time on Nigeria, offering insightful contributions.
More on the conference later!