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It's hard to talk about the horrors of human trafficking -- including young women and children forced into prostitution -- without mentioning the Interstate 10 corridor across northern Florida and over to California.

Florida and California are in the top three on the list of U.S. states involved in human trafficking cases, according to Florida State University's Center for the Advancement of Human Rights. Any realistic discussion of this crisis has to include women, children, poverty, prostitution and crisis pregnancies.

"There are so many overlapping issues in all of this. But you know you're dealing with abused women and, often, their pregnancies," said Ashlyn Portero, co-executive director of City Church in Tallahassee, Fla., which has two campuses close to I-10. "Churches that want to help can start right there. ... When you see those connections, you know you're talking about issues that fall under the pro-life umbrella."

Thus, human trafficking is a problem that "pro-life" religious leaders in Tallahassee, as well as many other urban areas, need to face if they want to minister to women in crisis pregnancies and their children, she said. The problem is that tackling this issue also involves talking -- or even preaching -- about subjects that many people will call "political" in a state like Florida. Take immigration, for example.

Timing is crucial. Right now, thousands of Americans are preparing for the annual March for Life, which is linked to the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1973 legalizing abortion. This year's march in Washington will be Friday.

"When people come back from something like the March for Life, lots of them will be asking, 'What can we do now?' They want to do something practical," Portero said. "But these issues all seem so big and complex. It's hard to know where to start, in terms of ministries that will help real people."

One thing is certain: Nothing happens in a typical church without clear communication through preaching. That's where things can get tricky.

"In today's political atmosphere, almost anything that you say can seem like a 'hot take,' and you can get pigeon-holed by something taken out of context," Portero said. "But that's why preaching is so important. A sermon is the one place where you can lay out the biblical reasons for your people to get involved in these kinds of issues. ...

"You can go deeper than a quick comment that people can misunderstand because you have the time to show that what we're talking about is crucial to the Christian life -- it's more than politics," she said.

Few churches have enough members or the financial resources to start a full-scale crisis pregnancy center, she said. But that doesn't mean laypeople can't be encouraged to step forward as volunteers and donors at existing centers. They also need to know they can get involved on a host of issues ranging from adoption to foster-care programs, from efforts to help needy immigrants to work ending human trafficking.

Sunday School classes for kids can take part in drives to collect diapers, baby blankets and clothing for infants and toddlers. Adult classes can raise money to help buy ultrasound units for crisis-pregnancy centers, through programs such as the Psalm 139 Project ("For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb") organized by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Families can donate car seats. People with financial skills can teach classes for single mothers trying to handle jobs, day care and tight budgets. Lawyers can volunteer to assist with adoption papers. Doctors can donate a few hours to help with prenatal care.

Just because "your church doesn't have a full-blown orphan care ministry complete with its own budget and staff" doesn't mean that it "isn't fulfilling the commands of scripture," wrote Portero in an essay for the ERLC after last year's March for Life.

"However, if we find that we are caring for our members without equipping them to live on mission, then we need to re-evaluate. What's more, if we find that our ministries are catering to the comfort and satisfaction of our church members and not to reaching out to a lost culture around us, then it's time to repent."

Terry Mattingly leads and lives in Oak Ridge, Tenn. He is a senior fellow at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi.

Religion on 01/18/2020

Print Headline: Human trafficking, pro-life beliefs intertwined

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