In Our Backyard, a Christian Perspective on Human Trafficking

You’ve seen them, the storefronts, or 2nd floor windows that say, “Massage – ‘Vaguely Asian Sounding Name’ Spa, the neon sign says Open, the hours are 10 AM to 2 AM with no appointment is necessary.” Of course some of them dress it up a bit with a reflexology chart in the window, but really now . . . These things dot the American landscape; and not only in the “red light” districts in our big cities.

Before I go any further let me say this: It is not the presumed sexual contact taking place in such establishments that bothers me. No, it is the treatment of the girls who have been ensnared by evil men who would steal their lives and enslave them for profit; that is what I hate and that is why when asked to review a book on the subject, I jumped at the chance.

In Our Backyard, a Christian Perspective on Human Trafficking in the United States, is self-published by Nita Belles. In it she outlines the appalling breadth and depth of a crime that lives in the shadows and corrupts our society more each day. Ms. Belles puts a human face on the “issue,” by telling stories. More importantly, she then gives us a sense of what we might do to address the tragedy that exists all around us.

United States with promises of money, education, good food, and the opportunity to perform in churches all over the country.

They went on tour, but that was the only promise that was kept. They received no education, no money, were given disastrously little nourishment and stayed in a trailer. They were kept with the threat of deportation and the humiliation of being “sent home” as a failure. While on tour, the boys stayed with host families. This was happening right under the noses of fine church-going folk.

United States under false pretenses to train as a chef. She was forced to work 6 days a week 12-15 hours a day. Her “employer” held her identification papers.

United States, then kept locked up in the home of the family she worked for, a story about companies that provide “cheap labor,” to farms and factories, all of it right here in our country.

Each time Ms. Belles describes the false promises, the threats, intimidation, and the humiliation that keeps so many people enslaved, she tells the story of how the person was freed from slavery. It was a church member who blew the whistle on the Zambian Boys Choir. It was a restaurant patron who happened to be a retired cop who rescued Charito. A neighbor who freed the housekeeper. Belles’ point is clear: People like you and me need first to be educated on the signs of slavery, her book goes a long way to accomplishing that, and then keep our eyes open. Only we can do that.

We can also pay close attention to what we buy and what we use. We can purchase fair trade products and keep asking questions at the stores we patronize. Awareness is key. And speaking of awareness, the next time you’re watching porn on the Internet, you might ask yourself, “Where did this actress come from? How ‘free’ is she really?” Then let me ask you: do you really want to be involved in that?

In Our Backyard, I could end this review with only praise. But her subtitle promises a Christian perspective on human trafficking in the United States. And this is where the book seems weak. Yes she throws biblical reference in from time to time, or tells stories about how Christian groups have challenged the modern-day institutions of slavery. But a “Christian” perspective on this topic would need to address the nature of slavery in the Bible. It is a thoroughgoing motif throughout the Scriptures. From that perspective human trafficking occurs because we live in a society enslaved to its desires, its fears, and its drives. Freedom comes when we live for something more than ourselves, when we live for a God whose very being is love. Still, I’m glad she wrote the book.

About Sam Alexander

Sam Alexander is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of San Rafael and also serves as Adjunct Instructor in Homiletics at San Francisco Theological Seminary.


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