Anti-Human Trafficking focus of October conference

Daybreak webCyd Johnson was a pediatric urology nurse at Children’s Hospital who was concerned over the high number of children from other countries who were being treated for various issues. Many of them were Somalians.

Then she heard the news reports of a nationwide sting targeting a Somalian child-trafficking ring. “That was like a gut bust to me,” she says.

In January she quit her job to engage in anti-trafficking work full-time. She started an anti-trafficking task force at Bloomington Covenant Church, where her husband, Tim, is the pastor. She is working to connect Northwest Conference churches around the issue and has started to make presentations at various groups and churches.

On October 28-30, her church will sponsor Daybreak, a three-day anti-trafficking forum. Anyone is welcome to attend, but it is especially targeted to clergy, medical personnel, and social service workers. CEU credits will be available.

Johnson also serves on the Evangelical Covenant Church’s Human Trafficking Task Force and has authored one section of the PROTECT resource that will be published this fall as a part of the “Just Women” initiative developed by the Department of Women Ministries.

Johnson hopes to someday start a formal CEU trafficking-awareness program for nurses.

Even professionals frequently don’t recognize the “red flags” of slavery, a crime that is far more frequent than most people think. Johnson says she wishes she had recognized the signs while working at the hospital.

The same was true at the church. She says a woman came to the church multiple times looking for financial assistance. “Over time, she revealed she didn’t feel comfortable where she lived.”

The woman said that men would line up outside the door of the apartment across the hall from hers. Young girls also were coming and going. The woman thought it probably was drugs. Instead, the girls had been forced into prostitution.

Several years ago, police shut down a brothel where trafficked girls were forced to service clients. The brothel was just four blocks from the Johnsons’ home and across the street from the local high school.

The three-day conference, which seeks to help educate others in the effort to stop trafficking, will feature a variety of activities.

On Friday, participants can walk the Mall of America with a prayer team. Federal authorities have said the large shopping center is a location where girls are sometimes lured into sexual slavery.

On Saturday, experts in the anti-trafficking field will speak. Among the presenters will be Vednita Carter, a former slave who founded Breaking Free, an organization that works with “women and girls involved in systems of abuse, exploitation, and prostitution/sex trafficking.” Exhibits also will be displayed, and crafts from developing world countries will be sold.

The forum will conclude Sunday, when Boaz Johnson, professor of biblical and theological studies at North Park University, will discuss human trafficking based on his experience growing up in India and his current work as part of the modern abolitionist movement.

A song is being written for the event, and Lauren Catlin, a spoken-word artist, also will participate. (Many of her performances are available on YouTube).

For more information or to pre-register, call the church at 952-831-8339. Registration is a suggested donation of $10 for adults and $5 for students.

For resources and information about how congregations can address the issue, visit the Covenant’s human trafficking website.

Article by Stan Friedman. Copyright © 2011 The Evangelical Covenant Church.