Jeff Galley serves as central group leader for LifeGroups and missions at Life.Church in Oklahoma City, OK. He and a team from Life.Church recently traveled to India to visit HOPE’s local partner, who is helping to equip churches and underserved communities through savings groups, and to visit Tearfund. In this blog excerpt, he shares about the people he met and what he learned from them about human trafficking. Read the full post on his blog.
Observers estimate there are more than 20 million slaves in India and that one new person is trafficked into slavery every 10 minutes. Some slaves are forced to do manual labor as a house servant or doing hard, backbreaking labor. Some are forced into prostitution. Trafficking isn’t just a problem in India. It’s a global issue, even in my own city.
Trafficking is not kidnapping. It happens when a person is isolated and desperate for income.
I didn’t fully understand this until recently, but it is rare that a person is abducted into a trafficked situation. In reality, trafficking happens when a child or a parent feels trapped, alone, and can’t find enough work to make ends meet and take care of their family.
Along comes a “job broker” who manages to build trust, then promises a job, education, or a brighter future in another city. So parents will send their daughter off with the job broker in hopes they are giving her a brighter future. Or dad will head out to take a “job” in a rock quarry across the country. Or maybe mom will leave her small rural town for the hope of a domestic servant job for a wealthy family in the city.
Then reality sets in upon arrival in the new city. The “job broker” charges a “fee” for the job placement and to cover the travel expenses, so on day one the person is now in debt as they discover the job is either hard labor or forced prostitution. Abuse and intimidation are almost always involved.
The promise of a brighter future turns into a nightmare as the person is trapped, in debt, with no money, and no way to get back home. The feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness become overpowering as a person slowly gives into the situation. Days turn to weeks, weeks to months, and months to years. The business owner—whether it’s a brothel, a quarry, or a sweatshop—gets rich at the expense of an enslaved workforce.
In the midst of this evil, we also met people with astounding stories of hope, leadership, and dignity.
The local church in India is fighting to get women out of sex trafficking. Through drop-in centers operated in partnership with Tearfund, they help women walk through the journey toward restoration.
But it is important to know that rescuing a person who is trapped in slavery is incredibly difficult. Slave owners are violent, law enforcement is slow to respond (or doesn’t help at all), the emotional and physical damage is so deep, and the rehabilitation process is long.
All this to say that while rescue and restoration must be done, it cannot be viewed as the solution to the problem. The solution to trafficking is preventing it. Prevention must be focused on the core issues: isolation and lack of income. This is where HOPE International and Tearfund place most of their efforts.
Local churches, the real heroes in the fight against trafficking, are using savings groups as a tool for prevention.
We spent two days with a group that has been starting new churches in central India for the past 20 years. Across the region, there are several dozen groups of first-generation Christians who are committed to serving their communities.
Two years ago, through a partnership with HOPE International, this network of churches introduced the concept of savings groups throughout several communities as a poverty alleviation tool.
A savings group is a group of 10–20 people who meet together once per week for one to two hours. They build trust and become a support to each other. They learn from the Bible together (though a person in a savings group is often not a Christian). And they save a small amount of money together each week. It turns out that savings groups are a powerful tool in the prevention of human trafficking.
When a person becomes involved in a group, they build strong friendships and are no longer isolated. And they gain economic strength, which makes a person far less desperate to reach for a job opportunity that leads to slavery.
In 18 months, this network of churches has started 180 saving groups. Some participants are church members, but most are not. The first few were hard to start because it was a new concept, but word of mouth is so good that people are now clamoring to get into a group. Their problem now is training enough facilitators to meet the demand.
Two people I met, Vasanth and Radya, are flourishing and free from the vulnerability of human trafficking because of their involvement in a savings group.
We arrived at Vasanth and Radya’s home after sunset and during a rainstorm. They live about 30 minutes outside of the city in central India. I pulled on a rain jacket and headed into the downpour and toward Vasanth and Radya’s home. (I’ve changed their names, but the story is true).
Their home is constructed with sheet metal, tarps, and ropes, sort of like a permanent tent. They don’t own the property they live on nor do they pay rent. Along with 15–20 other families, they’ve settled on open space and set up a small community—referred to as a slum—near the rock quarry where most of the families are employed.
We talked, drank chai tea, and shared about our families for over an hour. Vasanth and Rhadya both work 11 hours per day in a rock quarry. He breaks rocks, and she loads the broken rocks into a container. There’s no child care, so their 18-month old baby goes to the quarry with them. Together, they make roughly $8 per day, barely enough for a basic existence. Vasanth is very vulnerable to being trafficked. The promise of a job could lure him into trouble very quickly.
But that’s not their story. Vasanth is 10 months away from having enough funds to buy an auto rickshaw (sort of like a taxi). Then they’ll both quit working at the quarry, he’ll work as a rickshaw taxi driver, and she plans to be a full-time mom. They are fast to give the credit for their progress to the community in their savings group. The friendships give them support, they’re saving money to buy a rickshaw, and they have become followers of Christ due to the group. Families in India who work in hard labor like Vasanth and Rhadya are so vulnerable, yet they are moving toward strength.
As followers of Christ, it is our job to be about restoring the broken aspects of the world.
My mind can’t even get around how the evil of human trafficking is possible. I take comfort in the fact that Christ protects and restores, so I pray He will do that for each person I met in India.
But, for me, prayer must be accompanied with action. I pray that God gives me the focus, strength, and tenacity to appropriately mobilize resources to address the issue of human trafficking, both in my own home state and around the globe.