Justice and Spiritual Formation

What makes Every ONE Free such a good model for other churches wanting to enlist in the fight against human trafficking? And how can such a ministry benefit both volunteers and the church? Over the past five years, we’ve learned some valuable lessons about how justice issues and spiritual formation work together to grow Christians and churches alike.

God’s guidance and the power of the Holy Spirit have been hallmarks of Every ONE Free from its inception. Purpose Church’s lead pastor Glenn K. Gunderson, Jr. described how Pastor Tamiko’s roles came about by divine design. “I wish I could say I had this great vision and that we sought the person, but the Lord raised her up. We saw Tamiko’s giftedness and leadership abilities and wanted her on the team. Because of her passions, the position [involving both justice issues and spiritual formation] emerged.”

Gunderson went on to explain how:

“spiritual formation is knowledge of the Scriptures, application to people’s lives, sharing Christ, being missions minded, having an active prayer life, serving—developing a heart for justice. All those things should be part of a total Christian. Spiritual formation is forming the believer with the priorities of a follower of Christ. Shouldn’t justice be one of those?”

Being Every ONE Free’s leader, Tamiko models the way, and many follow her example. As volunteers grow in working out a biblical worldview, their transformed lives impact the people around them, as well as the community.

Growing in Godliness

God’s holiness demands justice. That’s why Jesus came and died for sinners, because God hates sin and the injustice it brings upon the most vulnerable in our society. And few people are more vulnerable than those children at-risk of being ensnared by traffickers. Consider these examples:

  • A ten-year-old girl told the police when she was rescued that she knew her “boyfriend” loved her because when he beat her he would say he was sorry, and no one had ever done that before.
  • As a child, a girl started being sold by her mom to get money for drugs. At thirteen, she was sold to a pimp.
  • A young woman sobbed upon seeing the stuffed animal in a freedom bag. When the officer who gave it to her asked why, she said: “I only had one stuffed animal as a child, but my mom got mad at me so she burned it.”
  • A young boy longs for a relationship with his dad. When a man takes an interest and starts playing ball with him, the grooming process begins.

Many victims (probably most) don’t know what healthy relationships are because all they’ve experienced is pain and dysfunction. Frequently their parents have told them they are worthless and will never amount to anything. “Love” can be a trigger word, as pimps claim to “love” them and deliberately develop a sick co-dependency that imprisons victims in “the life.”

God hates this type of injustice, and His people must not stand silently by. In his book, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just, Tim Keller explains how the development of character traits motivates involvement in justice issues. He describes Micah 6:8 as:

a summary of how God wants us to live. To walk humbly with God is to know him intimately and to be attentive to what he desires and loves. And what does that consist of? The text says to ‘do justice and love mercy,’ which seem at first glance to be two different things but they are not (p. 3).

Using the Hebrew words, Keller said that the word for justice (mishpat) emphasizes the action, while the word for mercy (chesedh) emphasizes the motive for that action. So “to walk with God, then, we must do justice, out of merciful love” (p. 3).

This motivation never diminishes for a Christian. Increasingly, it must be acted upon, as godly character develops as though our efforts are being done to Jesus himself. In Matthew 25:34–40, Jesus tells this powerful story:

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Did you see them? The trafficking victims? “The least of these?” Those girls and boys imprisoned in a nightmare with no escape? When we help children (or adults) who are hurting, being raped, tortured, brutalized physically, emotionally, and spiritually—we’ve done it for Jesus. We cannot ignore their silent cries—the cries of those Jesus lived and died for. To be just, Christians simply must be involved.

In addition to becoming more like our Savior, the fight against slavery provides unprecedented opportunities to share Christ with those who don’t know Him. The opportunities for outreach include victims and many others in the community.

Growing the Church

Jesus not only wanted us to make disciples, but to also lead the fight against the evils within society. The battle against human trafficking bridges gaps between ethnic groups, genders, ages, religious ideologies, and political affiliations. Almost every human being hates the injustice of modern-day slavery. Gunderson said he believes:

this new generation is challenging us to be involved. Our generation of evangelicals has been strong on evangelism but there’s been a gap in the justice area. As a result of that the pendulum has gone too far the other way and the younger generation is tempted to promote justice without things like personal salvation, missions, and morality. So I love what Jesus said: ‘I wish you would do the latter (justice) without neglecting the former (though he was talking about tithing, I would say anything to do with morality)’ … I believe the gospel is most effective when it’s the two in balance with each other as Jesus’s ministry was balanced that way also.

Christians want to become more like Jesus—sanctified, set apart for God’s purposes. And, that’s what the Church at large is about: Shining a light on society’s ills and pointing people to a Holy God with a prescription for abundant life—through Jesus.

Consider the tricks traffickers use to ensnare victims and the admonitions in Scripture that can thwart such evil schemes.

  • Casual sex: “You’re having sex anyway; you might as well get paid for it.”
  • Consumerism: “Oh baby girl, let me buy that for you.”
  • Runaways (or undocumented kids) trying to make it on the streets needing food, shelter, and basic needs met: “I’ll take care of you; you can eat and sleep at my place.”
  • Power to climb the invisible ladder in that video game: “I can get you there, but first you need to send me a naked photo.”
  • Single moms trying to care for their children: “I can help you make the money you need so Child Protective Services won’t take them away from you.”

Such lies imprison victims. However, applying biblical values provides the key that opens the prison doors:

  • “Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute.” Proverbs 82:3
  • “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner [immigrant] residing among you, giving them food and clothing.” Deut. 10:18
  • “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James: 1:27
  • “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

Throughout Scripture, God reveals His heart for justice. Jesus expects His people to practice His righteousness, demonstrating love and compassion to those in need. What if the Church identifies those at risk, steps into those gaps, and promotes the purity of intimacy within marriage teaching how to build solid family relationships? What if congregations love on wayward teens or LGBT youth and build relationships with them worth far more than anything money can buy. What if congregational support helps couples adopt out of the foster care system providing forever homes for children without families? Or assists those aging out of the system by helping them find jobs and maybe offering a place to live until they can make it on their own?

In the process of such outreach efforts, volunteers can also figure out ways to support and value law enforcement, health care workers, and county officials. Some churches adopt nearby schools, coming alongside to mentor at-risk kids, clean up campuses, and help with sports or arts programs. Others work directly with the foster care system training volunteers to care for kids so foster parents can have a night off, easing stress and tension in the home. Assisting pro-life pregnancy clinics emphasizes the message that every life is valuable, from conception to the grave. Such efforts demonstrate the genuine love of Christ to every member of the community.

Besides helping to fight human trafficking, according to Gunderson, these practices also attract unchurched members of the community.

Fulfilling the Great Commission

When Every ONE Free shows a film about human trafficking to raise awareness, we begin building relationships with individuals who don’t normally come to church. Sometimes they start volunteering with our group. While working on projects, they hear conversations about Jesus and how He sets people free. Gunderson said that involvement with justice issues is such a non-threatening way for a non-believer to start getting involved with Christians that whenever Purpose Church has a major outreach, the handouts prominently feature Every ONE Free.

Justice ministries such as Every ONE Free also provide a platform for unity in the body of Christ. When we held a Men Standing Against Trafficking event, more than ten churches wanted to continue partnering with Purpose Church afterward.

The combination of justice and spiritual formation is powerful. Through it, Christ’s light shines in the darkness of communities desperately in need of a Savior. By illuminating the transforming work of Jesus—the emphasis of Christianity shifts from negative perceptions to positive, and that opens hearts to receive Christ. Maybe even for some of the pimps and johns. And that’s how we can create traffick-free communities.