Churches urged to engage issue of human trafficking in state

Churches urged to engage issue of human trafficking in state

By Grace Thornton

The Alabama Baptist

No young person goes to career day at school and says, “I want to be a prostitute.” For the people who find themselves in those situations — the prostitutes, forced laborers and minors trafficked through the state of Alabama — the story is often a complicated one of abuse, control, coercion and organized crime, said Rep. Jack Williams, R-District 47.

That’s why he says help, not condemnation, is the answer for those who are trapped in a lifestyle they never intended to have. That’s why he passionately advocates for the State to prosecute the pimps, punish the buyers and provide support for law enforcement officers who are fighting the epidemic on the front lines.

And that’s why he believes churches are a critical link in combating the booming trafficking industry.

The Superhighway

Many Alabamians don’t even realize there’s “a battle in our backyard,” Williams said.

“Human trafficking brings in $150 billion a year,” he said, noting that the industry ranges from forced labor to selling sex.

Cases of trafficking have been reported all over the state from Huntsville to Dothan to Mobile and everywhere in between. And cutting straight through Birmingham is the I-20 corridor, which has earned the title of the “Sex Trafficking Superhighway.”

Williams, a member of Fullness Christian Fellowship, Birmingham, has been a champion for the vulnerable in the arena of Alabama government for a while now, forming the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force in 2014 to address the vast need in the state.

Even newer legislation — the Human Trafficking Safe Harbor Act — went into effect in the summer of 2016 and slaps a $500 fine on anyone found guilty of soliciting a prostitute. As a result of the act, “johns” are tried in state court and the fine money goes to victims’ services, Williams said.

“Very tough laws” also combat the growing population of pimps, allowing judges to hand down prison terms of up to 20 years for those who sell minors for sex, he said.

The goal? To make Alabama the most difficult state to buy sex or pimp out others, Williams said.

Getting churches involved

But the State can’t end the problem by itself, he said.

“This isn’t an issue that you pass a law against and you pat yourself on the back and say, ‘OK, we’ve solved that problem,’” Williams said. “Law enforcement is out fighting this all day long.”

It’s important churches be engaged, he explained.

‘Jesus saves people’

“The State can provide a pathway out for those women but the law alone can’t save people — Jesus saves people,” Williams said.

“And if the Church doesn’t become part of the solution by engaging the elements of society that we may not typically choose to engage with, then we’re going to miss the incredible blessing that goes with seeing people’s lives redeemed and seeing people changed.”

He also encouraged people to be a part of the Alabama Human Trafficking Summit, set for Feb. 3 from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. at Embassy Suites Montgomery and hosted by END IT Alabama, a project of the task force.

The summit is geared toward coordinating strategies and starting community initiatives to combat the trafficking industry.

Candace McIntosh, executive director of Alabama Woman’s Missionary Union, which helps sponsor the summit, said Christ’s love “compels us” to get involved.

“When I think of those who are held in bondage, both physically and emotionally, how can we not pray, advocate and do what we can with what God has given us to stand in the gap for their sake?” she said.

For more information about END IT Alabama or the upcoming summit, visit

Editor’s Note — This package of articles originally ran in February 2017 but is being reposted today (Jan. 11, 2018) as part of Alabama Human Trafficking Awareness Day.

Statewide services available to help

There are numerous service providers for victims of trafficking in Alabama including:

The WellHouse near Birmingham

A women’s shelter for sex trafficking victims

1-800-991-0948 (24/7 helpline)

Camille Place in Monroeville

A youth shelter for girls rescued from trafficking

Hope Haven in Summerdale

A shelter for women in sex trafficking


Tennessee Valley Family Services Inc.

A program for ages 16–22


Source: Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force


Christians can fight trafficking by empowering, protecting potential victims

By Grace Thornton

The Alabama Baptist

Raleigh Sadler said he’s still haunted by her laughter.

A few years back, he asked his friend Anna — a former victim of human trafficking — if the Church had done anything for her during the years of abuse she’d endured.

She laughed.

“She told me, ‘For five years, I went to church and no one noticed. They didn’t ask me if I was OK — they just assumed that I was,’” Sadler said. “As I think about the 45 million people who are trafficked in the world today, I’m reminded that there are Annas and potential Annas in every community.”

But, he said, he’s also reminded that in every community there’s a church.

And that’s why Sadler said he is investing his life in equipping churches to reach the vulnerable in their congregations and communities.

“Our mission is to help the local church fight human trafficking by reaching those who are most vulnerable,” Sadler said of his New York City-based nonprofit, Let My People Go.

Sadler, formerly a North American Mission Board missionary and college pastor at Gallery Church, New York City, serves as director of justice ministries for Metropolitan New York Baptist Association. He has known human trafficking wasn’t “someone else’s problem” ever since God got a hold of him at a Passion conference in 2012.

And there’s one thing he’s learned in the years since then — “if you as a church focus on vulnerability, you are fighting trafficking,” Sadler said, noting vulnerable populations are where victims come from. “We want to see churches fighting trafficking by identifying the vulnerable, empowering them, protecting them and including them.”

Reaching out to the vulnerable can’t just be a homeless ministry the congregation never engages with, even if that ministry does amazing work in meeting physical needs, he said. It also can’t be an addiction ministry that meets separately and never gets involved in the church at large.

These can be great ministries in their own rite but they don’t address trafficking effectively, Sadler said — church members have to live life alongside them.

“Churches need to think of ways to include those members in the life of their church. We are messy, and Jesus had to enter our mess. We should want to enter into the messes of others,” he said.

Alan Cross, president and executive director of the Alabama-based Community Development Initiatives and former pastor of Gateway Baptist Church, Montgomery, agreed that the more Alabama church members become aware of the vulnerable populations among them, the more they can help and protect them.

Building relationships

“With forced laborers, for instance, the more they are isolated with their employers and disconnected from others, the more they are at their mercy,” said Cross, who studies the immigrant populations of the state. “It’s about building personal relationships with those who are most vulnerable.”

He told the story of an Alabama lawyer who made an effort to build relationships with a community of farm laborers.

“One day the heat overwhelmed one of the men as he was working and they brought him to the hospital. He didn’t have money to pay the bills so he was going to be turned away,” Cross said. “That lawyer heard about the situation, got him the care he needed and he survived.”

Guidance available

It can happen in so many ways but it’s just important that it happens, Cross said.

For churches who would like someone to come alongside them and give them a little extra guidance in starting effective ministry to prevent and address trafficking, Sadler and his ministry partners are willing to have that conversation as part of the service of Let My People Go.

“There are ways to inject justice and mercy into everything you are already doing, to think through your security and protect your members, to come up with applications for your church and small groups,” he said. “We’ve seen it take on different forms in different kinds of churches and communities.”

For more information about Let My People Go, visit

Want to dig deeper?

Raleigh Sadler of the Let My People Go movement recommends these books to learn more about justice, mercy and ministering to vulnerable populations:

“Good News to the Poor”

By Tim Chester

“Ministries of Mercy: 

The Call of the Jericho Road”

By Timothy Keller

“The Just Church”

By Jim Martin

“When Helping Hurts”

By Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

“The Tragedy of American Compassion” By Marvin Olasky

Churches take ownership of need for ministry to human trafficking victims in state

By Grace Thornton

The Alabama Baptist

Erin Futch rolled up her sleeves and got to work that morning in the kitchen of Mountain Brook Baptist Church right next to a girl who looked like she was about her age.

They started talking, swapping stories. Turns out both of them were 22. Both of them had played softball in high school, and not only that — they’d played against each other.

But then their stories had gone vastly different directions.

Erin Futch had gone to college.

The girl beside her had fallen victim to sex trafficking.

“That was a really poignant moment for Erin,” said her mother, Sherrie, who on the first two Fridays of every month helps with the church’s ministry to the residents of The WellHouse, a St. Clair County-based refuge for women rescued from the trafficking industry.

“I know for me before I knew much of anything about sex trafficking, you think it’s somewhere else — around the world, in big cities,” Sherrie Futch said. “But it’s so much closer to home than we think. We have a lot in common with these ladies. If it wasn’t but for a few different circumstances in my own life, something like what happened to them could’ve happened to me.”

Ashley Anderson, development director for The WellHouse, said young women can get pulled into trafficking so easily.

“It’s not the Hollywood picture of what a trafficker or a pimp looks like — in real life, this is a guy who’s quite charming and has a fantastic way of being able to lure these children in and the adults as well,” she said, noting that the grooming process can often begin as a preteen.

“Many who come to us also have a history of childhood sexual abuse, so they were recruited (by the sex trafficking industry) when they were most vulnerable,” Anderson said. “You may find that 18, 19 and 20 year olds who were abused and think leaving is a better option than their unhealthy home will run away onto the street and into the arms of a trafficker.”

And it isn’t long before they find themselves in slavery, she said.

That’s why The WellHouse and other ministries like it exist — ministries like Hope Haven in Summerdale, which Executive Director Donna Armstrong said was born in 2012 out of national Woman’s Missionary Union’s (WMU) Project Help, which focused on fighting human exploitation.

“Ladies in our WMU became very interested in what we could do to help, being located so close to the I-10 corridor and ports along that corridor,” said Armstrong, a member of First Baptist Church, Summerdale. “It’s a heavily trafficked area and we asked for help in figuring out what to do.”

After attending a seminar on the topic, they organized and set out to explore what their area needed most.

“At that time The WellHouse was there and doing great work in St. Clair County but within a 250-mile radius of our area there was nothing,” Armstrong said. “We determined at that time our best efforts would be to create a shelter.”

And the eventual result was Hope Haven, a six-bed, faith-based shelter for women 18 and over who are victims of human trafficking.

“In January 2014 our first resident came through our doors and we’ve had numerous ones since then,” Armstrong said.

Women can stay at Hope Haven as long as they need to, but the goal is to move them to a longer-term recovery program or back home with a family member within 60 days if possible, she said.

‘Humbling and rewarding’

“It’s been very humbling and rewarding to be a part of this ministry,” Armstrong said. “It’s not like I had a heart for victims of human trafficking when this all began — what I had was a heart for Christ and this is the area He laid out for me to serve. I went into that field that He gave me and over time I have developed quite a passion for these women.”

That sort of open-hearted willingness is exactly what these women need from churches all around the state, Anderson said. “At The WellHouse, churches and individuals have helped us tremendously.”

That help ranges from activities like the cooking ministry of Mountain Brook Baptist to collection drives for needed items like paper towels, toiletry items and canned goods, she said.

Both Anderson and Armstrong said their ministries greatly benefit by their volunteers being able to share with congregations about their ministries at church services, conferences and retreats.

“Until we raise awareness, human trafficking will continue to be a crime that’s hidden in plain sight,” Armstrong said.

The WellHouse also needs mentors for the women as they prepare to transition out from the shelter into normal life, Anderson said. “They are assigned a social coach — someone who is interested in being a part of the healing process, someone who is going to walk alongside them, do Bible study, be a really close mentor and friend.”

All of this comes together to rescue and redeem women and fight the atrocities of trafficking, she said.

“While it’s not a new topic, it’s a new conversation, and I’m glad people are starting to have it within their congregations,” Anderson said. “We kind of all live in our little worlds and have tunnel vision sometimes. I can’t blame people for not knowing what they don’t know. But once you know, let’s work together to eradicate it.”

For more information about The WellHouse, visit For more information about Hope Haven, visit

University of Mobile grad, pastor sees massage parlors shut down in NYC

By Grace Thornton

The Alabama Baptist

At the University of Mobile (UM), students are thought of as change agents — that’s the school’s mantra. And Nathan Creitz, a UM graduate, took that concept seriously.

But even he could never have seen where that would lead.

Creitz, who grew up in Tuscaloosa, set out to be a church planter — first moving to Boston, then later to New York City.

But he couldn’t shake the reality that his church was right in the heart of one of the biggest spots for human trafficking.

“As a pastor, there are so many different issues that it’s so hard to know where to focus your time,” he said. “But we knew there was this need in our area.”

So his church plant — City Life Church, Queens — started finding some ways to be intentional, partnering with Raleigh Sadler and Let My People Go (see story, page 5) to figure out some ways to combat trafficking in their community.

Creitz started building a friendship with the chief of police. “The Lord just really opened some doors to have great access to the local precinct,” he said.

And church members started keeping their eyes open.

“Along the way our church had been praying about this issue of human trafficking and we had recognized that there were several massage parlors of concern in our area,” he said. “It wasn’t that all were illicit, but we had reason to believe things were going on.”

Creitz took a list of those five addresses to the chief of police, who followed up immediately — they shut down three and cleared two.

But that isn’t where it stopped — the chief kept going until he’d shut down 24 places in a two-mile radius.

“In the confines of our precinct, the captain took our concerns seriously and innovated a process and has basically shut down every illicit massage parlor in the confines of those four neighborhoods,” Creitz said. “We see the hand of God in this. That’s what we’re rejoicing in.”

The power of prayer opened doors, he said — but they also didn’t want to sit back.

“We wanted to engage with this and do our part,” Creitz said. “We wanted to raise awareness, but we wanted to do whatever we could to make positive changes too.”

Sadler said through its obedient action, City Life Church has served the local police precinct and the local community.

“God is most definitely at work through this church,” Sadler said.

Organizations partner, recruit volunteers to hit global problem head-on

By Grace Thornton

The Alabama Baptist

The issue of human trafficking is personal and close to home — just ask the women who volunteer at The WellHouse or the law enforcement officers who catch traffickers on I-20 or the woman in Summerdale who’s just been rescued and welcomed in to Hope Haven.

It’s personal. But it also is massive, global and far reaching.

More than 45 million people worldwide are trapped in slavery, according to International Justice Mission (IJM). That’s five times the population of New York City, London or Bangkok.

That’s the combined total of the population of 80 countries in the world, IJM reports.

It’s an overwhelming problem but organizations worldwide are partnering with governments, churches, individuals and each other to face the industry head on — and there are ways you can help from volunteering to donating funds.

Here are just a few:

A21 Campaign —

The A21 (which stands for Abolishing Injustice in the 21st Century) Campaign works in the United States, Europe, South Africa, Australia and Thailand and has developed curriculum to educate young people and raise community awareness in order to interrupt demand and prevent victimization. The nonprofit organization runs refuge facilities, works with law enforcement to prosecute traffickers and collaborates with partner agencies. They welcome volunteer involvement in a range of locations and job descriptions, from a graphic artist needed in Australia to an activity planner needed in North Carolina.

International Justice Mission —

From children sold into the cybersex industry to slaves working the brick kilns of India, the world is full of people needing justice, according to IJM. That’s why IJM works to help victims move through their countries’ justice systems in four ways — working with police to rescue victims, working with social workers to restore victims, working with law enforcement to stop criminals and working with public prosecution to represent victims in court. They seek volunteers to help with advocacy, churches to host IJM events and professionals to fill a variety of paid positions.

Not For Sale —

Not for Sale aims to prevent exploitation by building economies that foster healthy communities. The organization believes “business can change the tide against modern slavery because we’ve proven it with our own sweat, tears and capital.” They partner with local leaders in various places in the world to understand the root of slavery and then provide food, housing, education and health care to people affected. They create a plan to develop an economy for them and then partner with entrepreneurs whose vision fits the project. Interested in partnership opportunities? Learn more at

Polaris Project —

The Polaris Project works to petition Congress on behalf of human trafficking victims to get help for them such as fair legal treatment and health care. They also offer other services such as national and global hotlines. Read more about how to get involved on their website.

Shared Hope International —

This organization seeks to end trafficking with a three-pronged approach — prevent, restore and bring justice. They train members of the community to learn the signs of trafficking and intervene, and they provide safe homes and therapy for victims, among other services. You can get involved by committing to be a defender — to make responsible decisions that fight against the industry of exploitation and hold others accountable as well. You also can become an ambassador, host an event or advocate for victims to your representative.

WorldCrafts —

WorldCrafts is a division of national Woman’s Missionary Union that since 1996 has worked to develop sustainable, fair-trade businesses among the world’s poor. Get involved or shop for products on their website —