Saturday, May 26, 2007


OK, this post rambles a bit, but hang with me for a minute.

John Piper writes in his book "Don't Waste Your Life" about an old man who heard Piper's father preaching and, at the end of the service, came forward to commit his life to Christ. As he talked with Piper's father, he began to sob, saying, "I've wasted it! I've wasted it!"

Piper says that image really gripped him--he didn't want to come to the end of his own life and realize that he had wasted it.

An image that has had a similar impact on me is Matthew 7:21-23, where Jesus says:
Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'
I think of how glibly Christians talk to and about the Lord. We treat God like a friendly acquaintance who is nice to see for a few minutes most days, but we're glad that He doesn't ask very much of us.

Except that He does, and we just try to ignore that part. Let us go to church, maybe even go to Bible study or have a quick daily devotional time, but let's not listen too hard, or we might hear Him calling us to a third-world country or the slums or some other place full of needy, inconvenient people.

Sorry for the preaching. Well, I'm not really sorry for it. Somehow this fits in with the thing God is doing in my life.

I don't think for a moment that I've wasted my life; in fact, for the past 15 years I've worked as a Christian journalist, communicating God's truth to several million readers. I can't think of many privileges or callings higher than that.

I don't know if God will lead me at some point into a different vocational path in fighting human trafficking. It may well be that I'm supposed to stay in my current field and use that platform to publicize the issue. But--and many of us writers feel this way at times--I sometimes wish I could be doing the ministry instead of just writing about it. These days I find myself daydreaming about caring for rescued slaves and, I'll admit, beating up the bad guys (but I'm pretty sure that will never happen).

And I know that the writing itself is ministry. For those of you who know me, don't worry that I'm about to chuck everything and move or drag my family into poverty. But in some ways this reminds me of the situation we faced a few years ago, when my current employer moved halfway across the country.

My wife and I had to decide if we were going to stay where we were or go along to the new location. After awhile my wife had a rather marvelous thought: "Let's not agonize so much about the question of staying or going; maybe this is God expanding our horizons to go somewhere else--and that could be anywhere in the world."

So we looked into moving to Australia. That didn't work out--they didn't want us. But somehow, even though "the whole world" was a lot more nebulous than just "stay or go" with my current job, the thought that God might have something completely different in mind for us was surprisingly comforting.

So I guess these rambling thoughts are just part of trying to figure out why God has hammered me so hard with this issue and why He seems to want me involved in some way. Whatever way He wants, I want to be obedient. I'm pretty sure the next step for me is simply to call the first meeting of the Clapham Circle of Lancaster County. I'll try to set a date soon.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Lots of ideas

World Hope International has a great list of ideas on what individuals can do to fight slavery. Please check this link--it is much more comprehensive than I would have imagined:

What We Can Do

The Faith Alliance Against Slavery and Trafficking (FAAST), of which World Hope is a member, has the same list at its site, which is also worth checking:


Thursday, May 24, 2007

To the victims ...

Imagine the despair of the victims. No hope of rescue. No prospect that today will be any different from yesterday or the day before.

A young girl is raped—a dozen, two dozen times a day or more. A young boy rolls firecrackers by hand for hours on end, when he should be attending school and playing with friends. An entire family labors to make hundreds of bricks each day, trying to pay off a loan that is impossible to pay off—eventually forgetting that they ever were free. For them, now, this is just the way life is.

I want to talk to them. And although I doubt that any of them will ever read this, I’ll say here what I can’t say in person:

You are not forgotten. You are more valuable than you know. God loves you, and His own Son gave His life for you. We love you, too—thousands of us who have finally realized your suffering.

We’re coming for you. We’re coming to set you free and to help you find a new life. We’re coming to bring justice, to stop the wicked people who have done this to you and to make other traffickers realize that their ugly business is no longer going to be worth it. We just need to find you.

Lord Jesus, help us to find them.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Where I used to live

My friend Chris sent me an article from the StarTribune in Minneapolis. The brothels mentioned in the article were close to where I used to live--the "hub" was about 13 blocks from our old house. I'm so glad the authorities recognize who the bad guys are and who the victims are in this case.

Attack on 'sex slavery' targets 8 brothels
Jean Hopfensperger, Star Tribune

The women came mostly from Mexico and Central America.

When they arrived in Minnesota, the women had their passports and other identifying documents taken away and they were forced into a world of prostitution. In one night, two women serviced more than 80 men in a south Minneapolis house.

On Monday, in what might be one of the biggest such cases in Minnesota, 25 people were charged in federal court with running eight brothels. Eighteen of the suspects are illegal immigrants, according to an indictment filed in U.S. District Court.

Five of the brothels operated in Minneapolis and the others were in Richfield, West St. Paul and Austin, Minn., according to the indictment.

"The leaders of this prostitution ring ... are responsible for the bondage and sex slavery of women, an intolerable condition in a twenty-first century America," U.S. Attorney Rachel Paulose said at a news conference.

Major state law enforcement leaders also were there.

The charges stem from arrests made Saturday during high-profile raids near Lake Street and Bloomington Avenue S. in south Minneapolis. Nineteen men and six women were charged. All had surnames that appeared to be of Hispanic origin. Paulose said she could not reveal the countries of origin of the accused and the victims.

Another house was a hub

The indictment charges that Marisol Ramirez, a 37-year-old woman, established the network of brothels, and that she was assisted by Roberto Rivera-Miranda, 31. A house at 3212 Cedar Av. S. in Minneapolis was the hub of operations, where prostit! utes would spend time while coming to and from the airport or moving from brothel to brothel, the indictment said.

The other people charged Monday rented the houses used as brothels, drove women to various locations, delivered condoms, supplied narcotics and worked as doormen, the indictment said.

Some distributed business cards -- in Spanish -- at places such as Mystic Lake Casino and along Central Avenue in Minneapolis.

The prostitution ring did not appear to be a high-tech operation. Rivera-Miranda, for example, used his name to get from Qwest a land-line telephone number for a brothel in northeast Minneapolis, the indictment said.

The women were subjected to horrendous exploitation, Paulose said. At 3104 Pleasant Av. S. in Minneapolis, for example, one woman was forced to provide sex to 46 "johns" in one night last month, the indictment said.

The 25 people were charged with conspiracy, transporting persons to engage in prostitution, and coercion and enticement of another to travel across state! lines to engage in prostitution.

The arrests were largely the result of a collaborative investigation involving U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) and the St. Paul Police Department, officials said.

The arrests also were credited to slain St. Paul police Sgt. Jerry Vick, who two years ago this month was killed while doing undercover work.

St. Paul Assistant Police Chief Nancy DiPerna said that Vick had discovered a prostitution ring involving Mexican and Central American women. A foundation created in his name applied for a federal grant to continue that investigation after his death, she said.

"Our prosecutor and dedicated law enforcement partners deserve much credit for their work in investigating and dismantling a major prostitution ring in a metropolitan area that has been identified as one of the nation's top centers for the prostitution of women," Paulose said.

Human trafficking a concern

The case points to the growing concern about human trafficking in Minnesota. Last year the Legislature commissioned the first state report, which found that 43 percent of the 119 human service providers it surveyed had helped a victim of human trafficking -- and that they were helping about 200 victims at the time of the survey.

There was no information on people charged with human trafficking in the report, because until now, Minnesota law enforcement did not use the law, said Danette Buskovick, the statistics director and task force staff member from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

"Sex trafficking isn't a new crime, but it's something hidden," she said. "These are cases that are very hard to build and to prosecute. So this is a really big deal."

The people charged in the case are scheduled to make their first court appearance Wednesday in U.S. District Court.

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511 •

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Good going, Zach Hunter

This morning I happened to see a segment on CNN called CNN Heroes. It featured a 15-year-old named Zach Hunter, who as a seventh grader began an effort called "Loose Change to Loosen Chains." He has raised a lot of money by collecting loose change that is donated to the International Justice Mission in its work to rescue slaves. Pretty impressive! I hope I can make such a difference.

Loose Change to Loosen Chains
CNN Heroes: Zach Hunter

Saturday, May 19, 2007

What if ...

What if someone could find a way into the lives of traffickers? What if someone could gain a hearing with them in order to tell them how much better their lives would be with Jesus Christ?

About 10 or 12 years ago I met a man named David Yone Mo, who had been the leader of a notorious street gang in Burma (known as Myanmar at the time). He was brutal and fearless, having taken control of the gang when the former leader backed down from David's challenge to a fight--in a barrel, with razor blades.

David found himself near death after using dirty heroin needles, and doctors gave him less than a week to live. He began to read the Bible, and he committed his life to Christ. Christ saved his soul and healed his body. Within a week, instead of being dead, David was out of the hospital. He went to his lieutenants and led them to Christ. They disbanded the gang and formed in its place the Myanmar Young Crusaders, who through the years have helped many people overcome drug addictions, helped opium growers to switch to different cash crops, and led many people to faith in Jesus Christ.

David, this brutal man, became compassionate. He had a significant ministry to people suffering from leprosy (Hansen's disease) that began when he agreed to share a meal with residents of a leper colony, in spite of the flies that would land on the people's open sores and then on the food he was about to eat. The people said that people had come to visit them before, but none had ever eaten with them. He did it out of love for Jesus and for them.

I'm just thinking what an impact it might have if a trafficker found Jesus Christ, realized the wickedness of his work but also the power of Christ to transform people, and then worked to lead other traffickers to renounce their ways and live a life of love and compassion.

The Apostle Paul persecuted Christians before becoming one himself. John Newton was a slave ship captain, and the fruit of his conversion is still seen as people sing "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me." God has saved wretches before--millions of us! He can certainly save wretches who at this point are trafficking persons.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Taken aback

I think some of my friends and relatives have been kind of taken aback by this blog and by what perhaps has been a shocking introduction to this issue of modern slavery--this "immoral trade," as Baroness Caroline Cox describes it.

Many people, of course, have had no idea that this problem even exists. And that is exactly what I and many others in the grassroots abolitionist movement want to change. Once this becomes a big item on the public agenda, it will become harder and harder for traffickers to operate with the kind of impunity they have now.

For example, the second-largest industry employing slave labor is that of domestic workers. Young women are offered a chance to come to the United States, study for a career and work as a nanny or housekeeper. But when they arrive, their passports are confiscated, they aren't given the education that was promised, they work brutally long hours, they are not allowed to contact their families or to leave the house alone, and many are sexually abused.

If the general public were aware that such things are happening in U.S. cities today, perhaps neighbors would make an effort to make sure the family down the block with the live-in nanny is not actually enslaving that young woman.

Sound far-fetched? Read what happened in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Louis Etongwe's story

Come on, everybody. I know this issue won't be everyone's "big thing," but we all need to find some way to help. At this moment, millions of people are living without hope that they will ever be rescued. Their hearts are crying out--or maybe their hearts are so scarred that they no longer cry. God says, "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?" (Isaiah 58:6, NIV)

Monday, May 14, 2007

Holy Discontent

A new book by Bill Hybels, "Holy Discontent," talks about the kind of thing that has happened to me. He says that many people who give themselves to causes do so because they have had a "firestorm moment," an experience in which they realize that they simply can't stand to watch things go on as they are. He encourages all of us to look for such moments:

I think you constantly should be on the lookout for that one cause or purpose or problem that grabs you by the throat and just won't let go. Your "one thing" is the stirring situation that causes so much damage to your own soul that it brings you to ... a place where you feel you simply must do something. Your "one thing" births a burning-bush experience in your soul where you sense God himself inviting you into an intentional and personalized partnership with him to renovate reality.

I think it is cool that this book would show up just when I'm going through this process of trying to find some direction for taking real action. I started reading the book today; I'll let you know if it brings some good insights.

Work has been busy lately, and for the next few days I might not get a chance to post very often. But I'm building a good list of contacts, and I'm anxious to see where all this goes.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

More research

OK, so now we have two members in the Clapham Circle of Lancaster County. But one member will need to drive about four days each way to make it to meetings. So it would be good if more people would join who live nearby!

I've continued to try to make contacts the past couple of days. The woman I wrote to in Ohio has responded with a couple of research ideas, and she also pointed me to two other helpful reports:

Hidden Slaves: Forced Labor in the United States

Florida Responds to Human Trafficking

I'm trying to approach this research in a focused way; I think it deserves the kind of effort I would put into research when I was in grad school. I'm taking notes, printing key sections and following up by contacting people mentioned in the documents.

The biggest frustration I'm facing right now is that although the grassroots movement against human trafficking has some really creative ideas for publicizing the issue and getting people to join the cause, it feels as if most of the ideas still leave the rank-and-file volunteer isolated from the front lines. For example, churches are beginning to declare themselves "abolitionist churches," which means, in part, that they are willing to provide housing for victims. I think that is really cool. But it is one thing to make a declaration; it is quite another thing to actually get plugged into the system in such a way that you would ever actually provide housing for a victim. If local law enforcement doesn't even recognize the problem, can we ever truly help?

The "Hidden Slaves" report (above) says that human trafficking has largely been relegated to federal, not local, law enforcement, so I'm hoping the FBI contacts my neighbor gave me can help.

Meanwhile, as I plow through these big documents, I'm praying that God will continue to keep my heart broken over the plight of these victims.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

First Steps

My younger son and I were at a grocery store in early April, and we came across a bin of $5 DVDs. One caught my eye--"Human Trafficking." I remembered seeing part of it on Lifetime TV several months earlier, and it had made enough of an impression that I bookmarked a Web site about it. It seemed to be a pretty accurate portrayal of the problem, and nothing I've seen since then has convinced me otherwise. I decided it would be a worthwhile purchase.

I had a week off work, and during that week I began to immerse myself in the issue. I watched the movie (it's three hours long) twice.

I also read a book called "Terrify No More," by Gary Haugen, president of the International Justice Mission. The book details how IJM rescued a bunch of young girls from forced prostitution in Cambodia. Along the way, the book tells other stories, of people rescued from slavery in brick kilns and other situations. It is powerful stuff.

IJM is staffed by lawyers and people with law enforcement backgrounds (there are others, of course). I wanted to see if a regular person like me could get involved.

Lots of Web sites are springing up as a grassroots movement grows among people who are dedicating themselves to fighting human trafficking. Some helpful sites I've found are:

International Justice Mission
Not for Sale Campaign
Polaris Project
Free the Slaves

I've read documents such as the U.S. State Department's "2006 Trafficking in Persons" report and the "Toolkit to Combat Trafficking in Persons," by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

I've begun to tell friends, co-workers and people on airplanes about the problem.

I read the book "Not For Sale," by David Batstone. He tells of many people around the world who are fighting human trafficking.

I called my county's sheriff's department, but they said they know of no human trafficking in our county. We are quite close to Charlotte, NC, though, so I can't imagine that there is nothing going on around here. I wonder if it just isn't on their radar screen yet.

I e-mailed the state representative from SC who authored the bill to ban human trafficking in our state. She says she might be able to give me names of others in my area who are involved.

I've begun to read the book "Amazing Grace," by Eric Metaxas. The recent movie of the same title is based on this book, which tells the story of William Wilberforce's battle to end the slave trade in England.

I called the SC Attorney General's office to congratulate them on their recent statements that they are beginning to see how to deal with victims of trafficking--treating them as victims, not as criminals. I asked if they knew how a church or an individual could become involved, perhaps by providing housing for a person who has been rescued from trafficking. They suggested that I call Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

I called ICE, but the guy didn't seem to understand what I was asking. He seemed to think that I was asking how my church could provide sanctuary for someone his department wanted to deport! When he finally understood what I was asking about, he had no real suggestions.

Tonight I spoke with a neighbor who is an FBI agent, and he gave me a couple of places I might be able to contact.

I e-mailed a woman in Ohio who reportedly produced an 80-page document detailing instances of human trafficking in her state. I wanted to ask for pointers on how I can research the topic as well. She is out of the country for several weeks.

I started this blog!

And tonight, with this post, I hereby announce the formation of the Clapham Circle of Lancaster County. So far, I'm the 0nly member. At least when I was a kid, my brother and I could form a club and have two members right away. So I'll need to figure out how to publicize this thing.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007


It is amazing what you find when you begin to notice the many references in the Bible to justice and to defending the poor and oppressed. When I read accounts of how traffickers work, I'm reminded of Psalm 10--as perfect a description of human trafficking as I can imagine:

In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises. He boasts of the cravings of his heart; he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord. In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. His ways are always prosperous; he is haughty and your laws are far from him; he sneers at all his enemies. He says to himself, "Nothing will shake me; I'll always be happy and never have trouble." His mouth is full of curses and lies and threats; trouble and evil are under his tongue. He lies in wait near the villages; from ambush he murders the innocent, watching in secret for his victims. He lies in wait like a lion in cover; he lies in wait to catch the helpless; he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net. His victims are crushed, they collapse; they fall under his strength. He says to himself, "God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees."

Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless. Why does the wicked man revile God? Why does he say to himself, "He won't call me to account"? But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. Break the arm of the wicked and evil man; call him to account for his wickedness that would not be found out.

The Lord is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land. You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more (NIV).

Evangelicals, of which I am one, tend to focus so much on issues of personal morality that we become blind to God's passion for justice. But consider Jeremiah 22:16:

"He defended the cause of the poor and needy ... is that not what it means to know me?" declares the Lord.

I think many evangelicals would be floored if you were to say that defending the poor and needy is what it means to know God. Obviously, this is not the only thing the Bible talks about in regard to knowing God, but the fact that one passage boils the matter down to this carries a lot of weight. And think about this: the core of the Gospel message is that God sent His Son to die for those who could not save themselves. We were poor and needy, and He rescued us. He calls us to be like Him.

Tomorrow I'll try to review some of the specific things I'm doing to join the fight against human trafficking.


Have I ever felt this passionate about anything? I've asked this more than once over the past few weeks.

The answer probably doesn't matter. What matters is that after several years of lending prayer support and some financial support to the cause of defending the oppressed, I have felt some kind of an explosion within me. I think it might be how the prophet Jeremiah felt when he said,

"His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot" (Jer. 20:9, NIV).
The world today contains as many as 27 million people who are in slavery, either for labor or for sex. Traffickers often deceive victims by saying they can offer the victim a legitimate job or that the victim can simply work for awhile to pay off a loan. But the job isn't legitimate, and the loan can never be paid, because the trafficker then simply takes the victim by force. The now-enslaved person is held under lock and key and there is no escape. Even if there were, the slave is told that his or her family will be beaten or killed if the slave tries to escape.

It is madness.

It has become clear that I am supposed to help fight for the freedom of slaves. Everything in my background and personality seems to cry out that I was made for this. Not that I have law enforcement, legal or investigative training, but just that in some way, God made me for this. The Apostle Paul wrote,

"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph. 2:10, NIV).

I think God created me to do this good work. I don't know exactly what that means, but I am committed to finding out, and in this blog I intend to write about this journey and this fight. Maybe as I figure out a concrete way to serve, the thoughts here can help someone else to join the abolitionist cause.

Why is this called "Bob's Clapham Blog"? It is named in honor of the Clapham Sect, a group formed in 1791 by William Wilberforce and others as they fought to end the British slave trade--a goal they finally achieved in 1807. It took a long time. It was worth it.

Are you obsessed, too?