by Derri Smith
“Are you a faith-based organization?” The question comes from many corners. End Slavery Tennessee’s approach to faith-based is not what many people expect.
We who lead End Slavery Tennessee are people who have faith in and a commitment to Christ.
Yet, some survivors of human trafficking tell me their horrific experiences with “Christianity.” I hear, “Yea, this guy who raped me had Bible verses tattooed on his back,” or “This preacher—he only wanted the really young ones.” And more. And worse.
Our approach to this work may not seem “Christian enough” to some. But pushing tracts and Bible studies on survivors and using churchy vocabulary is frequently like pouring vinegar on their wounds. Therefore, our general practice is to not even mention that we are believers, until asked.
These girls and women lived transactional lives. Their traffickers told them, “If you do this, I’ll feed you…If you don’t do that, I‘ll beat you.” So we avoid any semblance of reward-and-punishment transactions, especially where faith is concerned. Transaction-based care tells the survivor, “Act like you like Jesus and we’ll do stuff for you.” No, we’re not going there.
So what does it mean to be faith-based in this work? It means we love others, with respect, without judgment or shock and without expectation. It means we stand as equals before the cross, grateful for mercy and ready to extend it. It means when someone falls down, we’re there to help them get back up. Our faith motivates us to offer excellent professional services; to go the second - and third- mile; to always seek the survivors’- and each other’s- best interests.
A survivor we served for several years told me, “I didn’t know there were people who could care about me without expecting anything in return. I didn’t know I had options. You saved my life.” Hearing these words gives me great satisfaction that we are fulfilling our mission in the right way.
Do some of those we serve come to faith? Absolutely. If someone asks about our motivations, do we share them in a respectful way that does not seek to shame, cajole or manipulate? Sure. Our mission is about creating a community of support; a place to heal; to be God’s hands and feet, loving the people He created.
In the final analysis, “faith-based” is not so much what we say or do as who we are.