Are You a Faith-Based Organization?

love in deed

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, Ill 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. 

Doing Great Things for God?

Periodically a fellow abolitionist, or a kind supporter, will speak of doing great things for God. While I appreciate the sentiment behind the words, the picture that comes to mind is of a house I pass often in our Tennessee countryside with a huge sign in the yard reading “House of Righteous Endeavor.” I don’t know what actually goes on in that house, but every time I drive by, my stress level rises a bit as I envision sour faced people grunting and straining under the heavy weight of endeavoring to be ever righteous.

I love the verse in Psalm138:8 that says, in part, depending on the translation:

  • The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me…
  • The LORD will work out his plans for my life…
  • The LORD will accomplish what concerns me…
  • The LORD will do everything for me….

Ahhh. I can feel the tension roll off my shoulders just reading those words. Now I picture an apple tree, soaking in the sun and rain and bearing apples because, well, that is what apple trees do.

No mere matter of semantics, depending on God to carry out his work makes a real day-to-day difference as I pursue a calling to end slavery and aid its victims.

  • Only God is big enough to bear such a load. Victim’s tales of hellish existence, complex causes and seemingly irreparable damage could crush me under their weight. It is a relief to know that this task is God’s to accomplish and that, even as I take my small part in the struggle, it is He who does the heavy lifting.
  • My priorities shift. When I am “doing great things for God,”  I work feverishly and joylessly. The very One I serve too often gets relegated to a dark recess of my life, living primarily in empty words spoken by a barren soul. When I look to God to accomplish his purpose in my life, I spend time sitting at His feet, hungry for His word and for revelation, not just of His will, but of His majesty. I still enter into pain, but with it comes the joy of knowing God’s heart a little better. My eyes more clearly see the lengths to which His vast love will go for one of the least of these, my brothers and sisters.
  • In the “doing things for God” mode, I tend to operate from a place of self-satisfaction. The work feeds my ego or need for significance through all the good things I do for those needy slaves. In truth, much is expected of me, because I have been given so much. But righteous endeavor leading to a sense of self importance is not a fruit of the Spirit. When I sit at God’s feet, I remember when He walked the earth robed in flesh, and how delighted He was to hang out with prostitutes and sinners, and they with Him. He didn’t hold much store with self-satisfied religious do-gooders. Like those people surrounding Jesus long ago, victims of human trafficking and slavery are very likely to recognize how desperately bankrupt they are. There is little room for pride, self-sufficiency or even dogmatism. As He lifts my head, God floods my soul with overwhelming gratitude that I was spared the same fate as these, and I cry out for mercy lest I forget how much I have need of Him.

Any work that remains after passing through the Refiner’s fire comes only when I step away from the striving and the noise and enter into the Holy of Holies. In that place, I do not do anything great for God. But a great God, the master craftsman, accomplishes  lasting works of righteousness

Responding to Shaniya’s Fate

Like many of you, I can’t get Shaniya Davis out of my mind. I replay mental pictures of her sweet face, then fast forward to grim imaginations of what her last hours were like. And I weep.

Many people have expressed their own reactions to me, after hearing of this five year old being trafficked for sex- by her mother- and then murdered. I’ve heard rants and rage poured out in detailed descriptions of castration, being drawn and quartered and a special section in hell for the perpetrators. I have seen the pain and confusion on people’s faces that such a nightmare could be true and not just part of a macabre horror movie.

I understand. I burn with anger too, as I believe God does, for the injustice, the cruelty, the unbridled lust and gross misuse of power toward this vulnerable child who could not even hope to defend herself. But for the perpetrators, I feel pity. To be able to do what they did, they must have been , and still are, living in their own personal hell on earth. They have their own stories of misuse, lovelessness, addictions, and wrong choices that led them to this precipice. They are surely among the most miserable of people, having lost their very humanity. I hate the lies they believed. I hate the selfishness within each of us, including myself, that thankfully doesn’t reach this level of expression for most.

So as I weep and my heart aches mercilessly, I tell myself that this all must be channeled effectively. That something good must come from such unspeakable evil. We must bring truth and light into the dark society that teaches our citizens, from childhood, that value lies in sex appeal and that girls (and sometimes boys) are merely orifices for pleasure. We must fight all that devalues life and feeds the self-absorption that leads us to disregard the worth of another human being in the pursuit of our own desires.

And we must do all we can to cripple the travesty of human trafficking. It changes nothing to say “Oh, how horrible”, then turn away and continue with our life as usual. Or “I hope someone does something.” Or “The government needs to do more.” We must stop the kingdom building in anti-trafficking organizations where branding and media attention sometimes overshadow the mission of ending slavery, and competition for dollars keeps us from working cooperatively.

For a crime this rampant - the #2 and fastest growing in the world- it will take a movement. It will take each of us doing what we can, no matter how small. Because all our small contributions, pieced together, add up to something very large. Because nothing else has any hope of bringing change.  And because maybe, just maybe, we can keep the same fate Shaniya faced, from happening to another child.

Human trafficking is painful to look at. Why would I want to?


To my non-Christian friends and readers: Not For Sale Campaign is not a Christian organization, but I am a Christian person. Sometimes that will be apparent in my personal ramblings. Like this one.

I've been thinking about my closest relationships. How I love to share day-to-day moments with my dear ones, washing dishes together, sharing meals and conversation and laughing at goofy movies. How wonderful it is to share their moments of triumph and celebration!  But what a fair-weather friend I would be if I skipped out when the going got tough. When the tears flow and the hard times come, my relationship deepens with those I love, as I walk through those times too, feeling their pain to the core of my being and shedding my own tears. Relationships require walking through good times and hard times together.

And so, I find, it is with my relationship with God. I love seeing him in the beauty and intricacy of his creation. There is joy in watching the transformation of His people (including my own) , experiencing his daily mercy, being lost in the wonder and worship of who He is. There is, in just being with Him, joy beyond words.

But, as with any relationship, I cannot truly know God without entering into his pain. And what unimaginable pain He bears! Every time a child is held down on a bed and raped, He is there. Every time a woman is beaten into submission, He weeps. He feels the lashes on the back of the labor slave for some imagined infraction of a slave master's will. Wherever cruelty, suffering and injustice are found, God is found. Knowing the rage and heartache I feel when I learn about some of the situations of human trafficking victims, I cannot comprehend the suffering of God as He enters into the vilest situations on earth, every single one of them without rest, 24/7. I cannot fully know God without knowing, at least in part, His anger and pain over weak, vulnerable people exploited, used like commodities and forced to do things against their wills.

I find, as I enter into the horrors of free will bent towards cruelty, greed, selfishness and domination that I am also coming to know and love God more deeply. To appreciate the rightness of His ways designed for our own best interests. To love this omniscient one who agonizes over each injustice to a person lovingly formed by His own hands. As I taste some of his righteous anger at those who would take advantage of the weak and powerless.

And I hear His voice, filled with grief, telling me that He has a plan for justice. That just as traffickers have free will to carry out their cruelties, I have free will to work against them, to bring about God's desires for his creation.  That His plan for justice includes ME.

I cannot reverse the tide of evil in the world. I cannot right the injustice that floods the earth. But I can, by God's grace, faithfully carry out my little piece of His plan and share my little bit of His love in action. And, as I do, in the midst of days when I am sometimes emotionally spent and physically drained, I find myself knowing God more intimately than I could in any other way, and that, my friends, is heaven on earth.


As you choose to enter into a world of suffering and are stretched beyond your comfort zone, what are you experiencing?