Friday, March 15, 2013

The Economics of Human Trafficking and its Implications for Missions in East Asia

The battle against modern day slavery is being waged around the world--many of those engaged in this struggle are motivated by their faith in Jesus and desire for justice. The fight against human trafficking is one of the most significant social causes of our generation, and has been promoted heavily among young evangelical Christians. Organizations like International Justice Mission and the End It Movement are the at the forefront of this trend. The 60,000 young people at this year's Passion Conference raised over three million dollars towards this cause.

flickr, killerturnip
While this is a significant and important movement, I do have some concerns about its future trajectory and its impact on churches and young Christians. My hope in posting this is not to diminish the importance of confronting injustice, but to offer a healthy corrective to what I see as potentially dangerous influences that the wholesale unquestioned adoption of this cause could have upon the church.

Last year I had the chance to share about my future ministry in Japan with the missions pastor of a church that I was courting for support. Initially I had e-mailed this pastor about my appointment with Converge Worldwide and received a reply that my future ministry in Japan was not within the missions focus of the church. Therefore I would not be considered for funding. He shared that his church had several strategic focuses and they had a policy as a church of only putting funding towards those focuses. Japan and the Japanese people were not one of these focuses.

I was encouraged to see that the church had adopted an unreached people group in Central Asia and had several other healthy ministry focuses--but one thing stood out to me. One of their major focuses as a church was to combat Sex Trafficking in South East Asia. They had partnered with an organization in order to pursue this goal, and it had a lot of traction with the congregation. This particular organization worked to prosecute criminal gangs responsible for trafficking these young women and men and provided job training and HIV/Aids treatment for those rescued from this industry. I must clarify, I think that this is an excellent ministry, and as the church we need to pursue justice and care for those who have experienced systemic injustice.

But something struck me about this--with this focus, the ministry only addressed the supply side of the economic equation of Human Trafficking, but not the demand side. One of the most basic principles in economics is Supply and Demand. A ministry like the one discussed above is only dealing with symptoms, but doesn't deal with the root causes--mainly human depravity and sin which results in this kind of injustice. As long as there are men and women who desire to exploit others sexually, there will be a need for this kind of ministry. Jesus even spoke about this to His disciples when He said that there would always be a ministry to the poor--poverty, a result of human sin, was going to be an ongoing reality throughout the end times.

In order to deal more effectively and holistically with Human Trafficking we must not only deal with the supply side of the economics but also the demand. It is not enough to minister to those being trafficked and prosecute the criminals responsible for their exploitation, we must also discourage the demand--this is only possible with a focused ministry and outreach to those most likely to spend money on sex.

This is where the rub comes--the Japanese, as one of the wealthiest peoples in East Asia represent one of the most significant markets for trafficked women, both in Japan and throughout South East Asia (Vietnam, the Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand etc.). The large supply of trafficked women throughout South East Asia is in part due to the high demand among well-to-do expats, many of which are Japanese and Korean. In fact South Korean men for the first time last year became the greatest users of prostitutes in SE Asia.

About a quarter of South Koreans identify themselves as Christians--but in January the Chosun Ilbo, one of South Korea's largest newspapers ran a story entitled, "Koreans 'Biggest Clients of Prostitutes in Southeast Asia'" Too many people associate Sex Trafficking in Asia with European and American expats, when the most significant customer for trafficked women in Asia are East Asian.  It was my experience in South Korea that the church is mostly silent on this issue. Despite large numbers of Christians in South Korea, there has yet to be the kind of social transformation that would discourage this kind of activity.

A strategy that focuses only on curbing the supply of trafficked peoples cannot be effective in winning this war--that is why it must be paired with comprehensive church planting and evangelistic work done in countries where the greatest demand for trafficked women is. Christian social causes like the one mentioned here cannot be effective without significant and transformative evangelistic missions.

There are several potential dangers I see with the current preoccupation with combating slavery among young Western Christians. The first danger is that they substitute the Great Commission with a social cause. Frankly, many young Christians are ashamed of the Gospel and of the church, and gravitate towards a social mission because it is socially acceptable and comfortable. They neglect the call that God has given to make disciples of all nations. It cannot be overemphasized that the center of our mission needs to be the Gospel and its proclamation. The Gospel, better than any strategy or organization formulated by men has the power to transform individuals and societies.

Missions is primarily about making disciples and planting the church amidst new ethno-linguistic groups and geographic locations. Social causes like human trafficking have a way of sapping the strength of the central mission of the church, when in fact they should be pointed to as an example of why this central mission of the church is so important. If we want to see human trafficking end in South East Asia, a comprehensive strategy which includes a focus on both supply and demand is needed. Western Christians have experienced the failure of Prohibition and other top-down moral agendas, and should understand better that real and substantive change can only occur where the Gospel genuinely takes root and bears fruit in a community.

The second danger is that resources best used for advancing the Kingdom of God would be redirected into building a network of Christian NGOs. One of the greatest tragedies of the parachurch movement is that much of the work of the Gospel has been divorced from the life of the church. Missions needs to be rooted in the church, and ministry to those affected by trafficking (both on the supply and demand) is best done through and by the church. We need a strategy that combats human trafficking that strengthens and multiplies churches--this is true of all of missions.

The Civil Rights movement was by and large a Christian movement--its leaders were pastors and preachers. However, the history of the Civil Rights movement has been revised, and the Christian themes removed or secularized. The same was true of the Abolition movement before that. The culture that we live in has a way of co-opting Christian causes and removing the men and women of faith and their voices from the equation. Currently a significant number of voices within the Anti-Trafficking movement are Christian--but if the movement itself is not thoroughly tied into the church, if it doesn't have the Gospel as its center and motivation, we are just building someone else's monuments. 

Finally, there is no greater injustice than our rebellion against God. All other injustice flows out of this rebellion and is the product of human sin, both individually and corporately. In order to truly confront injustice, we must heed and preach the Gospel. We all have sinned against a perfect and good God, who because of his holiness and justice is bound to punish our sins by permanently removing us from His presence--however because of His love towards us, He sent his own son to take our punishment, the death that we deserve as rebels and the wrath that we deserve against our sins. He poured out this wrath on His own son on the cross. His son Jesus died in our place and rose again, conquering death and purchasing our salvation. We are reconciled to God through Jesus' blood shed on the cross and His righteousness is imputed to us. There can be no greater message of justice than this! He didn't stop there though, He adopts us, who were once His enemies as His sons and daughters--co-heirs with Christ to the riches and glory of heaven. There is no greater way to confront injustice than by proclaiming the Gospel of reconciliation.

If we want to win the war against Human Trafficking in South East Asia, we must win the hearts of the men and women of East Asia to Jesus! 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Missions and Experiencing the Presence of God

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to share about the history and theology of Missions with a congregation that I have had a long relationship with. At the end of the presentation I offered them the opportunity to get involved in the advance of God's Kingdom among the nations. I presented the same four choices that were given to me at the end of the Perspectives course--Pray, Give, Advocate and Go.

Usually after speaking I spend the next couple days agonizing over the things that I said or didn't say (while at the same time being grateful that the Holy Spirit can use what was spoken much more effectively than I could ever dream). In the case of this presentation, I regretted what was not said. I spoke about the Great Commission of Matthew 28, and the command of Jesus to go and make disciples of all peoples (ethno-linguistic groups) and I shared that Jesus promised to be present with those involved with this work; but I wish I had lingered at that point longer.

Being on mission with God is one of the most blessed states to be in. I missed an amazing opportunity to testify to this--to how God has grown my faith, hope and love over the past several years in service to Him. It is also critically important to place the command aspect of the Great Commission clearly within a Gospel framework--something I didn't do. I would hate for people to become further burdened down with a legalistic view of God rather than seeing the amazing opportunity that God has given us to know Him better through allowing us to partner together with Him in His ministry of reconciliation.

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” -Matthew 28:18-20

The command to go and make disciples of all nations comes with a promise--the presence of Christ and power to accomplish this mission. This promise is answered specifically in the indwelling person and power of the Holy Spirit. It is critically important to understand that God's mission is accomplished by His power and presence. Apart from divorcing the Great Commission from the Great Commandment, there probably is no greater omission in the average missions presentation.

Inviting people to participate in missions is inviting them into a deeper relationship with Jesus. Many people in modern Western Christianity struggle to feel the presence of God--I have heard many people complain that they do not feel close to God. One reason for this I believe is that so few people are on mission with God. Jesus' presence is promised to those who are working with him to accomplish the Great Commission.

We know that God is omnipresent, He is everywhere all the time (Psalm 139:7-10)--but there is an special increase of His presence when we are gathered together (Matthew 18:20), praying (Psalm 22:3) for the sake of His mission (Matthew 28:20).  If you want to experience God in a greater way, join together with other believers and pray for the advance of God's Kingdom among the nations. Take a step out to share your faith with someone who doesn't know Him, and you will come to know Him better. 

One of my favorite verses is Philemon 6 which says, "and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ." That is, Paul was praying for Philemon, that in sharing his faith with others, he would more deeply understand the promises of the Gospel! It is common knowledge that if you want to understand something better you should try teaching it to someone else--in teaching we better understand what we already know. The same is true for the Christian life, very few of us take opportunities to share our faith with others, and thus don't grow into maturity.

If you are spiritually dry and desire to enter into a deeper experience of God's grace and love, share the Gospel with someone, pray for a missionary, learn about a people group that doesn't have a Christian witness among them, partner financially with those ministering among the unreached. The desire to know and experience Jesus more should be the motivation for being involved in His ministry of reconciliation.