By Stan Friedman
ROCKFORD, IL (July 21, 2011) – Two Evangelical Covenant Church congregations worshiped together Sunday morning as part of a day they set aside to focus on the issue of human trafficking.
Evergreen Covenant cancelled services at its location in order to participate at First Covenant. Representatives from several other Covenant churches also attended. Sarah Ago, an anti-trafficking activist and the children and families minister at Hillside Covenant Church in Walnut Creek, California, delivered the morning’s message.
Seven informational booths with information on various kinds of slavery and how people can respond were set up. Also on display were 180 pillowcase dresses sewn by members of First and Evergreen Covenant that will be distributed to freed child sex slaves in Africa. An artist painted a map of the world and then attached information the listed the countries with the worst record of abuse.
Ago spoke on “Slavery – Reality and Responsibility.” She shared stories of rescued slaves, as well as the scriptural call to do justice. People are frequently surprised about how widespread the practice is, including in the United States, Ago said later.
“We’re called as Evangelical Christians — with our history going back to the abolitionists leading the charge against slavery in the nineteenth century — to be abolitionists today,” said Peter Dibley, pastor of First Covenant. Among those abolitionists motivated by their religious beliefs were William Wilberforce, John Newtown, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.
First Covenant started an anti-trafficking task force — The Society for the Abolition of Modern-day Slavery — more than a year ago to learn about the issue and how the church could become involved. The task force at the church is comprised of 25 people from teens to senior adults.
Sunday’s service was the task force’s first big event. Participants said they hope it will be a first-step towards inspiring others to take on the issue. They are considering how to continue building on Sunday’s gathering.
The event attracted the attention of two organizations in the community. Representatives from the Rockford Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation told Dibley they would be interested in expanding their work to involve the faith community and would like the congregation to be the first to join them. A local fair-trade ministry also expressed interest in finding a way to partner with the church.
According to the U.S. State Department, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders worldwide every year. Fifty percent of these slaves are children, and a vast majority of those are girls trafficked for sexual exploitation. Human trafficking is the third largest criminal enterprise worldwide, after drugs and weapons, and it is the fastest growing.