In John 1:46, Nathanael responded to Philip's announcement that he had found Jesus, from Nazareth, by questioning, "Can anything good come from Nazareth?"
Nathanael's predisposition of biased scorn about Nazareth nearly prevented him from coming to know Christ. As I consider this verse, I think how it applies to the public in general and survivors of human trafficking.
Survivors do not often look like angelic people, and therefore, the public can begin to form a bias about them, with scorn and disdain creeping in, and pretty soon, it has been determined they are not worthy of help. Because people who come from trafficking are often the product of a harsh lifestyle, their exterior can sometimes seem harsh as well. We begin to replace trafficking with words like "prostitution, " and then we think..."Well, they must have chosen this lifestyle, and this must be what they want. Nothing good can come from this person. They're not even helping themselves, why would I help them?" But we forget they were a product, dehumanized, and have undergone more trauma than many of us can fathom. Our Heavenly Father gently but imperatively reminds us to remember they are dearly loved by Him, and He urges us to lay down our biases, and reach out to ease their suffering.
More than the public viewing those impacted by trafficking with doubt, many survivors themselves often think, "Can anything good come from me?" They see much of their past experiences as something for which they are to blame as if the demand for commercial sex and women purchased as products were somehow their fault. They look at their past limited choices and think, "But I did this...and I did that....and it was my fault."
Let’s put it in this context: A woman who is in a domestic violence situation often initially chose the man as a partner, but it does not remove the fact she is being victimized through domestic violence and therefore has needs that need to be met to assist her to safety. When she chose the partner, she probably did not foresee a future of pain, misery, fear, and abuse. It is similar to trafficking victims in this sense, that sometimes they made choices that seemed best to them at the time, but ultimately led to harm. It's a path that no one wants, and it is a path that we, collectively, can help them to find safety, freedom, and justice.
When we receive these victims who have survived so much, they typically are burdened with indescribable amounts of shame, guilt, self-blame, fear, and roller coaster emotions. But there is always a seed of hope, as well. While they may have many moments of hopelessness, I have yet to see a victim who had no hope whatsoever. I see that as God keeping that seed of hope alive in them, waiting for caregivers and support teams to water that seed, nourish it, and give it room to grow. He keeps the seed of hope alive in them because His Word tells us He has plans for their futures, plans to prosper them and to not harm them, plans to turn their mourning into dancing, and their spirit of despair into a garment of praise. He has plans for them to become more than they can ask for or imagine.
But, how do we get victims of trafficking, who have been abused, betrayed, and commodified, to walk towards a future filled with hope and potential? It's outlined in Proverbs chapter 2.
"My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds victory in store for the upright; he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones. Then you will understand what is right and just and fair - every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you." Proverbs 2:1-11
While we frequently utilize trauma-informed care, we also utilize the wisdom found in God’s Word because it is unmatched when it comes to holistically restoring victims and safeguarding their futures from repeat victimization. In the passages above, we would encourage victims to focus on the action words, and those action words are:
God’s Word, as demonstrated above, shows us that God meets us halfway. Our walk with Him is no different than a victim of trafficking’s walk with the Lord. It requires action, it requires many confessions and turning away from old thoughts, applying His teaching in our lives, calling out when we’re afraid, crying aloud to God during the darkest moments of our recovery, and looking for His wisdom and guidance in His Word and throughout every day of our restoration path. I say “our and us,” because, like survivors, we all are constantly in the process of being healed and restored by God if we’re humble before Him, admitting our weaknesses and the need for His help.
As we recognize these common denominators between us and those from harsh and unjust backgrounds, we begin to see how we can link arms together for the sake of mutual continued restoration and Christ-centeredness.
Lastly, just as we witnessed in Jesus' life, we realize and admit that God uses unlikely people to do extraordinary things and we commit to no longer allowing bias to keep us from seeing God work in the lives of a survivor, and in our own lives as well. As soon as a person says, "They'll never be anything," I can almost hear God saying, "Watch this."
Author: Casey Alvarez
Casey is the Founder and Executive Director of GO:61. She enjoys leading community citizens and professionals to find their footing in leveraging their talents and knowledge to combat trafficking. Casey coordinates the GO;61 teams, provides human trafficking training, creates anti-trafficking curriculum, and serves as a victim case manager. Apart from abolitionism, she loves being a wife and mother and enjoys getting away to remote places with her family.