Rhode Island Churches Rally Against Human Trafficking

Post a Comment » Written on May 15th, 2009     
Filed under: News
PROVIDENCE, RI (May 15, 2009) – Seven Evangelical Covenant Church pastors and members of their congregations are partnering with a statewide organization to stop human trafficking in Rhode Island.

They played a significant role in mobilizing an anti-human trafficking rally on the Statehouse steps April 21. Roughly one third of the 300 participants were from Covenant churches, says Jay Fast, associate pastor of the Attleboro Covenant Church of Attleboro, Massachusetts. His church is part of a Rhode Island Third District cluster of Covenant churches.

Other participating churches at the rally included Riverside Covenant Church of Riverside, Rhode Island, and Christ Covenant Church of East Greenwich, Rhode Island. Kevin Duarte, a member at the Riverside church, provided the sound system for the event.

RallyThe Rhode Island Coalition Against Human Trafficking (RICAHT) sponsored the rally to gain support for legislation that supporters say would close a loophole allowing solicitation by prostitutes if it occurs indoors. For a better understanding of the situation in Rhode Island, click here for an in-depth look at the problem.

The churches’ involvement began when Debbie Blue, executive minister of the Covenant’s Department of Compassion, Mercy and Justice, learned of the coalition and shared the information with East Coast Conference Superintendent Howard Burgoyne. He, in turn, relayed the information to Stuart McCoy, senior pastor at Riverside.

McCoy attended a rally sponsored by the coalition last fall. He later invited someone he met there to speak at the church as part of the Covenant’s Human Trafficking Awareness Day.

Riverside Associate Pastor Brian Estrella and several congregation members also attended an anti-trafficking training event at Rhode Island College. Estrella recalls having to answer a tough question put to him by Kim Harris, one of the co-directors of the coalition.

“In the course of our conversation she asked me with a fair amount of intensity, ‘Brian, where is the church on this issue? Why are you so silent?’ I told her that I truly believed that our silence was due to our ignorance and that once we spread the word to the churches, they would respond in a big way.

“I made it a personal mission of sorts to begin spreading the word,” he adds. “I told Kim that I know people who will speak up. Of course, I had the Third District primarily in mind.”

That personal commitment also led Estrella to call friends at other churches throughout Rhode Island and make connections with several Intervarsity Christian College groups that made a big showing at the rally.

Lyle Mook, senior pastor at Christ Church, also had challenged his congregation several weeks before the rally with the same question that had been asked of Estrella. As a result, 200 people from his church attended the rally.

“Overall, God captured Christ Church with a clear vision of its importance and being a part of a larger movement,” Mook says of the rally. “The rally itself was quite well done and accomplished the purpose of growing attention needed for legislative bills to be passed. It was an excellent example of positive cooperation across government agencies and the broad faith community.”

Fast says legislation before the state legislature is necessary to help stop trafficking in the state. “Rhode Island has no law prohibiting prostitution indoors, and this has allowed human trafficking to flourish in brothels throughout the state.”

According to RICAHT, there are approximately 28 brothels operating across Rhode Island, although their main concentration is in Providence and surrounding communities. Women who have been trafficked from elsewhere are among the prostitutes, bill supporters say.

“Rhode Island has become America’s human trafficking safe haven,” writes Donald C. Anderson, executive minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, in a recent statewide email message. “There can be no doubt that this is 21st century slavery and we have placed ourselves in the eye of the storm.”

Ruth Hill, executive minister of the Department of Women Ministries, says it is important for churches to fight human trafficking on a number of fronts. The department initiated and has spearheaded the Covenant’s Break the Chains initiative.

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