What individuals, congregations can do

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The International Labor Organization estimates that 21 million people worldwide are victims of some type of forced labor. That and human trafficking’s estimated $32 billion-per-year income makes it the world’s third largest crime industry, behind drugs and firearms.

Jennifer Pedzinski, senior administrator at New Life Center Foundation (NLCF) in Chiang Mai, Thailand, suggests congregations and individuals that want to help end human trafficking begin with education. “Read books. Attend conferences. Raise awareness in yourselves, your churches and your communities,” she said.

To help raise awareness, the ELCA has a social message titled “Commercial Sexual Exploitation” ( Women of the ELCA also has offered educational exhibits on trafficking at its gatherings and has a resource titled “Understanding and responding to human trafficking” (

Pedzinski also suggested seeking out reputable, transparent ministries with which to partner. Cherish All Children (, for example, is an ELCA-affiliated ministry that fights human trafficking in the United States. And ELCA World Hunger ( financially supports NLCF’s work.

“Do prevention work of your own, in your own community,” she added. “Reduce risk right where you are by intentionally showing love and attention to the most vulnerable people [you know].”

Photo: Courtesy of the New Life Center Foundation

“It is often an economic issue

in which people are seeking better incomes and hence get trapped,” he said. For example, a growing number of people are pressed into forced labor on fishing vessels. Ishida has witnessed this while visiting the Lutheran Church in Singapore’s maritime ministry. “Workers are stuck for months

on end in the open seas,” he said. “At issue is that some of the fish we consume in the United States comes from that … and it’s difficult to track all this,” which makes human trafficking difficult to combat.

“How do we respond as a

church to the whole issue?” Ishida asked. “In the Asian context, churches tend to focus on spiritual things; in the past, they dealt less with political, social or economic issues. That is changing.” NLCF receives funding

from ELCA World Hunger ( and is among the many ministries and institutions the denomination works with to combat human trafficking. The center works exclusively with young, ethnic- minority women from the Mekong subregion—Thailand, Myanmar,

China and Laos—who are at risk for or are victims of human trafficking or sexual abuse.

Raising awareness “Many of us are aware of rescue and aftercare services, but part of eradicating modern slavery is addressing the issues that feed into the problem,” Pedzinski said. Anti-trafficking campaigns

in remote villages of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos educate villagers on safe migration, labor laws and human rights. The Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT), an ELCA


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