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Human Trafficking Awareness Day 2009: Have You Seen My Daughter?

By Glory E. Dharmaraj

You can come to the threshold, my sisters,
You can cross miles to come to the threshold.
But will you be welcome and safe inside?

Judges 19:1-30: Woman from Bethlehem
This is a hauntingly powerful story of a woman from Bethlehem. She was a concubine. This nameless woman’s father lived in Bethlehem of Judah. In a fit of anger, she came back to her father’s house from her master and owner. The latter wooed her back and was taking her to his home in the hill country of Ephraim.

On the way back home, it became late in the evening and they needed a place to stay. They depended on the hospitality of the people of Gibeah, but there was no hospitality forthcoming. Finally, an old man offered them hospitality in his home.

Entering the old man’s place, they found the door being knocked hard by a set of men from outside. They demanded the body of the male visitor. In order to appease the sexual hunger of the men outside, the concubine’s husband grabbed his concubine, threw her out and shut the door.

The crowd outside gang-raped her, abused her all night, and when the dawn broke, they left her there. When her husband came out, he saw her lying dead at the door of the house with her hands on the threshold.

Her memory calls out. It calls out to the psychological numbness of those around her, and calls out to us down the centuries to amplify her silent cries.

Phyllis Trible, an Old Testament scholar, comments on this story of the concubine from Bethlehem in her book, Texts of Terror. Ms. Trible says, “The story is alive, and all is not well. Beyond confession, we must take counsel to say, ‘Never again.’”

“Have you seen my daughter?” is the cry of the victim’s parents, echoing down the corridors of time.

Female face of human trafficking
Today the face of human migration is female. The face of poverty is female. The face of human trafficking is female. The face of the worldwide church is also increasingly female. Is this a peculiar predicament of mission – women’s work with women?

Linda Smith, founder of Shared Hope International, an organization that works with trafficked victims, says, “The market for sex trafficking and sex tourism is just like a shopping mall. Buyers can choose from a variety of human products of various ages and colors, and as long as buyers continue to purchase this human product and facilitators support the market, the shopping mall stays open.”

There are still thresholds of terror for women and children who stretch out their hands for help from their perpetrators. The story of the woman from Bethlehem is a call for an investigation into the trafficking of the vulnerable for God stands in solidarity with the poor, the vulnerable and those who are considered expendable by society.

The Christ child from Bethlehem
We celebrated the birth of the Child of Bethlehem only a few weeks ago. We know of the hauntingly powerful story of Jesus on the cross outside the city of Jerusalem. He, too, became an object of violence. His broken body on the cross is a sign of our redemption, as well as a warning that never again should anyone be subject to violence again. Jesus’ death on the cross was once-for-all accomplished so no one’s body would be broken again, and no human being made in the image of God be violated in body and mind. We, as members of the faith community, are bearers of this memory.

Reshaping thresholds for women and girls
Committing to a life without fear of violence is still a receding goal for some women and girls. Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. More and more women and children are trafficked because of poverty. Victims are subject to force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor.

A key task of mission is making the world a home for the human family. Philip Potter, former general secretary of the World Council of Churches, defines mission as “cooperating with God in making the oikoumene (the whole inhabited world) an Oikos, a home, a family of men and women, of young and old of varied gifts, cultures, possibilities where openness, trust, love and justice reign.”

Making a home for the human family with a welcome threshold is still part of the goal for us who are a covenanted community of believers sustained by the Holy Spirit, and sent out in mission. Mission is saying “NO” to violence against women, children and youth. Mission is saying “YES” to reshaping their thresholds as places of healing and wholeness, for the sake of the one who was born in Bethlehem for the healing and redemption of all, even Jesus the Christ.

We commit ourselves to reshaping the thresholds
as welcome and safe places.
God, open our ears to hear your voice crying,
“Have you seen my daughter?”

See Also:

Visit the National Council of Churches website at www.ncccusa.org for information on Human Trafficking Awareness Day. There you will find an informative article, a bulletin insert on human trafficking and the hymn, “People Held in Bondage.”

 

Glory E. Dharmaraj, Ph.D. is Director of Spiritual Formation and Mission Theology for the Women’s Division.

Last Updated: 04/10/2010
 
 

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