Sharing One Another’s Burdens In The Fight Against Human Trafficking
By Pastor Steve Rahter
Many of us believe we are called to help share the burdens of others, but what does that process actually look like? Almost ten years ago my wife and I began to feel compelled to address the horrible scourge of Human Trafficking in our area. The sad reality is that Atlantic City, New Jersey ranks as one of the highest centers of trafficking on the East Coast, and even in the nation. This is possibly related to the city’s history of corruption within the casino gambling industry.
After learning more about the issue and becoming passionate about helping, I started looking at properties that could be used as shelters for rescued trafficking victims. Thus began a journey with many challenges and a few unexpected blessings along the way.
Our approach to addressing the trafficking issue consisted of three parts: raising awareness, raising funds, and finding a location for a Rescue Home. The first two were fairly easy to accomplish, the third would prove to be much more difficult.
My wife began holding a series of monthly meetings to inform people about the nature of the problem. As the months progressed we brought in experts in the field of trafficking rescue to educate and train our volunteers so that they might be able to assist in the rescue and rehabilitation process. People from other churches began to hear about our meetings and joined the fight.
We did our fundraising through benefit dinners, selling t-shirts with anti-trafficking slogans, and by way of an unexpected turn of events. When the local Water Company asked to put a pumping substation on a corner of our church property, they offered an easement fee of $20,000. When we told them that we planned to use the money to fight human trafficking, they increased the donation to $25,000.
So we had funds for the fight but no setting for the battle. Or more accurately, finding a location for the Rescue Home would end up being the battle! We chased down several potential locations that turned out to be dead ends. We dealt with dishonest sellers, disinterested paper-pushers, and downright hostile politicians.
Let me a give you a case in point for each level of frustration:
Dishonest sellers – We found what we thought would be an ideal location for a Rescue Home -on the fringe of Atlantic City. We placed a deposit on the property at the seller’s asking price. Then the seller told us that he had a partner on the property who felt that the sale price was too low. We spoke with partner number two, explaining our proposed use of the site. He finally agreed to sell at the contracted price. Then we found out that there was a third partner as well, and this one was refusing to go to closing. To make matters even more bizarre, the Title Company informed us that none of these owners had bothered to pay the taxes on the property, which had resulted in the city foreclosing on the entire parcel of real estate. The sellers who had given us so much resistance didn’t even own what they were claiming to sell!
Disinterested paper-pushers – Someone had suggested that we approach the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority for potential funds. The CRDA is tasked with using casino-generated revenue to help develop the local Atlantic City Community. We initially dealt with some decent and helpful folks, but when it came time to distribute funds we were simply told that we had missed the deadline. No suggestions for an alternative plan or any opportunity to re-apply, just a shoulder-shrug and a polite goodbye.
Downright hostile politicians – after the revelation that the city now owned the property that we were trying to purchase, we appealed to the Planning Board for permission to buy the site directly from the city by paying the back taxes. Because we were not represented by an attorney, our appeal was placed last on the agenda. When I finally had the chance to present our case, I was met with an atmosphere that ranged from subtle indifference to tangible disdain. Although there were a few expressions of vague respect for the nobility of our cause, the bottom line was a clear rejection, expressed in such statements as “We don’t need any more problems to deal with” and “If I vote in favor of this, I might not get re-elected!”
I left that meeting utterly devastated. I felt as though all of our efforts had come to nothing. It seemed as though it had all been just a whole lot of wasted effort.
At one point I attended a round-table meeting of fellow pastors and poured out my frustrations. I was literally fighting back tears as I replayed the whole grueling ordeal. That ended up being a crucial turning point in the fight. One of my pastor friends went home and told his wife, “We need to get involved. Steve is trying to do this all by himself.” Suddenly we had someone to carry the burden with us.
Since then several victories have been won. We donated some of our funds to the Atlantic City Rescue Mission to rehabilitate a three bedroom apartment that had been damaged by Hurricane Sandy, with the purpose of designating it for emergency housing for trafficked girls who came to the shelter. The pastor who was moved to take action after attending the round-table was able to acquire a property, completely donated, for long-term safe housing for the girls. We raised money for renovating the building, and now an advocate from the State of New Jersey is working on a grant to pay for staffing the facility. We have continued to raise awareness and funds, and we recently gave a donation to a program called Haven, which looks to rescue street people who are at risk for trafficking and other forms of abuse.
One thing I learned was that sharing the burdens of others can be an overwhelming task at times, but it’s a whole lot easier when we can share the fight together.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with some folks who are hoping to open a faith-based drug rehabilitation center, trying to battle the growing opioid/heroin epidemic. As I shared our story of the last ten years with them, I was able to give them a perspective that was both realistic and filled with hope. I let them know for certain that if we truly commit ourselves to the fight, we will see the fruit of our labors in due time.
YSTH thanks Pastor Rahter for his efforts and contributions towards stopping human trafficking and having a safe home for these much neglected and traumatized girls.
On a side note, YSTH is hoping to start a residential holistic home for trafficked women, cult abuse and severe trauma in the next few years. Your donations will help with this goal and since YSTH is a nonprofit 501C (3) organization, your donations are tax-free. The link to YSTH’s website for donations is http://strengthtoheal.org/you-can-help/