When Frederick Douglass said slavery "has been called by a great many names and it will call itself by yet another, and all of us had better wait and see what new form this old monster will assume,” he knew what he was talking about.
Modern-day slavery looks different than it did during the nineteenth century when Douglass spoke those words. Today, slavery is not bound by borders, race, religion, economic status or social class. At its core, slavery is the exploitation of the most vulnerable.
Orange County, CA has one of the highest populations per capita of homelessness in the U.S., with only 3,400 temporary shelter beds available. An individual needs to work 141 hours per week at minimum wage in order to afford average rent for a 1 bedroom apartment. It should come as no surprise then that hundreds of homeless families find themselves residing in motels. This working homeless population is a socially neglected, ignored and an extremely vulnerable population.
Thirteen years ago, before I was familiar with slavery, I worked with the motel population through my local church. We created opportunities for families from the church to be in relationship with families living at a particular motel in Costa Mesa. I saw trafficking at the motel during that time; however, I couldn't identify it. Fortunately, this is no longer the case. Throughout the past 5 years, my understanding of slavery has grown and I have learned from hundreds of experts on the matter.
Recently, I’ve gotten reacquainted with the motel population in an exciting way. A few weeks ago, we started a small group, designed for the teen girls who live at the motel. These girls are incredibly vulnerable. They live in an environment that breeds all types of addictions and unrelenting cycles of brokenness swirl around them constantly. We plan to share with the girls that their circumstances do not define who they are; their Creator does. We want them to know and believe that they have choices in life that don't depend on their motel room number. We want them to understand that God created them out of unrelenting love and with great purpose. We hope to crush the potential for a life in bondage to another and usher in the confidence, security and freedom that Jesus brings through a relationship with Him.
The girls were excited about starting their group. We talk about who God is and how He created us. They ask thought provoking questions that greatly encourage us.
It’s true. Jesus is the hope of the world. He’s the hope for these girls. He’s the hope for all of us.
How wonderful would it be for this generation of homeless children to find their value and their worth in Jesus Christ and ultimately extinguish the possibility of a life of bondage to a trafficker? What I learned from hundreds prepared me for a few. We can step in front of this modern-day form of the old monster slavery and bring it to a screeching halt once and for all. We are doing it, and we’re starting with a few silly beautiful teenaged girls living in a motel.
*Blog also posted here: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.
See also my recent article, "Modern Day Slavery and the Biblical Call for Justice," for Dharma Deepika: A South Asian Journal of Missiological Research on Transform LA's web site.