A leading US Baptist has called on Christians to address the international crisis of women and girls who are being trafficked into prostitution, highlighting the social and economic conditions that breed the trade.
American Baptist International Ministries' Global Consultant, Lauran Bethell, made her plea during a panel at the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant meeting in Atlanta on 31 January 2008.
Trafficking in human beings and sexual exploitation typically grows out of economic need where teenage girls are required to help their families earn income to help provide for food and basic necessities, said Ms Bethell. She called for all Christians to "reach into the dark with the light of God's love" to address the problem.
In her church role, Lauran Bethell helped establish the New Life Center in Chaing Mai, Thailand, which serves young women and girls who are sold, tricked or purposely drawn into prostitution.
The New Life Center provides education as well as literacy and job skill training. In 2001, Bethell moved to Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, where she now serves as International Ministries' global consultant to encourage and facilitate work to address the exploitation of women and children.
Joining Bethell on the Sexual Exploitation panel at the conference was Charity Marquis, director of Night Light USA. Located in Los Angeles, the group was formed as an extension of the work being carried out in Thailand. It is creating a market for jewelry made by Thai women who have fled the sex trade.
Also participating were the Rev Lia Scholl, director of Star Light Ministries, which reaches out to women who work in the sex trade and strip clubs in Richmond, Virginia, and Susan Omanson, director of Be Free, which work with women in the sex industry in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
The New Baptist Covenant is an informal alliance of more than 30 ethnically, geographically and theologically diverse Baptist organizations that have come together to form an authentic and genuine prophetic voice for Baptists in North America.
The Covenant event, inspired by prominent Baptist and former US President Jimmy Carter, involved participants who have committed themselves as Christians to a biblical mandate to promote peace with justice, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick and the marginalized, and promote religious liberty and respect for religious diversity.
With acknowledgements to Andrew C. Jayne, American Baptist Churches USA Mission Resource Development