February, 2021 Monthly Reflection

Human Trafficking: What Can We Do About It?
Where Is God in This Tragedy? How Can We Find the Courage to Fight This Indignity?

By Mary Anne Silvestri, Co-Founder of ESTHER Ministry (End Slavery, Trafficking Humans and Effect Rescue),
St. Joseph Church, Long Beach CA

In 2014, after attending a meeting of the Long Beach Human Trafficking Task Force (LBHTTF), a few members of our parish asked ourselves these questions. We formed a ministry and set out on a journey to find the answers.  We had no idea where this journey would take us and little did we know, we would find the answers to these questions in Queen Esther’s story.

Find God’s Purpose for Your Life

The Book of Esther tells the story of Queen Esther who delivered the Jewish people from the wicked Haman and is commemorated by the Jewish festival of Purim. After Haman successfully convinced the king to allow a decree that would eradicate the Jewish people, Mordecai went to Esther and convinced her to persuade the king to save the Jews with this famous quote:

“For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s house will perish.  And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14

This scripture passage is as relevant today as it was then. Everyone is outraged about human trafficking, but the issue can be controversial and overwhelming. You want to help but are not sure of what you can do.

Esther’s story shows us that we are all born “for such a time as this.”  We are born with a God-given purpose.  Your voice matters, you just need to find it. That is how ESTHER Ministry was formed.

After our first meeting with LBHTTF, we saw many needs, but we had to find our purpose. We assessed our skills and resources to see how we could best help, recognizing that we had to be realistic about what we could do. We discerned that we could raise awareness, provide volunteers and raise donations for humanitarian aid to human trafficking survivors and those at risk.

ESTHER has grown to over 50 members, become an LBHTTF Core Team member, and presented at national USCCB webinars. ESTHER has collaborated extensively with LBHTTF members to provide:

  • Homeland Security with food, clothing and support for survivors testifying in trafficking cases;
  • DCFS (Department of Children and Family Services) with clothing and comfort items for at-risk CSEC (Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children) children;
  • CAST (Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking) with baby items, furniture, and home goods for survivors in transitional housing; and
  • Over 500 Humanitarian Bags to Street Outreach organizations.

Trust God and Follow Where the Spirit Leads

In the face of tragedy, people are quick to ask, “Where is God?” One striking feature of the Hebrew Book of Esther is that God is not mentioned at all. Esther trusted that God would show her the way to save her people.

We cannot let the seemingly insurmountable tragedy of human trafficking discourage us. Once we accept the vulnerable as God’s children, we will be more open to letting the Holy Spirit work through us. ESTHER has seen God’s work first-hand making a difference in people’s minds and hearts. When a young homeless trafficking survivor refused to testify in federal court because she would not leave her 8-week-old puppy, a woman came forward to care for the puppy saying, “My first thought was that the puppy was too young and too difficult for me to get involved. But then I thought about how the girl was too young and how her life was too difficult. And how hard it must be for her to testify.  The least I can do is provide a home for the puppy for a few days.”

Look to God for Courage and Strength

Esther showed courage in the face of fear to protect her people. While willing to risk her life, Esther shared her fear with God and prayed to Him for strength:

“O God, whose might is over all, hear the voice of the despairing and save us from the hands of evildoers. And save me from my fear!” Esther 14:19

Human trafficking is scary, and this past year has been particularly frightening. Trafficking cases are increasing under COVID-19 as traffickers prey upon people experiencing increased vulnerabilities due to pandemic-related lockdowns, job loss, and homelessness. How can we continue our work when we are told to isolate and social distance while fearing that we might catch COVID-19?

Resolved to carry on, we had to dig deep and find ways to keep providing for those at risk.  We knew God would show the way.  Through Zoom, email and phone calls, we were able to continue networking with frontline organizations to assess their changing needs.

We learned that street outreach and shelters needed PPE (masks, hand sanitizers and gloves) and more hygiene products. With stores closed and unable to get together to assemble Humanitarian Bags, we ordered these items online and shipped directly to outreach organizations or used a central distribution point. We actually touched the lives of hundreds more people this past year than in prior years.

In the beginning, we saw a need and wanted to help. We learned that the only way to make this happen was to keep showing up, stepping up, and following where the Spirit was leading. As a result, ESTHER has become a part of something so much bigger than ourselves. We are part of the fight against human trafficking.

This year the Jewish festival of Purim begins at sunset on February 25th and ends at nightfall on February 26, 2021.  At that time, let us think of Queen Esther and continue to be inspired by her story of purpose, courage, and faith that God will save His people.