I live fifteen minutes from the highway to hell.

I’m talking about Interstate 5. Many of us know it simply as “I-5,” or the Pacific Highway. It runs like a vein up and down the west coast connecting Seattle and Los Angeles. That stretch yields some beautiful scenery. But it’s also a major hub for one of the most wicked evils imaginable: sex trafficking.

As a global enterprise, it’s the second largest criminal industry in the world today, and the fastest growing.

Approximately 80 percent of victims are girls and women, and up to 50 percent are minors.

The total revenue for human trafficking is estimated to be in excess of $32 billion.

Today there are 28 million slaves in the world. That’s more than any other time in history. More than the entire 400-year course of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Something deep within wants to cry out for justice. Somehow, someway.

But all this sounds like the kind of stuff that happens in India or Africa or Southeast Asia. Not fifteen minutes from my house. But the reality is that girls (some as young as 12) are forced into the commercial sex trade by pimps that traffic them between Seattle and San Francisco cycling through truck stops and motels, sometimes forcing them to work up to 20 hours a day.

It makes me sick to my stomach. I can’t even bear the thought of these innocent girls being violated. This is modern day slavery.

Not for profit

It makes me want to call my old friends and patrol the motels with baseball bats and shotguns, kicking doors down on a campaign of liberation to return girls to their parents and relieve the world of one more scum.

Is it right for me to feel this way? Don’t you feel this way? Isn’t that normal? If not, shouldn’t it be?

I’ve actually sat down to think of any possible theological justification for arraigning these criminals and publicly executing them. I thought of Abraham’s campaign to rescue Lot when he was taken captive by evil men. It’s recorded in Genesis 14. The Bible says that Abraham called up his boys and they “armed” themselves. That sounds like baseball bats and shotguns to me. That night they took care of business and Lot was liberated. Ellen White writes in Patriarchs and Prophets, page 135, that Abraham:

“…not only rendered a great service to the country, but had proved himself a man of valor. It was seen that righteousness is not cowardice, and that Abraham’s religion made him courageous in maintaining the right and defending the oppressed.”

Yes! His religion made him do it. Because someone’s got to stand for the oppressed. She goes on to call Abraham’s response “a heroic act”.

Does that make you uncomfortable? If it does, I understand. It makes me uncomfortable too. Even in my rage something holds me back. It just doesn’t feel right. Seems a bit extreme. But wait! Why doesn’t the opposite extreme of doing nothing make us equally uncomfortable? That can’t be right either, can it? Shouldn’t it make us uncomfortable to know that children below the age of 18 represent about 50% of all forced labor victims? What about the 70% of prisoners in India that have never been convicted of anything? What about the widows and orphans that are victims of illegal property seizure and left homeless and without income?

Something deep within wants to cry out for justice. Somehow, someway.

I guess there are more civilized ways of making a difference. It’s true. Defending the oppressed and vulnerable in our modern world will require better strategies that are sober and measured.

What am I doing?

That’s the case I heard last weekend when I attended the Justice Conference in Portland, Oregon. In only its second year, it has grown to become one of the largest international gatherings on social and biblical justice. The goal is to raise awareness about justice related issues such as human trafficking, slavery, poverty, HIV/AIDS and human rights. I joined over 4,000 attendees from 41 states and 20 countries, most of them belonging to my own generation of twenty somethings.

I’ve never been in the company of so many Christians who desire to educate themselves in how they can promote justice in a world of injustice. We encountered some modern day heroes like Stephen Bauman, President of World Relief:

“Today, all across the globe, local churches are discovering that justice is our responsibility and that God has no plan B.”

Today, it seems like the vast majority of American Christians don’t see the gospel in its wider scope. Christianity has been watered down and commercialized. But according to the New Testament, Jesus was a champion of human rights. He identified Himself with the downtrodden and oppressed. He cast His lot with the vulnerable. The Gospel is about restoring our relationship with God and with our neighbors!

As Martin Luther King, Jr said:

The gospel at its best deals with the whole man, not only his soul but his body, not only his spiritual well-being, but his material well being. Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.

That’s Gospel truth right there. A clear indicator of our love to God is how we treat the unfortunate. The experience of actually knowing God would compel us to care for others and engage in justice. It’s not an option for Christians; it’s what it means to be Christian.

I sat there listening to testimonies, being stirred by impassioned appeals to action, hearing about different Christian organizations that are emancipating God’s children all over the world from poverty, exploitation, and human trafficking.

So I was just sitting there, as a Seventh Day Adventist Christian, thinking, “Where is my church? Where is our booth? What are we doing?”

But even more pressing, “What am I doing?”

“Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” – Psalm 82:3-4