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Setting the Captives Free
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By Rich DuBose with Karen Nicola

Photo: Karen Nicola
We asked Karen Nicola about her efforts to help people who have been victimized by abuse--a plague that is happening all over the world, including the United States.

Editor - Karen, you are involved in an incredible project that seeks to rescue victims of human trafficking. We want to hear about this, but before we go there, give us a little background about yourself and what motivated you to direct your energies in this direction.

Nicola - I was first introduced to the the existence of modern day slavery by watching a segment of CSI on Russian women who were trafficked for brothels in the U.S. I was horrified and felt totally hopeless to do anything about the abuse and devastation in these women's lives. As a middle class American, I had no idea this kind of criminal activity was happening. Neither did I know that there are nearly 30,000,000 slaves around the world. I was determined to do what I could to restore justice and mercy, but I had no clue where to turn.

About four years later, I attended The Freedom Summit in Fremont, Calif. It was a two day event that brought together organizations who are making a difference and providing intelligent solutions to the problem of modern day slavery around the world. At that conference I was introduced to a local organization that provides a safe house for victims of human trafficking. After taking the training, I have volunteered for Freedom House going once a week. When I go to the house, I interact, support, teach life skills and just become a friend to the residents. I make the evening meal along with their help and we follow up with a brief Bible study. I go away fully blessed to know I have been used by God to bring healing and hope to the ladies there.

Editor - Human trafficking sounds pretty horrible. We've all heard of drug trafficking and know that that occurs when drug are manufactured and sold by for large profits. But human trafficking means that human beings are being sold and passed along as if they were products or commodities.

Nicola - Yes, and I am working with some of these "products," or survivors. The current definition of human trafficking from the U.S. state department reads:

Human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transferring, harboring or receiving of man, woman, or child by threat, coercion, abduction, fraud, deceit, deception, or abuse of power for the purpose of prostitution, pornography, violence/sexual exploitation, forced labor, involuntary servitude, debt bondage (with unfair wages) or slavery/similar practices.

The women I visit each week have experienced slave labor, and violent sexual exploitation. They live in fear that their perpetrators will find them. The threats, deception, and coercion are very real. Most of them suffer from post traumatic stress syndrome. The good news for them comes from Hebrews 2:14, 15: "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil--and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their own fear of death."

The women I see personally know the violence that Satan has used to rip us form the heart of God. Now they are beginning to discover that God restores the brokenness through his loving acts of salvation, redemption and healing. God cannot be overcome, just as darkness can never overtake the light! 

Editor - So, when you go into San Francisco to work with Freedom House, what is a typical day like?

Nicola - There are no "typical" days. The residents have varied schedules, needs, and extenuating circumstances around their recovery, such as; seeking justice, dealing with past trauma, and moving into current commitments to their education and re-training. This makes each week a new experience for me. I might assist one of the residents with her English language skills. I might teach someone how to sew, mend, or knit. Sometimes, I take a resident out for coffee or to the beach. Other times I will chat, listen and support one or more of the ladies.

However, two elements of my visit are a constant; I prepare the evening meal (with or without the assistance of the residents) and we follow up with a Bible Study. My responsibility as a volunteer is to coordinate and facilitate Fellowship Night at the home.

To my surprise, many of the ladies are interested in healthful eating, so they are eager to try a new vegetarian or vegan menu. I direct the table conversation to be light and fun. Laughter is really important and the meal is a time of fun for all of us.

A few ladies voluntarily stay for a brief Bible study. For the last several weeks we have been exploring the subject of forgiveness. I pray for the Holy Spirit to guide our study and am always amazed at what we all come away with. My hour and a half drive home is filled with joy over the faithfulness of the the Spirit as well as praying for each lady who is coming out of indescribable pain.

Editor - Because you have only mentioned women, should I presume that men are not victims of this kind of of abuse?

Nicola - It is estimated that worldwide there are 30,000,000 modern day slaves. This includes men, women, boys and girls. All genders and ages are susceptible to labor slavery and trafficking for labor purposes. Typically women and girls are used for sex slavery. In some African countries boys and girls are manipulated, coerced and forced to act as child soldiers under the control of adult men. In South America, men are enslaved to produce coal that heats the fires to manufacture steel. We buy that steel here in the U.S. to make our cars, etc. Children of poverty are easy prey for traffickers who promise money for the family if the girl goes with them to get a "job" in the city or in America. The examples could go on and on.

Human trafficking/modern day slavery contributes to many of the products we consume in our affluent culture. I believe that if we were more informed about the sources of supply chains, we might make better choices about which companies we purchase our food, clothes, cars, etc. For example, I no longer choose to buy chocolate that has slavery as part of its supply chain.

To me, the buying and selling of another human being is the antithesis of the Kingdom of Love. The evil one is desperate to make humans become as he is. This is why modern day abolition is so important to me. I believe that God's character is the big question in the conflict between good and evil. God needs us to be concerned about the people that concern him -- those who have no voice, who are being unjustly treated, oppressed, and abused.

Editor - Do you have a recent story you can share with us?

Nicola - Yes, on this last Tuesday, my visit at Freedom House opened my eyes and heart to a whole new level of pain. A resident shared parts of her story. She was first sexually abused at the tender age of five. By the time she was nine her parents sold her for sexual services to supply their drug habit. The rest of the story only goes downhill from there. My heart aches as I have seen with my own eyes a surviving victim whose body is but a shell and whose spirit is nearly crushed beyond hope. She stayed for our evening Bible study, sitting next to me so I could help her look up Bible verses on the topic of faith. She is a precious child of our Heavenly Father. I know God has a future and a hope for her. She just needs loving people to show her his goodness.

Editor - Is there anything else you would like to say in closing?

Nicola - As we anticipate celebrating Christmas this year, we might want to consider if the gifts we are purchasing have slave labor in the supply chain. Instead of exchanging gifts with one another, we might should consider finding an organization that is working to abolish modern-day slavery, and support their efforts. How congruous it would be for us to celebrate the birth of the Son of God by participating in the work he came to do -- to set the captives free and proclaim liberty for the enslaved--both physically and spiritually (Luke 4:18).

Editor - Human trafficking is a horrific tragedy! You have stirred our hearts with concern and compassion for those who are being victimized. Our prayers are with you and with those in need of deliverance. Thank you for sharing with us.

Karen Nicola, describes herself as out-going, positive, creative, and active. She and her husband, Steve, live in Healdsburg CA. Speed walking and gardening are among her favorite out-door sports. Family, friends, and food are some of her favorite things. Through several significant losses in her life,Karen has discovered a dynamic, real relationship with God. Because of his faithfulness to bring healing for her broken heart, she sees herself as an ambassador for God’s healing for others; those who mourn their losses and ache with the pain of living in enemy territory. Passionate about the truth of God and interested in what interests Him, Karen seeks to encourage those in her sphere of influence to choose authentic, Spirit infused living.

Karen Nicola writes from northern California. All rights reserved © 2016 Church Support Services. Click here for content usage information.
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