The problem of human trafficking is so vast that it can be daunting trying to find ways to stop it. But the Rev. Pat Cannon said on Friday evening (Jan. 11) that a service held at his central-city church offered a perfect way for people to take a stand against trafficking: prayer.
“It’s such a big problem that you almost don’t know what do to, but anybody can do this – pray,” Cannon said before the start of a prayer vigil to stop human trafficking.
It is not just a global crisis, with the United Nations estimating that nearly 21 million people are victims of labor and sex trafficking, but also close to home as Toledo ranks No. 4 in the nation for arrests of traffickers and the rescue of victims, according to federal law-enforcement officials.
Friday evening's prayer service, held on the National Weekend of Prayer to End Modern-Day Slavery and Human Trafficking, drew about 30 people to That Neighborhood Church, located on Ontario and Bush streets in a rough-and-tumble stretch of North Toledo.
The half-hour vigil was organized by S.T.O.P. (Stop Trafficking Of Persons), an organization founded in 2008 by the Sylvania Franciscan, the Tiffin Franciscan, Notre Dame and Ursuline nuns to take a stance against human trafficking.
After a welcome prayer by Cannon, eight people took turns lighting candles from a trinity candle and offering brief prayers for victims of human trafficking in different regions of the world. The lighted candles were placed on a draped table on the altar beside a globe.
Sister Ann-Marie Borgess of the Notre Dame sisters read from Lamentations, “O God, remember what has happened to us; consider and see our degradation. The women in Zion have been raped, the young girls in the town of Judah … Joy has vanished from our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning.”
Sister Sandy Sherman, an Ursuline nun and one of the organizers of the event, prayed “for strength and perseverance for those individuals and organizations working to overcome human trafficking…”
She also prayed for the traffickers to “have a change of mind and heart in order to change their ways.”
Sister Angelita Abair, an Ursuline nun, read from the Vatican document Gaudium et Spes, which said in part that “whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children … They poison society. They are a supreme dishonor to the Creator.”
Between Scripture readings and prayer, organist Janelle Martin led participants in short verses from “We Shall Overcome.”
Cannon said That Neighborhood Church and members of S.T.O.P. take time every month to offer help to prostitutes in the “04,” the Toledo neighborhood with a 43604 ZIP Code.
“What better place to pray against human trafficking than here, a church that is in the very center, the core, of the problem,” he said.
That Neighborhood Church is working on opening a rescue house for prostitutes, called Rahab’s House, just a block from the church. It recently received a $10,000 grant from Home Depot and a $25,000 matching grant from The Andersons, Cannon said.
In the meantime, church members and members of S.T.O.P. go out once a month or more to minister to the streetwalkers on Lagrange Street.
Cannon said the volunteers hand out snacks, water, hygiene items and other goods to between 10 and 15 prostitutes a month.
“People think prostitution is a choice. It’s not,” Cannon said. “Many of them are trafficked as a child and grow up doing prostitution. Or they have no alternative.”
One night, he said, church members handed out backpacks containing school supplies. “One woman thanked us and said she wouldn’t have to prostitute herself that night because of the backpacks. She was going to turn tricks to get money to buy her children school supplies,” he said.
The Rev. Carolyn Eyre of Bible Temple on Airport Highway said she attended “to support the pastor [Cannon] and the community. We want to help the trafficking victims by opening our hearts, our homes and our churches to restore their dignity.”
On Saturday (Jan. 12) a national “prayer surge” is planned with people around the country praying for an end to trafficking. The public is invited to join “Prayer Surge Now!,” a national conference call scheduled for 9 to 11 a.m., by calling 712-432-0075 and entering an access code of 6149782#.