[DISCLAIMER: These blog posts do not necessarily reflect The Salvation Army. Opinions and thoughts do not reflect all Salvationists.]
Since its origin it seems there are few places The Salvation Army has been unwilling to go. Woven within the fiber of our very being is ‘Darkest England’ – the place where the rejected, addicted, abused and outcast found what parades as camaraderie, but manifests more as misery.
And so sewn into the fabric of our Salvation being is the want to share life, truth, and hope where no one else would. And the same is, perhaps, true today.
I spent Mother’s Day weekend in a place where some would be unwilling to go.
Alongside a handful of willing women and in partnership with the Western Territorial SA Justice Department and the Southern California Division, I spent three days at the 29th Los Angeles AdultCon – a convention dedicated solely to the adult entertainment industry – its consumers, and purveyors. Not exactly where most would choose to commemorate motherhood.
So why go? Why wouldn’t we.
Over three days, The Salvation Army seized the opportunity to educate about the problem of human trafficking and bring awareness to its direct link to the sex-trade industry. As part of the Western Territory’s 10-year plan to help eradicate human trafficking, participation in this convention meant education would be key, truth vital, grace essential, and God’s love non-discriminatory.
With Los Angeles being a hotbed for human trafficking – it stands to reason that if we weren’t afraid to enter Darkest England then, why would we be now? According to a recent article in the the Los Angeles Times over 500 arrests were made statewide this past year, all of which were related to trafficking crimes. In this same sting operation, 56 people were rescued of which 11 were girls . And yet, this seems to just scratch the surface of injustice, as we face the reality that in L.A. county, nearly a quarter of Latinas and African-American women live below the federal poverty line, women earn just 81 cents compared to every dollar men make, and roughly 1 in 3 of the county’s homeless individuals are women. We should be devastated. And wholly unsatisfied with “scratching the surface” when these, and so many other, social justice issues run so deep.
Our team spent a collective 20 hours surrounded by entertainment exhibitors, fledgling and seasoned porn stars, web cam enthusiasts, scantily clad strippers, and droves of individuals who seemed no different than your next door neighbor. Many who passed by thanked The Salvation Army for being there. Some asked why were there and actually listened when we told them why. And as every opportunity presented itself, we engaged all those we could in conversation about what trafficking is, why we should care about it, and how they (yes, even the socially awkward 19-year-old with a porn addiction) could take an active role in saying something if they see something when it came to identifying trafficking victims.
And you know what? There was something significant about empowering someone at a sex show to do something about the horrific evil happening in their back yard. The interest, the questions, the conversations – each were meaningful. Some were offensive. And that was okay. I quickly realized that in light of my own sinful condition – there was neither room nor place for judgment in my heart. It didn’t matter why they were there, what mattered is that they were given a chance to understand where justice could beautifully and quite ironically collide with their lives.
In addition to our goal to educate and ensue meaningful conversations, our team offered prophetic prayer for those interested. It was powerful to experience such a deep openness to the super natural. Look into my life? Hear for my future? Listen for insight? This audience was all over that. And while our psychic counterpart offered her own sort of spiritual readings just a few exhibits away, we took time to listen and really hear for those we prayed with. My Sunday evening ended this way as two porn stars across from our exhibit rushed over as we packed up, asking if we could “do their spiritual reading.” I shared with one of the girls that I felt God’s desire for her was that she finish school and pursue his plans for her life as an educated business woman. She looked at me and said, “I’m in school now. And all I’ve wanted was to be successful in this business.” I replied, “God has so much more.” We embraced and she thanked me. We will never fully understand the profundity of God’s mercy as it touches our lives how it does.
Secular society has grown increasingly tolerant of what we would rather balk at, turn our gaze from, and cast judgement on – you know, as Christians. Yet, for 3 days, I was so keenly aware of my own difficulty, struggle, and sinfulness as I watched hundreds of people look for something they were not going to find in that dimly lit hall. Relationship, purpose, love, a sense of belonging, a semblance of community. Yet, isn’t it straight into Darkest England that God called and continues to call us into, that we might recognize the beauty of mercy that triumphs over judgement and of justice that rolls deep, like a river.
Human Trafficking crackdown nets more than 500 arrests statewide
2017 Report on the Status of Women in Los Angeles County
Lt. Erin L. Wikle
Erin is a follower of Jesus whose passion is intentional living and discipling others. Erin is gifted in leading worship, engaging others in listening and prophetic prayer, and holds ministry experience in various urban and rural settings. She believes empowered women empower women. Erin holds a B.A. in Christian Theology and Minor in Spanish from Seattle Pacific University (2005). She and her husband, Chris, have four children – Evangeline (11), Jackson (8), Samuel (5), and Elina (3).