Lauran Bethell is a global consultant on the issue of human trafficking, working with the support of International Ministries, the mission agency of American Baptist Churches USA. Baptist Women New Zealand is organising a visit by Lauran to New Zealand in August 2019.1 This is her story.
How did you get involved in this field?
I went to Thailand in 1986 with International Ministries. In 1987 we opened up a shelter there called New Life Centre, for young girls who were at high risk of being exploited in the sex industry. Later, families asked us to help rescue people out of brothels and so we started doing that in cooperation with various agencies like law enforcement.
By the 1990s I realised that God was calling increasing numbers of people to do ministries like this in their different contexts all over the world. I was being invited to come alongside them to offer advice and encouragement. By the late 1990s travelling took 30% of my time. Combining this with directing the New Life Centre became untenable. Someone came along who was perfect for the director’s role, which freed me to concentrate on consultancy work.
I left Thailand at the end of 2000 and moved to Prague in January 2001. I now live in the Netherlands. Europe is central to the rest of the world and has the communications and transportation connections I need for this work.
Where does your passion lie—advocacy or front‑line work?
I have worked in advocacy. I’ve testified in Congress in the USA and I worked closely with different government agencies when I was in Thailand. Laws and their enforcement are important but I believe the best advocacy is shaped in collaboration with those who touch the lives of victims and survivors. Jesus didn’t go to the government to change lives—he met people where they were and ministred to their needs—food, healing, care.
I feel called to focus on the grass roots and to create communities of practitioners who are meeting the victims, pimps and bar owners with the good news of Jesus Christ. When we develop relationships with them, we realise they are all beloved sons and daughters of God in need of redemption and hope.
What can churches do to help front-line workers?
Churches have a huge role to play—through prayer, with finances, and by offering whatever other assistance the workers may need. They can also raise awareness within their midst.
Trafficking is a tough issue. What gives you hope?
We have always enslaved people, in lots of different ways, and we’ve always had prostitution. Human trafficking is like a virus. As soon as you think you have a cure for it, it changes its form. It will adapt to whatever you are doing to prevent it. I have been at this 33 years now. I am still standing, but you don’t see a lot of fruit sometimes.
But the good news is that there is now a lot of awareness about it and a lot of people are being called to do exciting new things to combat it. Prostitution, which used to be called victimless, is now being called for what it
Early on I realised that I am not ‘Lauran Bethell, Director of New Life Centre’ or ‘Lauran Bethell, International Consultant’. First and foremost, I am Lauran Bethell, beloved daughter of God. This is God’s work. It is a profound call. And it is a call that needs to be renewed every minute. But it is God’s battle and he is fighting it in places we cannot see.
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