"Are You Safe?"

It was a quiet morning at the Catalyst office. I was working intently on our newsletter and needed to wrap it up for the day, so you might say I was not exactly open to interruptions. So when I looked up to see a young man (or was it a boy?) walk in the door carrying a worn out cardboard box containing who-knows-what, my first instinct was to dismiss him as quickly and politely as I could.

After all, this was important stuff I was doing, working on our newsletter that would help open the eyes of its readers of the injustice of human trafficking, would create an awareness of the atrocities of that industry, and hopefully would spur people on to action. I had a deadline and places to go and things to do when I finished. I REALLY didn’t have time for this.

He introduced himself as Ethan*. Ethan asked to speak with Julie, insisting that he had been there earlier in the week and that she had said she wasn’t free to talk at that moment, but ‘could he could come back another day?’

I politely told him I was sorry but Julie was meeting with someone and again wasn’t available. Maybe it was his kind disposition, or his sheer persistence, but I told him I’d give him 60 seconds to give his pitch to me. He wasted no time in spilling out his rehearsed speech about his youth group and how he was working to overcome his personal challenges by going door to door talking to people and ultimately selling the trinkets in his worn little box to make money for his organization.

After listening with half an ear, it was time to politely but firmly send him on his way. But what I didn’t expect was his pushback. Everything in me said it’s time to get rude, but for some reason I didn’t. When he insisted that I interrupt Julie and tell her he was here, I sighed and relented. “What am I doing?” I thought to myself. “I should NOT be interrupting her. After all, she is in an important meeting working on details of our newest initiative of rescuing victims of human trafficking...”

But when I timidly knocked on Julie’s door and informed her of our young salesman out front, her eyes widened, and she said, "He came back?!"

Julie apologized to her colleague and stepped away to meet with Ethan. Shocked by her enthusiasm, I instinctively knew that this could be an educational moment. The urgencies of my afternoon took a back seat, and I listened as the conversation played out. Julie listened politely to the young man, asked probing questions about his organization and what he was selling, where he was from... simply expressing love and compassion. Still a bit stymied, I heard Julie speak these words that caused the light to go on in my head: “Are you safe?”

The words spoken at a recent conference on human trafficking that we had attended came alive. Often young peopled are forced into labor trafficking by way of door to door sales -- just one of many forms of human trafficking. It turns out that Ethan and his friends slept in a van at night and ‘home’ was VERY far from Bloomington-Normal. Julie went on to share with Ethan that we can connect him to resources to help him. She gave him her contact information and urged him to call her anytime he wanted.

After a simple google search on his supposed ‘youth group’ it was clear that Ethan was being deceived by powerful and manipulative people. Will he recognize his own need for freedom? I don’t know. But I do know that he witnessed the love of Jesus that day, through someone simply asking the question, "Are you safe?"

I went home that afternoon unable to get Ethan off of my mind. My eyes were opened. And I praise God for His Holy Spirit prompting to allow the interruption, and for the new level of awareness of the injustices that might be right under my nose.


*name changed