By Nell Green
As I write this I sit in a bus station in Dallas, Texas waiting for my bus back to Houston. Bus travel is certainly not what it used to be! There is wifi, security guards, snack bar, etc. As a young woman I was somewhat afraid of bus travel. It is a new day however, and it seems on the surface most everyone is like me. But are they? As a people watcher, I observe closely the people around me and wonder about their stories. Are these two young men and the young lady with them related? Are they going to visit family or search out a better life? Does the young woman want to be there? Is she with them by choice? Are these men who are obviously not American traveling together because they share a cultural heritage? Why are several of them on the move at the same time? Are they perhaps headed for work in an oil field or in agriculture? The woman cooking short orders behind the window speaks no English. Her face is weathered and unsmiling. I wonder if she wants to be there. Is the job a blessing or a burden? Is she being paid fairly and does she work decent hours?
In recent years while learning more and more about human trafficking, I have lost the ability to simply observe someone with curiosity. Now I mentally go through a series of questions in my mind. When we first went to the mission field overseas, I accepted poverty as simply what is. I witnessed people working in untenable conditions i.e. school age, unsafe, poor wages, forced, sixteen hour days and considered it as an opportunity for work not as a burden forced upon them. Shaking my head at those working in the sex industry, I wished for a greater morality in our society. Yes, I, the missionary, stand convicted. I have contributed to slavery and based on my purchasing habits, my lack of advocacy and my misunderstanding I am a slave owner. Now, I vow to free all of my slaves. How?
I refuse to watch people without looking closely and wondering if there is some way they are crying out for help. I refuse to watch people without going through a series of questions in my mind and pray for God’s leading and guiding in understanding their situation. Do they want to be there? How are their clothes and belongings? How do they interact with the ones with them? If I am in a place that I frequent often do I see the same people, or does the staff seem to have high turnover? The men I see working in the fields, are they given enough to eat and decent housing? Where are their families? Are they paying someone outlandish pay back fees for their loved one’s passage to this farm? Why is that older man with a young girl? Holding hands like that, surely she is not his daughter? Why are those girls dressed in such a revealing way walking up and down a sidewalk in front of the convention? Is the young woman really that shy or is she afraid? So many truckers are at this truck stop but not another. Do they find something here they can’t find somewhere else? Are there girls and women trapped somewhere in those cabs? A fun party seems to be happening in the hotel bar. Is it fun for the women I see in there? Those girls are walking with those boys in the mall. Are the really just friends hanging out, or is danger lurking there? How long have they known those older boys they are walking with? How vulnerable are their self-esteems? Will they be an easy prey for someone who tells them they want to be their boyfriend who will turn pimp?
I had a music professor who had an exceptional ear tell me that he could not listen to music and simply enjoy it. He, without thinking, began to pick it apart detecting each instrument and nuance of the music. That is how I am now with people watching. It is no longer idle curiosity. It is a search for justice. It is a search for the slaves I own due to my own lethargy in addressing injustice. It is a search to free my slaves. What about you? How many slaves do you own? How are you working to free them?
Nell and her husband, Butch, are Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel serving in Houston, Texas. Learn more about their ministry here.