The Federal Bureau of Investigation has presented a prestigious crime-fighting award to a Louisiana Baptist church for its tremendous work fighting human trafficking.
Earlier this month, FBI Director Christopher Wray presented the Baptist Friendship House of New Orleans with its the 2018 Director’s Community Leadership Award for its partnership with the FBI in rooting out networks of human trafficking across the city of New Orleans.
Missionary worker Kay Bennett, who is with the North American Mission Board, accepted the award on behalf of the faith community at the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“It’s very humbling, to be honest,” said Bennett, according to Baptist Press. “That was my first feeling … to be recognized with such a great group from all the states and the different FBI field offices. It was a beautiful picture of how it takes all of us working together to make our world a better place. It’s encouraging to know that people believe in what you’re doing.”
Eric J. Rommal, FBI New Orleans Special Agent in Charge, said that for several years now, the Bureau has been working with the faith community to combat human trafficking in the city of New Orleans and praised the church’s leadership for their steely determination in tackling such a dreadful issue.
“Their staff continues to serve the shelter with compassion, dedication, and professionalism,” Rommal declared. “Whether rescuing victims from human trafficking situations, providing victim services to those in need, or supporting community outreach efforts across the metropolitan area, the Baptist Friendship House is just a phone call away and is always willing to answer the call for service.”
Bennett recalled the moment the opportunity presented itself to partner with law enforcement, noting that the call-up came about through the church’s work with the homeless.
Indeed, the Greater New Orleans Human Trafficking Task Force listed “homelessness” as a “vulnerability identified within trafficking victims in the United States,” along with those in the foster care system and individuals who have previously been incarcerated.
“I’ve done homeless ministry for almost 30 years in our city,” Bennett explained. “If you do homeless ministry, it’s a natural fit. Homeless folks are very vulnerable to being trafficked. Once someone is rescued from a trafficking situation, they’re often homeless. Also, in doing homeless ministry, down the road after people have been sold over and over again, sometimes induced with drugs and their bodies have worn out, they often get thrown away like a piece of trash on the street. They walk through our doors then for showers and clothing.”
Then, in 2013 and prior to New Orleans hosting Super Bowl XLVII, Bennett joined an anti-trafficking taskforce. Several further initiatives developed, with the Baptist Friendship House providing housing for women and children caught up in the trafficking trade, or offering safehouse accommodation.
The staff also provided “in-house counseling to over 1,100 women and referred another 3,300 to outside counseling,” the FBI said in a statement on the award ceremony. “Baptist Friendship House also offers day programs such as educational course, computer skills, job readiness training, English as a second language, life skills, as well as Bible studies,” the Bureau added.
Now, with an understanding of the sheer scale of the issue, Bennett is urging other churches to get involved and help defeat the scourge of modern-day slavery and trafficking.
“Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, and it is all around us here in the United States,” Bennett said. “I think it’s very important that we, as Southern Baptists, look around us, assess needs, see what’s going on and reach out to help people.”