Being the Face of Jesus
By S. Marcel DeJonckheere
End Slavery Cincinnati volunteers, including S. Marcel DeJonckheere (front, left), load a van with gift bags for their weekly delivery.
Human trafficking is a global issue identified as the focus for many from the UN and the Church to groups at all levels, but I was amazed and saddened to learn that it exists everywhere, even here in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The average age at which girls are lured into being trafficked is 12 to 14. Shortly after hearing that appalling statistic, my great-niece Emma called to tell me her soccer team had won its game. I said to myself, “That’s what 13-year-olds should be doing!” I knew then I had to get involved.
S. Pat Sabourin introduced me to the Sisters’ intercommunity committee to end human trafficking. It was started by two Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 2009. The group now numbers close to 20 women religious from 10 congregations as well as a few women’s groups. Talk about collaboration! This is a busy group. It has:
- Approached hotels in our area to sign an anti-trafficking pledge.
- Purchased soaps and labeled them with a hotline message for help to be placed in hotel bathrooms during sporting and other major events. (That is the only place trafficked women are alone.)
- Developed and distributed a curriculum for high schools and met with faculty members.
- Designed business cards with the hotline message to be left in high-risk areas such as truck stops.
- Given talks to parish groups and college classes.
- Strategized ways to combat sex trafficking during the All-Star Game which will be held in Cincinnati in July 2015.
- Worked with a local FBI agent in charge of the anti-trafficking division in our area.
- Collected and bagged personal care items and snacks for use in street outreach. (See opposite page.)
That brings me to the other group with which I have the privilege of working: End Slavery Cincinnati. Each Tuesday night a group of us goes out in a van. When we see a woman who is standing alone, two of us get out. Others in the van are watching for any sign of trouble. If the lights on the van start flashing, it is a signal to get back in right away. (We are aware that pimps are watching from windows and doorways. Last month we learned that they are on rooftops, too, as after we returned to the van heavy objects were thrown onto its roof.)
Once outside, we offer her the gift bag (which is always gratefully received), and we have about two minutes to talk with her. The last thing we do is give her a business card inviting her to come to “The Well” (John 4:1-40) the next day. It is there that help is available - counseling, a meal, a shower, a place to do laundry and relax. If the woman is ready and/or not too scared, she can be referred to a safe shelter called “Off the Street.”
For me, it is a privilege to be able to offer these women compassion; I am so grateful for our Congregational support, even naming End Slavery Cincinnati as the recipient of the 2014 SC Christmas gift. I am ever conscious of two sayings: 1) “You may be the only face of Jesus someone sees today” and 2) “What one of us does, we all do.”
The most memorable incident for me happened in November after we approached a woman who said she had been walking around town all day asking God to show her a way out and then we came. She was in tears, and after assuring us that she had a safe place for the night, she promised that she would come the next day. My prayer was that she would not lose that resolve. Unfortunately, she did not come … maybe next time.