When shopping for real estate, one typically looks positively at traits such as good schools, a higher socio-economic bracket and low crime. Selecting the location for the Los Angeles Ministry Center for Send Relief went a decidedly different route.
When Los Angeles became the site to establish a Send Relief Center, its director, Daryl Spears, said one criterion was for it to be in an area in need of the light of the gospel. In particular, the center was to address the growing scourge of human trafficking, specifically child trafficking.
“We were in conversations about the high degree of human trafficking that takes place in Los Angeles,” he said. “And looking into it, this part of East Los Angeles has the highest amount of child trafficking.”
The building that serves as the center’s home base, Los Angeles City Baptist Church, is located in the middle of it all. Before he became its pastor, Min Lee was a fellow Angeleno who felt compelled to go by the church one day and pray for its people. The church was struggling, yet had potential.
They invited him back to lead a devotion. Then they did it again. This happened enough times that he was asked to become pastor. He accepted, becoming a re-planter for the church with the North American Mission Board’s endorsement.
It’s become a point of debate as to whether the Super Bowl – hosted this Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood – becomes an annual magnet for an increase in human trafficking. The Los Angeles Times’ Feb. 6 editorial this week calls it a dangerous myth. However, others disagree. Some evidence says online ads for sex increase whenever large events such as concerts, trade shows and athletic events occur, so the Super Bowl is no different in that regard.
It can also be considered a moot point for the Send Relief Center. The fight against trafficking has no season or special emphasis. It must go on every day.
California rates among the top states in human trafficking, with Los Angeles easily being the epicenter. The U.S. State Department reported that COVID-19’s impact on the economy not only placed vulnerable people more at risk of being trafficked, but led governments to divert funds elsewhere that would have addressed trafficking.
LA City Baptist Church’s location and desire to address such issues compelled the partnership with Send Relief.
“We wanted to build a ministry center that can partner with a church to equip its community to help with the issue of child trafficking,” Spears said. A floor-to-ceiling renovation provided room for ministry as well as housing for up to 20 missionaries. That space can also be used for those who have been rescued and need a temporary place to stay.
The center and church are also in an underserved community. “There are almost no parks or anything for children after school,” Spears added. “In the church and center itself, we’re doing a lot to strengthen the community and help with families.”
Those steps include a food pantry and after-school programs. However, residents throughout the city have become so frustrated by issues like relentless homelessness that they’ve all but lost faith in elected officials to offer a solution.
Send Relief won’t be the only group headed to the Super Bowl with the intent to fight human trafficking. A key partnership for them will be In Our Backyard. Volunteers will canvas convenience stores, coffee shops, restaurants and other locations to leave information for those caught in trafficking who are trying to find a way out.
One in particular will get the group’s attention. “Gas station bathrooms are one of the few places these girls can go to and not be around those trafficking them,” Spears said.
The group has identified 32 children – 12 of them boys – that it is certain are being trafficked this weekend. Those fliers will be shared as well.
Time is of the essence to reach them, and the clock is already winding down.
“Around 10 days after the Super Bowl is over, they’re taken off to other parts of the state and country. They’re consolidated into this area for a few weeks, so we work hard two weeks before and up to 10 days after the game,” Spears said.
He and his family will be at SoFi Stadium this Sunday, but not to watch the Bengals and Rams. They’ll be working alongside others, advocating for those suffering in human trafficking. Groups will cover every entrance and exit.
A larger issue is at play, he added. The gospel is the encompassing solution to these problems. It’s just that many remain closed off to it as an answer.
“L.A. is a place where people come because they have hope in many things,” he said. “When they get here, though, one of the biggest reasons they struggle is broken relationships with others, with themselves and with God.
“It’s a place of prosperity, but many here aren’t experiencing that. People have tangible needs. They’re looking to experience hope, and we can explain that hope to them.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Scott Barkley is national correspondent for Baptist Press.)