Onesimus (pronounced oh-ness-ih-muss) had a serious problem (besides his crazy name). He was a victim of human trafficking and a runaway kid. Onesimus ran away from his master Philemon and found himself in a precarious situation. It wasn’t safe to go back and it wasn’t safe anywhere else. He was a victim caught up in the pervasive and dreadful Roman slavery culture. But somehow, Onesimus wound up in the one safe place in all the empire – or more accurately with the one safe person. Paul was under house arrest in Rome. Maybe Onesimus heard about Paul’s confinement and remembered him as the man who came and established a new religious group at his master’s house. Maybe Paul spotted him in the passing crowd. We’re not told, but somehow Onesimus realized this Good News Paul was promoting was his rescue out of danger. Paul sent him back with a letter to his master Philemon and evidently it all worked out. We still have the letter (look just before Hebrews in the Bible) and tradition tells us Onesimus went on to become pastor of the Ephesus church. This is the work of the kingdom, providing safe haven, restoration, and a future for kids at risk.
And homeless kids are the most at risk kids there are. Studies show that 1/3 of kids who wind up alone and homeless will fall victim to human trafficking within as little as 48 hours. It’s hard to get statistics regarding homelessness because as Hugh Hollowell of Love Wins puts it, “homelessness is so transient, most homelessness data is based on one day snapshots, or ‘Point in Time’ counts.” And all we can count are people who access some form of assistance on that given day. The most recent snapshots indicates that on a given night in Wake County there are 225 homeless children and in Durham County there are 275 children. Some of these are with parents. Others are alone. But of course, the ones who get snatched up by traffickers don’t get counted since they are not accessing any assistance. The takeaway here is that there are kids in danger here where we live. (If you’re reading this somewhere outside the Triangle the same is likely true for you. A quick bit of googling will get you the numbers to prove it.)
There are many reasons kids wind up alone and homeless. Some have various kinds of trouble at home (such as physical, emotional, or sexual abuse) and runaway. Others get kicked out by their parents or guardians. This is especially the case for gay and transgender kids, so much so that this accounts for 20% of all homeless kids. (And these parents are often financially stable and very ‘religious’ but I’m going to pass on the rant swimming in my head.) Another source is kids who age out of foster care. Half of these kids (that’s right 50%) wind up homeless. In Feb. 2013, Wake County had 171 kids in foster care who were 13 or older. Some percentage of those kids will age out of foster care and be released. In Sept. 2014, Durham County reported 31 kids had aged out of foster care in the previous 12 months. In general, the Wake County stats are about three times the Durham County stats (which tracks with their relative sizes). So, close to 124 kids a year age out of foster care in Wake and Durham, about 62 of these become homeless and 20 of those immediately become victims of human trafficking. Add that to runaways, kids kicked out by their parents for being gay or otherwise unacceptable to them, and kids the traffickers get to first. We could be talking about, what? 100 kids a year? In our area alone. So, yeah, this is a real thing and it really is happening right here in our little Mayberry.
There are resources to help but trafficking victims often don’t know about them. If you ran into someone who showed signs of being a trafficking victim (this is what we prayed about last week, having eyes to see) or one of these at risk kids, would you know where to direct them? You could print out and keep on of these flyers handy (available in many languages). And you can prepare yourself ahead of time by praying that you can be like Paul – a safe harbor for these kids, a person who helps provide safety, restoration, and a future to kids in danger. Pray something like this:
“Lord, there are kids right here in my town who have nowhere to go and no one to turn to. They are homeless, alone, and in danger. Please keep them safe from evil. May they find shelter, food, safety, and a way out of their predicament. Let my path cross theirs, let us find each other as Paul and Onesimus did. Make me a safe harbor, a person who can help them find safety, restoration, and a future. I want to be an advocate for them like Paul was for Onesimus. I’m asking you to place this on my heart. Help me connect to those in my community already doing this work. Help me to see them. Give me the courage to step out and speak up. Use me and whatever means necessary to aid these kids, Lord, they are your very heart. Make them mine too.”