Thornbury, ON is a small community of 2,200 located at the intersection of Beaver River and Georgian Bay. Erika and Jason Mills moved to Thornbury two years ago to co-pastor Blue Mountain Community Church. The church wanted to focus on children and youth ministry, so Erika started following the local schools on social media to get a pulse on what was happening with school-age children in their community.
Erika soon learned that “The school two doors down from us and the high school in our neighbouring community were both having human trafficking information nights for parents. It hit like a ton of bricks. This is serious, they are calling meetings.”
Erika passed the information on to the church’s missions team who started making calls to find out all they could about the upcoming meetings and who was initiating them. They then organized a potluck at the church for community leaders and invited an organization that combats human trafficking and a survivor of human trafficking to share with the group. “We spent two hours speaking with them in an informal setting. What needs to happen in our area is education. People need to understand that it is happening, what to look for and how they can help.”
Port cities like Thornbury often have a lot of human trafficking because there is a lot of tourism and victims can be transported away from their family really quickly by waterways or large highways. Blue Mountain Community Church began the process of talking about human trafficking on Sunday mornings to educate the congregation. “We also started talking about it at youth group. The kids had no idea what human trafficking was about or that it was happening around them. It still kinds of shocks them. The conversations have been great and it ties in with our call to disciple the youth.
The church also decided to create some first response bags that first responders can give to someone who has decided to leave their trafficker. “The average age for a trafficked girl is 13.5 years old, and the process of leaving the trafficker is incredibly long and difficult because the girls are often abused and brainwashed. Police officers, first responders and hospital nurses have created a methodology of befriending these girls in the hopes they will leave.”
The first response bags have gift cards, PJs, face cloth, shampoo, toothbrush and other basic necessities a victim needs after leaving their trafficker. “We decided that even though we are a small church of 70 people, we wanted to prepare ten first response bags. The missions team introduced the idea to the congregation and after four weeks we had a potluck to put the bags together.”
Blue Mountain Community Church plans to continue to educate and talk about the issue of human trafficking in their community. “We know there is also a need for safe houses where girls can go once they make the transition out of a trafficking situation, and we are in the process of discerning if that’s where God wants some of our missions funds to go. We will continue to reach out into the community to fulfill the Great Commission.”