The following is the third article in a series on the issue of Human Trafficking in Oklahoma. This week, Inola, First, is featured as a church that is taking action to reach out to women who have been enslaved in prostitution. While prostitution doesn’t always constitute human trafficking, most women involved in this crime are caught in situations that lead to years of bondage and abuse.

by Teresa Brady

Recently while traveling home from Texas, I recognized my traveling patterns would no longer be the same. It’s not unusual to stop, get fuel for our vehicle, buy a few snacks and go on as usual. But this particular stop was different.

While in the small restroom, I noticed a young teen girl getting dressed in dark make-up, a strapless dress, dark hose and cowboy boots. Knowing what I know, I couldn’t just leave it alone. So, I followed her out. I can’t be sure, but I think she was with a group of girls and safe. I pray I was right. But now that I’ve been alerted to the issue of human trafficking, I can’t ignore the obvious signs. Why? It’s not just across our borders. It’s not just across our oceans. It’s not just across state lines. It’s right in our backyard.

Not every girl we see at truck stops is in trouble. But many are. And if God asked you to do something about it, would you? Inola, First did just that.

It all began when three women followed God’s prompting and ran with it. One of them had returned from ministering in the brothels in India. She presented a challenge to the women of the church. Why only go across the world to brothels? Why not also minister to local women who need to know the love of Christ?
After the challenge, these women met with their pastor, Blake Gideon. He gave them permission to go forward. Before long, phone calls were made to more than 10 “Gentlemen’s Clubs” in the Tulsa area. The same question was asked of all the club managers. “May we be allowed to come in before the club is open to meet with the girls and let them know we care about them?” “May we also bring them a small gift of encouragement?” Three out of 10 club managers agreed.

When the ministry team entered the club the first time, they were met by a suspecting bartender who was leery of women representing a church. They assured him their purpose was to just let the women know someone cared. At first, the dancers were not sure of their intentions. The ministry team introduced themselves. It was awkward getting started. Then one of the women from the church began sharing her experiences of how she had viewed “church people” in the past and shared her testimony of how Christ changed her life. Suddenly, one of the dancers asked if the ladies could pray for her kids. Before long, two women were praying together and the walls came down. That afternoon, relationships and even friendships began forming. Phone numbers were exchanged. Ministry happened.

Human Trafficking comes in many forms, and not all of the ladies working in these clubs are or have been trafficked. However, they are vulnerable targets. Human traffickers target the low-income, the poverty stricken, runaways, single moms, troubled teens and abused individuals. Eighty percent of the victims are women as well as half are children.

The group of ladies who minister to these women has grown as well as the ministry. They have realized that it takes time to develop trust and build relationships. They’ve realized it can take several weeks before a phone call is returned. But when the phone rings, there is a woman ready to share the love of Christ and meet the needs of these women right where they are. Inola has locked arms to pray, support and minister to these women who desperately need to know that “God has a plan and purpose for their lives.” As one woman declared,, “God opens doors and we walk through them.” It’s a sobering responsibility, but one with which these ladies and their church are willingly running.

Teresa Brady is a member of the Women’s Missions and Ministries Human Trafficking Task Force.