By Jillian Penhale
Current statistics estimate that there are 27 million people enslaved today. In my city of Tampa, Florida there are over 50 strip clubs, over 70 brothels posing as massage parlors, hundreds of women who are trafficked on the street, and thousands who are being trafficked online. How does one person, one organization, or one mission make a measurable impact when these numbers are so large?
While there is very obvious merit to intentional ministry from one person to another, making a kingdom impact one person at a time – I am talking about impacting communities and taking down an evil industry. To do that, we NEED each other – we NEED the body of Christ to come together. We can’t do it by ourselves. Praise the Lord that there are ministries rising up all over the world to address the injustice of human trafficking! For those of us who are engaging in the fight against this particular brand of evil in our cities, I believe our first question should be, “Who else is here with me? Who is engaging in this work, and what are they doing?”
My first step into this fight was starting a club ministry with a small group of like-minded young salvationists. We felt God calling us to build relationships with women where they were, with the intention of letting them know that they are seen and cared for by a Father who loves them. It truly was a beautiful time of ministry in my life, taking bold steps that I hadn’t taken before. BUT, we went in blindly. Little did we know that there were already about 3 other club ministries working in our city at that time – and not only were we doing the same work in the same city, but because I didn’t check to see who else was doing this type of work we were actually reaching some of the same clubs, meaning there were other clubs remaining unreached by the church. After learning there were other ministries in our city, we were able to partner and become a network of ministries. And now, about 10 ministries work together to reach over 40 clubs in Tampa and St. Petersburg alone. That is an impact! Not only do we collaborate in this way, but one of leaders also gathers us regularly to pray and encourage each other, a showcase of the beauty of partnership.
I now serve as the Executive Director of a small organization called Created which has served in the Tampa area for 8 years, reaching out to women who have been sexually exploited in our city and offering a community of love and support as they pursue healing and recovery. We could not do the work that we do without our community partners. One clear example of this is providing emergency housing to women who are ready to leave the industry. Created has a house than can only provide 6 beds to women in our community, but there are many women contacting us for help and services. After seeing this need we were able to reach out to shelters in our area, including The Salvation Army, and see to it that women are able to stay in a safe place until they are able to either receive a bed at our house, or obtain their own housing.
This doesn’t mean that we would partner with just any agency that provides housing – you have to be strategic when engaging partners and ensure that their heartbeat is similar to yours. For example, we can’t partner with a group that does not believe in women empowerment – because that is a HUGE part of our mission. As a ministry/nonprofit leader every decision should come back to the question – does this help achieve our mission?
The definition of collaboration is “the action of working with someone to produce or create something”. When we bring our gifts and callings together we produce mighty and imaginative things for the kingdom. Together, we can fight and wage war on the injustices happening in our cities.
Jillian Penhale is the Executive Director of Created Ministries in Tampa, FL.