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The Often Unidentified Problem Of Sex Trafficking Of Boys

Chris and Anna Smith, Co-Founders of Restore One Ministry, in our monthly “Focus on Faith” segment. They discuss Restore One, a ministry that offers shelters and faith-based residential recovery programs, free of cost, to American boys who are survivors of domestic minor sex trafficking.

Chris and Anna Smith discuss sex trafficking of boys

Family Policy Matters
Transcript: The Often Unidentified Problem Of Sex Trafficking Of Boys

THOMAS GRAHAM: Thank you for joining us for this week’s special Focus on Faith edition of Family Policy Matters. Today, I am excited to have as my guests a beautiful couple from eastern North Carolina who are answering God’s call to love and serve in an unusual, but desperately needed ministry. Chris and Anna Smith are co-founders of Restore One, a ministry that seeks to open shelters that offer faith-based residential recovery programs, free of cost, to American boys who are survivors of domestic minor sex trafficking. They are very close to opening their first shelter, the Anchor House, which will be the first long-term recovery safe-home in the United States specifically designed to serve these adolescent boys.

Chris and Anna Smith, welcome to Family Policy Matters. It’s great to have you on the show.

CHRIS SMITH: Yes, thank you so much for having us.

ANNA SMITH: Glad to be here.

THOMAS GRAHAM: I know that, or at least I think I know, that undertaking this kind of ministry must be rooted in a strong relationship with God. Can you tell us about your own stories and life experiences, particularly your faith? I’m sure that had a major role in preparing the soil of your heart to be open to this mission when God called you.

CHRIS SMITH: Yes Sir, Pastor Thomas, it sure has for both us. I think we’d have to go all the way back—we’re both 29 now—so I would say probably ten years ago when we were 19. In college, we answered the call to be full-time youth pastors at a local church here in Greenville, North Carolina. And the pastor, pretty much, just came up to us and said, “Hey, God’s leading me to ask you guys to be youth pastors.” And we were kind of like, “Ah, um, OK.” We haven’t even graduated college yet. We’re not really sure we could do this, but that was just following after God’s leading and jumping into unchartered waters. What we have found along every story that we’ve walked into that Jesus has for us, that even though we don’t feel qualified, Jesus calls us and He always, I think, calls the unqualified, and he equips us along the journey. I think it goes to show for both of us along our journey, Jesus has always continued to call us into things that made us step outside of our comfort zone, and we’re uncomfortable. And that’s where we are at now at Restore One. It took tons of faith. We did that ministry for five years in the midst of being in college and being engaged, and then now we’re here with Restore One. Just saying “yes” to what Jesus has for us, and that’s opening a safe-home for boys that are victims of sex trafficking here in America.

THOMAS GRAHAM: Chris, I think that’s wonderful. What was the catalyst to undertake a ministry, the first of its kind in the nation I might add, to this particular, and often overlooked, aspect of the terrible, terrible problem of human trafficking? What was the catalyst?

ANNA SMITH: So after Chris and I left youth ministry, we just began to learn more and more about human trafficking, and particularly human trafficking here in the United States. And as we learned more about the issue, we discovered that there were no “safe homes” at the time for boys who are survivors of sexual trafficking. And we also began to learn that boys account for about 50 percent of the population of sexually trafficked and sexually exploited children. And so, that was a huge catalyst for us to learn that. We’d already been working in the field of human trafficking for a couple of years and we knew that the Lord had laid on our hearts to open a safe home. And when we learned about the issues as it pertains to boys, it was so incredibly clear that God was saying, “Go and open a safe home for boys who have been sexually trafficked.”

CHRIS SMITH: And I think for both of us, in the beginning—you know I think for all of us, when Jesus calls us into something, we get this vision of other people, when Jesus calls them into something, they automatically say, “Yes, this sounds exciting, I can totally take this on.” I think that’s very rarely the case. At first I was, “Oh, I don’t even know what human trafficking is. What am I gonna do? What am I going to do to help address this? I’m a man.” And that’s when Jesus kind of said, “Chris, the average buyer of a child in America is a middle-class man that’s Caucasian that has a family at home.” And we need men, just like me and you, Pastor Thomas, to step up and say this is not okay. Whether you’re a Christian or not, this is not how God created men to be.

THOMAS GRAHAM: Exactly, boy that’s well said Chris. So, since saying “yes” to this call to begin this outreach, I’m going to just say, I imagine life has not been very smooth sailing. God rarely calls us to easy projects, and that’s something you alluded to a few moments ago. What sort of bumps in the road have you encountered, and where have your drawn the motivation to just continue to persevere in the face of those challenges?

ANNA SMITH: You’re so correct that this endeavor, this ministry has not been without its share of hardship and obstacles to move through. Just to name a few: Upon building the Anchor House, which is the safe-home we’re opening in just a few short months for boys who’ve been sexually trafficked, we had a high level of protesting happen, pushback on the work we were doing. It lasted for about two-to-three months, and it was really just about 10 to 15 people causing a lot of noise, but it was incredibly stressful and caught a lot of attention. Thankfully it’s resolved, but it was very disheartening to us as well because it’d really been an experience where we were trying to be kicked out of where we thought the Lord wanted us to build this home. And another hardship, it was about a year later. The home was getting ready to be opened. We’d finished building. We were flooded by Hurricane Matthew. That was incredibly devastating, and really tough to wrap our minds around how the Lord could allow something to come to pass of that nature. We know so many were affected by Hurricane Matthew. And we are so grateful though that the Lord allowed us to be rebuilt, and we rebuilt, restored the home, and we had tons of help from the community and people from across the nation. So, we are grateful that we are on the other side and that we are getting ready to open. And God’s just been incredibly faithful.

THOMAS GRAHAM: There are so many stories told of persons like yourself who begin a work that God has called them to, and there might be an inclination to think, well with God in it everything’s going to be wonderful in proceeding forward. And then they begin to encounter obstacles of one sort or another, and like most people, they begin to question, “Father, did you really call me to this?” And it’s so good to hear there’s a strength of conviction in your voices that God has definitely called you, and that though there were obstacles, and there have been challenges, and very likely there will be a few more, nevertheless, you’re proceeding forward and fulfilling this vision and providing this service. I just think it’s wonderful. Would you agree that this issue of human trafficking, like so many of the heart-breaking issues we see in our world today, that it’s rooted in a widespread loss of respect for the intrinsic dignity of the human person?

ANNA SMITH: I think we would both absolutely agree. If you look at the breakdown of what human trafficking is, it’s a buying and selling of people. Whether it’s for labor or a sexual purposes. And so absolutely, you’re looking at a person as a commodity and there’s a loss of seeing someone as a person. I mean we buy into the system and the culture behind sexual trafficking and so, I think it’s absolutely deeply rooted in that. And I think we have to go back to our roots of understanding we all bear the image of God, we all bear His face. And with that said, it should be a no-brainer that everyone, whether you’re directly involved in addressing human trafficking, standing against it though I think is a no-brainer. God would never, I could never see the Lord wanting anyone or committing anyone who bears His face, any of His creation to be bought and sold.

THOMAS GRAHAM: Amen. Well said, Anna. Chris, perhaps you could tell us about your work with Restore One and Anchor House. What kind of care do you currently offer and how will Anchor House add to that?

CHRIS SMITH: Yes. What we do at Restore One: In the beginning of Restore One, we were not even addressing the issue of boys until about 2014 is when we started talking about that and launching the efforts toward building Anchor House and raising the funds to do that. Some of the current work that we do is: When you think of human trafficking, you think that usually only happens to girls. So one of the biggest things we do at Restore One right now is awareness and education. It is very important that other organizations like us, that might have a home for girls or just have educational programs, or awareness programs, it’s very important for us to train the public and bring awareness to the public that it is not just happening to females. And if it is happening to males, it’s not just happening in labor trafficking. Boys are being sold across the world, and yes, on the streets of America. And it is our duty to bring the awareness to this issue accurately. So we train and educate many different people. We are invited to many different conferences across America to share about the work of Restore One and bring the education piece about boys being trafficked. One of the other pieces that we do with that awareness education is a boys documentary. It’s something that we’ve pioneered and what we’ve done is we’ve sat down with about six to seven survivors—they are now adults—and we’ve been able to hear their stories. We’ve been able to capture the heart that they have for the issue, for something to be done, and they all come back to the same statement that there was no help for them. And if they did come out and speak, they were shamed. And so, that is some of the work that we do. We believe the Anchor House is something that is desperately needed, a long-term care home for boys that have been victims of sex trafficking. We have it for girls. We have it for adults. We need it for these boys. We need this home open so boys can start and begin the healing process.

THOMAS GRAHAM: Chris, what do you want to share with families who may not have realized how significant of a risk human trafficking is for our young people today? What would you really want to share with the families who may be listening to us today?

CHRIS SMITH: A couple of different things come to mind when asked this question. First, it’s never too early, in my opinion, to bring up the issue to your kids in an education-safe way of course. But also telling our kids, if someone harms you, if someone touches you inappropriately, it is okay for you to come to me and to tell me about that. I think another thing is what can your family do to address this issue. Anna and I believe—and I think a lot of us believe—that Jesus himself has given his sons and daughters a very specific, unique gift and talent, and we can use that gift and talent to address the darkness of this world that is around us. And so, how are you using your gifts and talents to help change the world? It is time for us as believers to stop sitting on the sidelines and to go outside the four walls of the church and to really make a difference. You know Jesus said, “Go unto the world” and that world is overseas; that world is our neighbor; that world is our backyard; the community that we live in. I think asking, “What can I do to make a difference around myself every day?”

ANNA SMITH: I think part of what we encourage folks to do if they’re not hands and feet involved in a ministry addressing human trafficking is that, you can always donate and give, financially, give your prayers. I truly believe that this work that we are doing addressing human trafficking, any form, it’s truly a spiritual battle. So the more prayer warriors we have involved, I truly believe, the better. These strongholds that we are up against addressing are not just new strongholds. So they’ve been around for eons. So slavery’s not a new issue, right? It’s an old issue. But I believe, God is calling a new generation, a new group of people, to address this and particularly here in the United States.

THOMAS GRAHAM: I am so glad that He has called you two! And it’s clear just listening to you both speak, how deeply convicted you are to reach out with every resource God places in your hand to help these boys. And I commend you for it.

You know Chris and Anna, we are nearly out of time for this week. Where can our listeners go to learn more about Restore One or even to support your work?

CHRIS SMITH: Sure! Easily, and that is all spelled out, We also have a very, very strong presence on Facebook. Just type in Restore One on your search bar and we will come up. We’re also on Twitter and Instagram.

THOMAS GRAHAM: Wonderful. Chris and Anna Smith, I want to thank you both so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters today, and for your beautiful and faithful example of saying “Yes” to God’s call to be His hands to love and serve His precious children. Thank you and God bless you both.

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