Worship Resources that Respond to Human Trafficking
How can we respond to the profound tragedy that is human trafficking? How can we begin to think and talk about it, especially in the context of worship?
The United Nations defines human trafficking as “The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability, or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”
The International Labor Organization estimates that
- there are at least 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally, including at least 5.5 million children. However, this number varies widely as human trafficking is a difficult crime to track.
- 55% of trafficked humans are women and girls.
- forced labor and human trafficking is a $150 billion industry worldwide.
- human trafficking affects 161 countries worldwide.
How can we respond to the profound tragedy that is human trafficking? How can we begin to think and talk about it, especially in the context of worship?
While we cannot begin to know the full extent to which human trafficking is hurting the people of this world, we can pray for the ability to see the tragedy that it is. The church can also pray for the victims and their families. And, as we pray prayers of lament and prayers for the healing of our world and its people, we can look forward to the day when everything will be made new. For what God has promised, God will one day do. As Christians, God’s children bear a calling to go into the world, into the hurt and the pain and the torture, and to work towards the redemption, to promote freedom, to bring about justice, and to offer compassion to a hurting world. “God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
We are grateful for how many song writers have written compelling music and prayers. This material can be used not only in special services that bring awareness to human trafficking, but they are also applicable for the week-in and week-out services. For example, it would be appropriate to sing one selection a week for a season such as Lent.
Our World Belongs to God
“Life is a gift from God’s hand,
who created all things.
Receiving this gift thankfully,
with reverence for the Creator,
we protest and resist
all that harms, abuses,
or diminishes the gift of life,
whether by abortion, pollution, gluttony,
addiction, or foolish risks.
Because it is a sacred trust,
we treat all life with awe and respect,
especially when it is most vulnerable…
Since God made us male and female in his image,
we respect each other as equals,
not flaunting or exploiting our sexuality…
Sexuality is disordered in our fallen world—
brokenness, abuse, pornography,
and loneliness are the result—
but Christ’s renewing work gives hope
for order and healing
and surrounds suffering persons
with compassionate community…
We call on all governments to do public justice
and to protect the rights and freedoms
of individuals, groups, and institutions
so that each may do their tasks.
We urge governments and pledge ourselves
to safeguard children and the elderly
from abuse and exploitation,
to bring justice to the poor and oppressed,
and to promote the freedom
to speak, work, worship, and associate.”**
Prayers for the ability to see and know how to respond to human trafficking
“Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured” (Hebrews 13:3).
27 Million – Matt Redman, Juliet Adekanmbi, Lindz West, Lucy West, Willie Weeks
The refrain is a calling to “open our eyes,” to be the voice and freedom for the 27 million girls who are trafficked in this world’s slavery market. While this song is informative during the stanzas, its refrain can be sung by a congregation as a promise to work toward a redeemed world. The refrain doesn’t just suggest that we should do something. It says that we’ve “got to” and “we need to” rise up on behalf of those whose voices are being silenced.
For Those Who Can’t Speak – Tenth Avenue North
This song is a call to action—to “use my voice for those who can’t speak.” Using biblical imagery, this song dreams of “a kingdom coming” with “mercy streams” and “rivers of justice.” While the trafficking industry makes the slaves believe that they don’t matter, each individual is and will always be a child of God, precious in God’s sight. Each has “a name like any other” for our “God made no mistake.” It is this truth that we are called to proclaim, to take with us and to follow—working toward a more perfect kingdom without millions of slaves.
Human Trafficking Prayer – S. Genievieve Cassani
While many of the prayers in this article would work well in a service dedicated to drawing awareness to the cause of those who are trafficked, there is a prayer included that explicitly names this cause and pleads for “wisdom and courage to stand in solidarity with them, that together we will find ways to the freedom that is your gift to all of us.”
Open Our Eyes – Kevin Keil (LUYH 297, SNC 263)
This prayer names many different circumstances of oppression in the world and asks God to open our eyes to see these injustices. The refrain names us among the victims when it says, “Come and bring light to a people in darkness. Come, set us free from the chains we have made. We are your people, the flock that you tend. Lord, open our eyes once again.”
Sarah’s Song – Julaine Christensen
Trafficking entraps those who were once innocent. Trafficking changes girls and boys into adults. This song, sung on behalf of a victim of trafficking named Sarah, tells the story of trafficking while empathizing with the victims: “We are weeping and wailing for what has been done, trafficking, the crime unsung.” This song also makes a turn and is a call to action, a call for us to listen to the cries of victims: “God spoke your name to me and I heard your cries tonight, he told me your story and I promise we will fight.”
Prayers for victims of human trafficking
“But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:1-3).
For Everyone Born – Shirley Erena Murray (GtG 769)
While all the stanzas of this unique hymn are pertinent, the fourth stanza is particularly apt when praying for victims of human trafficking. “For just and unjust, a place at the table, abuser, abused, with need to forgive, in anger, in hurt, a mindset of mercy, for just and unjust, a new way to live.” While our gut reaction might be to say, “How can we ask the abuser and abused to sit together?” we are called to remember that the message of this stanza is exactly the gospel message. We are all children of God. It is the refrain of this song that makes the turn so that we can see how all can sit at the table: “And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace!” And so, as people called to work toward justice in a broken world, we are also called to see everyone as children of God, albeit, fallen children of God. “For everyone born, a place at the table, to live without fear, and simply to be, to work, to speak out, to witness and worship, for everyone born, the right to be free.”
Sacred the Body – Ruth Duck (GtG 27)
This unique hymn names something that is rarely talked about—how to love gently, without coercing others, how our bodies are sacred and varied, and how we are called to be careful, tender, and caring toward all, so that we honor God with our bodies. By naming these things, we are naming the sacred things that are disregarded in human trafficking—the things that need to be redeemed. And by naming them, we can stand in solidarity with victims crying out for a return to sacredness. We can also teach and learn what it means to honor our bodies, in the hope of preventing any future trafficking and loss of sacredness.
“Deliver me, O Lord, from evildoers; protect me from those who are violent, who plan evil things in their minds and stir up wars continually…Guard me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked; protect me from the violent who have planned my downfall…Do not grant, O Lord, the desires of the wicked; do not further their evil plot…I know that the Lord maintains the cause of the needy, and executes justice for the poor. Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name; the upright shall live in your presence” (Psalm 140).
For the Troubles and the Sufferings of the World – Rodolfo Gaede Neto, Simei Monteiro, Jorge Lockward (GtG 764, LUYH 663)
This urgent kyrie cries out for relief from the suffering in the world, pleading with God to help the oppressed and helpless people, to hasten the promised salvation and healing. And, in the meantime, this song boldly prays for peace and for power to sustain amidst the hurts of the world.
Hear Us, O Lord, As We Voice Our Laments – David Landegent (LUYH 290)
Based on Psalm 64, this paraphrase laments the “plans that wicked ones devise” and prays for those who have been “pierced by wicked lies.” Uniquely, each stanza ends by saying, “Be a strong refuge for all refugees” or “God is a refuge for all refugees.” Many victims of human trafficking are refugees, people who have left or been taken from their homeland to a place where they know no one, don’t speak the language, and, as a result, are even more vulnerable to the wicked schemes of their oppressors. This psalm petitions God to hear their cries and undo the plans of the wicked.
Prayers for healing
“Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5).
Healer of Our Every Ill – Marty Haugen (ELW 612, GATH 854, GtG 795, LUYH 303, SNC 205)
God is an all-knowing God, one who knows all our deepest fears and hurts. It is to this Healer that this song prays—a Healer who has the ability to grant peace when no one else can and who, despite the tragedies of this world, can offer hope that far outweighs all human sorrow. As we sing this prayer, we sing on behalf of those who only see darkness, who have no hope and no healing; we pray for those with no voice, that they may know the God of love and healing.
In an Age of Twisted Values – Martin E. Leckebusch (GtG 345, LUYH 662, SNC 61)
The world is lost, our families our lost, our lives are built on prejudice and fear. We are blinded by the sin of the world. And only God can hear our cries and heal our nations. Human trafficking is one potent example of this brokenness. God has the power to make everyone new.
O Christ, the Healer – Fred Pratt Green (GtG 793, UM 265, WOR 747)
Our deepest need is to be whole—redeemed and restored by the love of God. Human trafficking is a disease running rampant in our world, whose only cure is redemption and restoration in Christ our Lord.
We Cannot Measure How You Heal – John L. Bell and Graham Maule (GtG 797, LUYH 446)
Every prayer is heard; and while pain cannot presently go away, God’s love endures forever—“but present too is love, which tends the hurt we never hoped to find, the private agonies inside, the memories that haunt the mind.” This song is then a prayer for ultimate healing of body, mind, and soul, a prayer to “disentangle peace from pain,” and ultimately, to make “your (God’s) broken people whole.”
Prayers for hope beyond the present realities
“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).
He Knows My Name – Tommy Walker (LUYH 339)
While the perpetrators of trafficking treat victims as property, this song announces the good news of the gospel: God knows each and every one of us by name, God knows our every thought, every tear, and hears every word that is uttered. And so, we can join our voices to sing this song, singing out the truth that, despite the messages of this world, we all have a Maker, who, according to Psalm 139, knows us completely—“for it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret…In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.”
How Can It Be – Lauren Daigle
God will always plead our cause. God will always break our chains. While this song is appropriate for worship not in the context of talking about human trafficking, it is a unique song that can speak to how, through God’s love and Christ’s death, we are all freed from the earthly things that entangle us. While every individual ensnared in human trafficking can’t say that they are free on this earth, we are all free in Christ’s love because of redemption in Christ’s blood. As we think about the victims of human trafficking, we can sing this song on their behalf, as a hope and a prayer, that one day we will all be able to sing this not only about our freedom in Christ, but also our earthly freedom.
In Labor All Creation Groans – Delores Dufner (SNC 270)
This hymn uniquely names rape, murder, unfair wages, and many other evils of this world while offering a ray of hope with the last phrase of every stanza: Christ is now, is becoming, and will always be, our peace. Until that time however, like Romans 8:22-23 says, the “whole creation has been groaning in labor pains” while we wait for the fullness of Christ.
O Day of Peace – Carl P. Daw Jr. (ELW 711, GtG 373, LUYH 487, UM 729, WOR 654)
This prayer asks God to guide us to hope, to justice, to truth and to love. God promised a world of peace, where the lion can dwell with the lamb, and God will bring it about. Until then, we can pray, hope, and work for justice in our broken world.
O For a World – Miriam Therese Winter (GtG 372)
This song is a call to work toward restoration of a broken world, a world that is “preparing for God’s glorious reign of peace.” While not naming trafficking victims, this song does yearn for a world where “everyone respects each other’s ways” and “children are spared.” Sung to a familiar tune, AZMON (“Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”), we can boldly pray this prayer as a hope and conviction that someday there will be a world with no more tears, no more mourning, and no more victims of human trafficking.
Prayers for the families left wondering why
“So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another” (Romans 12:5).
A Voice Was Heard in Ramah – Carolyn Winfrey Gillette
This crisis of abuse is not the first time that children have been taken advantage of. This song references Jeremiah 31:15-17, when Rachel was left weeping for her lost children. “Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more…Thus says the Lord: they shall come back from the land of the enemy.” When we sing this song, we remember the story of Rachel but we also remember the stories of the other mothers and fathers whose children went to a new country for hope of a better future, only to be caught up in human trafficking; we remember the runaways and the abused who became entangled in this rampant slave-trade. We remember and we hope for the day when the children will return and the present reality will be no more.
Be Still, My Soul – Katharina von Schlegel (AAHH 135, GtG 819, UM 534)
For each of the millions of enslaved children and adults in the human trafficking industry, there is someone in the world that gave birth to them. There is someone who held them. Someone, who even for just a moment, cared for them. And so, praying for the families and friends of those involved is just as important as praying for the victims. This song looks around at the sorrow in the hearts of the families and brings comfort based on Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.” It also looks ahead, knowing that one day, all will be restored.
God Weeps with Us Who Weep and Mourn – Thomas H. Troeger (GATH 574, GtG 792)
Sally Ann Morris wrote this tune after reading the obituary of a friend who died of AIDS. Several months later, the text was penned using Romans 12:5: “So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” This provocative text and tune acknowledges the sorrow and grief, but also holds before the reader the assurance that God weeps when we are weeping and God’s heart is heavy with our sorrow. And so, we can sing this song in solidarity with the victims, families, and friends of those who are caught up in the evil schemes of the perpetrator.
Additional Educational Resources
Human Trafficking Worship Aids – Salvation Army Ethics Centre
This pdf contains hands-on ideas for talking about human trafficking in the context of worship. Also included is a list of scripture texts and a list of songs for use in worship.
Out of the Darkness: Prayer Service for an End to Human Trafficking – United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
This prayer service is a litany that involves the whole congregation, so all can put on their lips the prayer to end human trafficking.
Resources for Human Trafficking Awareness Day – Unbound, An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice
Asking the question, “why should the church care?” this resource provides prayers, children’s sermons, and scripture ideas, selected with human trafficking awareness day in mind.
Understanding and responding to human trafficking – Women of the ELCA
While many of us might have a vague idea of what human trafficking is or how it is spread throughout our world, this pdf shares more specific statistics, stories of human trafficking, and what the Evangelical Covenant Lutheran Church is doing to bring awareness and help to those stuck in the human trafficking industry.
*Hymnal Abbreviation Key (in alphabetical order):
AAHH = African American Heritage Hymnal, 2001 GIA Publications, Inc.
ELW = Evangelical Lutheran Worship, 2006 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
GATH = Gather Comprehensive (2nd edition), 2004 GIA Publications, Inc.
GtG = Glory to God, 2013 Westminster John Knox Press
LUYH = Lift Up Your Hearts, 2013 Faith Alive Christian Resources
SNC = Sing! A New Creation, 2002 Faith Alive Christian Resources
UM = The United Methodist Hymnal, 1989 The United Methodist Publishing House
WOR = Worship: A Hymnal and Service Book for Roman Catholics (3rd edition), 1986 GIA Publications, Inc.
**Source: Our World Belongs to God, article 44-45, and 53 (c) 2008 Christian Reformed Church in North America, Grand Rapids, MI. Reprinted by permission. Our World Belongs to God is also available in Spanish and Korean.