by Marty Troyer
Santa Claus gets a bad rap from a lot of people. And well he should. He represents all that is wrong with Christmas: sentimentalism, forced belief in lies, consumption and consumerism, and a total disconnect from the Christmas story. His jolly-wielding belly laugh can't begin to redeem such a diversion. A diversion Houston could live without.
Which is ironic, because the character Santa Claus is based on is remarkable precisely because Houston needs him now more than ever. As the human trafficking capital of the western world, Houston needs Saint Nick! As Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Shane Claiborne have said about the original "old Saint Nick:"
Nicholas was bishop of Myra in fourth century [Asia Minor, now] Turkey. Little is known about his life except that he entrusted himself to Jesus at an early age and, when his parents died, gave all of their possessions to the poor. While serving as bishop, Nicholas learned of three girls who were going to be sold into slavery by their father. Moved to use the church's wealth to ransom the lives of these little ones, he tossed three bags of gold through the family's window.
Was Saint Nick a slavery abolitionist? Apparently so. But there are more slaves in the world today than at any other time in human history. Here are some basic facts about modern day slavery and human trafficking:
• Human trafficking is the third largest criminal industry in the world (with the first and second being drug trafficking and arms trafficking).
• 27 million persons are victims worldwide.
• 18,000 people are brought to the U.S. per year in some form of human trafficking.
• 30,000 are trafficked through the U.S. on their way to other countries.
• 244,000 US minors are trafficked within the US into some form of sexual exploitation.
• 1.2 million children are sold into sexual slavery each year.
• 80% of victims are female with a disproportionately high number women of color.
• 50% of victims are children under the age of 18.
And Houston, as mentioned, is ground zero in the US. Little Saint Nick can't come quick enough.
But thankfully, there are those among us who are emulating Nick and doing as the great Hebrew text suggests, "proclaiming liberty to the captives."
The local theocentric non-profit Free the Captives "engages and mobilizes the Christian community and partners with non-profits, law enforcement, and government agencies in the fight against modern day slavery." They host an annual Houston Anti-Human Trafficking Conference that will be on February 18  and are currently in the middle of their "Reducing the Demand" campaign. This letter-writing campaign urges local city officials to target buyers (usually male) rather than the prostitues they hire. Research has shown that men who are buying sex overwelmingly already know these woman have been trafficked. Reducing the Demand thus focuses on public exposure and increased jail time as the primary deterrent, not simply education. They believe:
The primary solution to end trafficking is through reducing the demand for it. Sex trafficking is a rampant problem in Houston, enslaving both international and native Houston girls and women. It is an economic issue of supply and demand. There will always be a supply as long as there is a demand for sex trafficking!
All of the traffickers and pimps can be arrested and all of the victims can be rescued, but as long as there are buyers, who are typically men, creating a demand for young girls and women, new traffickers are more than willing to provide a supply of new girls, new slaves. Human trafficking is highly profitable. Therefore, to effectively fight human trafficking you must reduce the demand and hold the buyers responsible for their actions.
A great way to get in the holiday spirit would be to pretend you're Saint Nick, not Santa, and urge area leaders to endorse this campaign. You can find letters to write here.
Your work, like Saint Nick's, can be effective in bringing liberty to the captives. According to the Union Baptist Association, Houston and Dallas together saw 109 domestic minors freed in 2010. All were victims of sex trafficking. But keep in mind what they say on their site, "The State Department's 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report explains that the number of victims identified reflect only 0.4% of the victims actually in existence."
I'm glad this Christmas we don't need to wait long for Saint Nick to show up. Many Christians in Houston are setting aside Santa for Saint Nick. Clearly the issue of Human Trafficking has caught on with young Christians in Houston, particularly Evangelicals. Go deeper and connect with the abolitionist work of Pastor Omar Garcia, Houston Rescue and Restore, or the Coalition to Abolish Human Trafficking. If you're in an area church, check out anti-slavery resources in your own denomination, such as the Union Baptist Association, the Catholic Church or Mennonite Church, USA.
Houston doesn't need more Santas. But I thank God for all the Saint Nick's we've got. God invites us to join this creative work and follow Jesus in carrying out his mission: to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom to those who are oppressed. (Luke 4:18). May it be so for us all. Merry Christmas!