Recently I returned from a trip to the Dominican Republic, where a group of us from the NFL went to see the work God is doing through International Justice Mission in this country. IJM is a missions organization which is fighting against human trafficking in fifteen different locations around the world. Ever since my wife and I heard about their work about a year and a half ago, this ministry and the battle they’re fighting has been heavy on our hearts. A few weeks ago, I, along with five other players and some of their family members, had the opportunity to experience the mission of this organization firsthand.
Benjamin and Kirsten Watson took the reins, leading this vision trip with IJM. Visiting the organization’s newest field office made for a short trip from the States to the DR. When we arrived, the staff gave us a tour to show us the work they were doing and what they hoped to do in the future. IJM isn’t solving a quick problem here, they’re working in the biggest city, Santo Domingo, to partner with police forces, churches, and government officials as they seek to put an end to the sex trafficking industry, which is so prevalent in this country.
We were so impressed with how IJM is going about this mission. They aren’t going in to take over the government or overpower the local officials. Instead, they are empowering them to successfully fight this battle. In every country they enter, the IJM staff takes the time to figure out what areas have the most desperate needs, what local partnerships they can trust, and how they will be able to rescue the individuals who are suffering.
To see people, especially kids, being trafficked, taken advantage of, manipulated, and hurt—with zero chance to fight back—broke my heart. We had the opportunity to interact with many of the survivors—women, children, and even men who had been abused, trafficked, and hurt. We heard their stories and saw the aftercare programs that were put in place for them. It was heartbreaking to see how they had been treated. It was amazing to hear how they had overcome. It was inspiring to see the work IJM is doing. And it’s motivating to know all the work that still needed to be done.
I had no expectations for this trip, I simply went in with excitement to learn and become more involved in this fight for justice. I was amazed by the time and effort that each of the IJM staff members put into this mission. The investigators, legal teams, aftercare workers, and support staff remain available 24/7 to meet the needs of the people they’ve come to rescue. You can’t be one foot in, one foot out, in this battle. You have to be all in—dedicated to wake up in the middle of the night to leave your home and respond to a need. Children’s lives are being trampled upon. Women and men alike are being abused. Lives are at stake.
Now that we’re back in the States, we’re figuring out more ways to raise awareness and money for this mission. Game one is coming up, when we’ll face the Redskins—a major rival for us. Their quarterback, Kirk Cousins, along with 3-4 of our Eagles players are also advocates for IJM, so a plan is in the works to find a way to use this rivalry for a greater purpose. We want to create an opportunity for the fans to compete to see which team’s fan base can raise the most money for the cause.
Human trafficking is not only running rampant in other countries, there’s a child advocacy center fighting the same battle right here in Philly. We’re partnering with the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance, which reached 3,045 abused and trafficked children in the last year alone. We want to find ways for people to get involved and tangibly serve the needs of people in their home city. This injustice isn’t just happening overseas, it’s happening in our home town.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” —James 1:27
The Bible talks about caring for the orphan and widow—this is exactly what Jesus is talking about. Kids are being taken, women are being forced to do horrible things. They’re starving for freedom—a life without the worry of being tricked, hurt, or manipulated. God wants all of His children to live freely, not bound by anything on earth.
This is a battle worth fighting.
Trey Burton is a tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles and a regular contributor to The Increase, providing monthly articles and opinions.