The Church and Lost Innocence
Child prostitution and human trafficking are a global problem. The Caribbean is no exception. Just last week my wife, Jeanette, and I were asked to speak at Cigua Palmera's fundraiser for their Inocencia project (www.ciguapalmera.org). Inocencia, is the Spanish word for innocence. The Cigua Palmera Foundation, whose mission is " to improve the quality of life in the Dominican Republic and Haiti," is working on a project to create awareness about child exploitation and prostitution in Quisqueya (the indigenous name for the island that includes the Dominican Republic and Haiti). It is reported that one out of 10 children in the Dominican Republic is exploited. This is a human tragedy that requires the church and all people of good will to speak out.
Some of the attendees were a bit surprised to see evangelical pastors as keynote speakers at this gathering. There were young professionals, writers, singers, and artists at this gathering; somehow the assumption is that evangelical clergy are usually not a part of these gatherings. Still, Emanuel Veras, one of the young minds behind this work, thought this is exactly where people of faith should be. Amen! I agree with my whole heart. In an age where innocence is stolen by rape, prostitution, and exploitation, the church should be an audible presence. Emanuel knew that and bravely invited us, even though his experience with "church people" may not have always been positive.
If close to 25,000 children a year are victims of child exploitation and prostitution in the Dominican Republic, the followers of Jesus must say, "Hands off!" We must speak and act. We who follow the one who said, "Let the children come unto me and forbid them not, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" cannot be silent. I, for one, am going to join hands with all those who say the children of the world are not for sale. What I learned from the Inocencia Project is that our solidarity calls us to be part of a message that provides justice and hope. If indeed "the world is our parish," there continues to be a call to move beyond our local congregations and start organizations or help existing organizations, whether they are faith-based or not, to be a part of God's transformation and message of hope in the world.
So on Thursday, Jeanette and I moved from leading our small-group Bible study to bringing the gospel to a "secular fundraiser." Why? Because the scripture we teach demands no less. On Thursday, Line in the Sand, a band from our congregation, joined us at the fundraiser and sang "Loss of innocence" and "Cry." These songs reflect an artistic outreach of compassion and a lyrical lamentation that says the church is in solidarity. Here's my discovery: In our attempt to address this crisis, we did not leave the church for a night to attend a secular event. We were being the church in an event that is profoundly faithful to the message of Jesus.
Certainly, all the problems of the world will not be repaired in easy ways. Nevertheless, the message of justice, hope, and love of Christ requires that we be salt and light in the world. In the words of Miguel de Unamuno, "If not now, when? If not us, who?" In a time of tragic loss of innocence we must "preach the gospel and, when necessary, use words." For if we do not speak against the tragic hijacking of innocence, we ourselves are not innocent.
Rev. Gabriel Salguero is the pastor of the Lamb's Church of the Nazarene in New York City, a Ph.D. candidate at Union Theological Seminary, and the director of the Hispanic Leadership Program at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is also a Sojourners board member.