FBI honors Baptist ministry for human-trafficking work

FBI Director Christopher Wray recently presented the Baptist Friendship House of New Orleans with its distinguished 2018 Director’s Community Leadership Award for its work in fighting human trafficking.

Kay Bennett, a Send Relief missionary with the North American Mission Board, accepted the award on behalf of the Baptist Friendship House at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. The Baptist Friendship House is a ministry of NAMB and New Orleans Baptist Association.

“It’s very humbling, to be honest,” said Bennett, who has served as the director of the Baptist Friendship House since 1997. “That was my first feeling … to be recognized with such a great group from all the states and the different FBI field offices. It was a beautiful picture of how it takes all of us working together to make our world a better place. It’s encouraging to know that people believe in what you’re doing.”

The FBI’s 56 field offices, including the office in New Orleans, chose communities and community organizations that supported their efforts to protect Americans against crime and extremism.

“For many years, the FBI New Orleans Field Office and the Baptist Friendship House have worked together to combat human trafficking in the city of New Orleans,” said Eric J. Rommal, FBI New Orleans special agent in charge. “Their staff continues to serve the shelter with compassion, dedication, and professionalism. Whether rescuing victims from human trafficking situations, providing victim services to those in need, or supporting community outreach efforts across the metropolitan area, the Baptist Friendship House is just a phone call away and is always willing to answer the call for service.”

Bennett says an interaction with one of the homeless families staying at the Baptist Friendship House a few years ago opened her eyes to human trafficking.

“I’ve done homeless ministry for almost 30 years in our city,” Bennett said. “If you do homeless ministry, it’s a natural fit. Homeless folks are very vulnerable to being trafficked. Once someone is rescued from a trafficking situation, they’re often homeless. Also, in doing homeless ministry, down the road after people have been sold over and over again, sometimes induced with drugs and their bodies have worn out, they often get thrown away like a piece of trash on the street. They walk through our doors then for showers and clothing.”

Today, Bennett and the Baptist Friendship House participate in a number of activities to bring awareness to the issue, advocate for victims and provide tangible assistance to those impacted. The Baptist Friendship House can either provide housing for women and children impacted by trafficking or get them into safe houses. They also can help victims get into long-term treatment plans in New Orleans or provide them with transportation to other locations closer to where they are from. 

“Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, and it is all around us here in the United States,” Bennett said. “I think it’s very important that we, as Southern Baptists, look around us, assess needs, see what’s going on and reach out to help people.”

For more information about how you or your church can get involved in the fight against human trafficking, visit sendrelief.org.

— Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.