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Staying Alert for Traffickers

Missionary urges congregants to keep their eyes open for those who might be enslaved.

Mandy R. Bristol-Leverett, the co-founder of Church and Community Abolition Network (CAN) posed a simple question: “Who is reaching the enslaved in your community?”

That inquiry prompted Matt P. Jones to ask Bristol-Leverett, 47, to present her accredited regional human trafficking awareness summit at Mountaintop Church in Hackettstown, New Jersey. After 100 students, community members, and professional law enforcement personnel learned about the indicators of trafficking and responses, they were invited to enlist.

Soon after this, the pastor of the Assemblies of God congregation saw a woman at a coffee shop in a suburban shopping mall who appeared nervous while answering brief cellphone calls and texts. When the woman appeared to faint, Jones and the manager helped her to a table.

As they talked, the woman mentioned being ashamed of what she had done after coming to the U.S. from another country for a job that hadn’t worked out the way she expected.

“That’s when I suspected she had been trafficked,” says Jones, 56.

Not long after the woman’s comment, two men appeared, asked what had happened, and said they would handle the situation. After the woman indicated she didn’t want to go with the men, they fled. Jones secured help from CAN and the FBI victim specialist the pastor met at the summit.

Jones says the experience helped him appreciate how CAN helps average citizens to identify trafficking victims and rescue them.

“If you don’t think it’s going on in your neighborhood, you are sadly mistaken,” Jones says.

Since that time, Mountaintop has joined the growing number of churches that have started a local CAN ministry.

While every church’s response is unique, CAN offers comprehensive resources — everything from prevention to survivor reentry — built from more than 30 years of experience serving survivors. Bristol-Leverett is CAN’s co-founder and a U.S. missionary endorsed by AG Intercultural Ministries.

Mountaintop’s adherents added their missing children’s outreach to the church’s vacation Bible school and assessment tools to its food pantry. Congregants have served in the county jail, public schools, and at a survivor home for victims (a CAN collaboration). Mountaintop’s CAN ministry leads annual missing children search and rescues, including the nation’s first statewide hotel outreach.

In 2019, the AG’s New Jersey Ministry Network asked Bristol-Leverett to adapt the regional outreach model she had used for 10 years to reach the entire state. Mountaintop was one of five district host churches for a simultaneous outreach, where hundreds of volunteers distributed materials to every hotel and motel in New Jersey. When COVID-19 closed most hotels in 2020, CAN pivoted and launched a missing children’s outreach that located more than 1,100 young people in 2021.

CAN has enlisted members of nearly 30 churches in eight states and three other nations as abolition advocates. CAN trains and coaches these specialists, many of whom serve and advise state and federal leaders, assist task forces, and help with the federal Trafficking in Persons annual report.

Rachel A. Stoltzfus is the advocate for Marksboro Community Church in Blairstown, New Jersey. The rural AG church’s anti-trafficking response includes community trainings, foster families, trauma-informed children’s drama camps, providing staff for a survivor home, plus strip club, street, and jail outreaches.

The veteran of two short-term trips to Vietnam with an AG missionary couple to do anti-trafficking work, Stoltzfus says Bristol-Leverett’s passion made her want to also help reach the enslaved in America.

“Being involved with CAN is so rewarding because it is a ministry that is about the Father’s business,” says Stoltzfus, 30.

Bristol-Leverett has been dedicated to this work since soon after her Christian conversion at an AG youth retreat in Spokane, Washington. She encountered the first victim she served through leading a weekly prayer meeting. In every church she and her husband of 22 years Dwayne have pastored, she continued to develop a church-based anti-trafficking response. Now she is appointed by AG U.S. Missions to equip churches nationwide to do the same.

“Every time God used someone to prevent slavery, God used what was in their hand,” Mandy says. “Moses had a shepherd’s staff. When we go in, we don’t create new clinics, we just retrofit what’s already there. We’re creating pathways to not just identify victims, but help victims heal.”

Photo: Mandy Bristol-Everett, and her husband, Dwayne, have been in ministry together for more than 20 years.

Kenneth C. Walker

Kenneth C. Walker is a freelance writer, co-author, and book editor from Huntington, West Virginia. He has more than 4,500 article bylines and has written, edited, or contributed to more than 90 books.