Like a Mustard Seed: One Woman’s Work to Stop Human Trafficking

December 17, 2015

human-traffickingFrom time to time, Compass Financial Group highlights clients and others in our community who are following their passion and making an impact in the world. This month, we are pleased to share the story of our client Connie Anderson. Her work in fighting human trafficking is changing lives, and Compass Financial Group is proud to make a financial donation to InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in her honor.

Connie Anderson: Moving the Needle in the Fight Against Human Trafficking

When the leaders at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship decided to tackle human trafficking seven years ago, the organization needed two things: a powerful campaign and a person with the vision to run it.

The campaign was the Price of Life Invitational, a multidimensional project at The Ohio State University to raise awareness and create meaningful and lasting change in stopping human trafficking.

The person was Connie Anderson.

“Since I was a teenager, I’ve had a strong pull to the ministry and social justice,” says Anderson. “When InterVarsity approached me, it was one of those fork-in-the-road moments. I thought, if I say no to this, I will be walking away from an opportunity to truly do something that makes a difference.”

She accepted, and was tasked with bringing together multiple campus ministries, university departments, student organizations, and local and international anti-trafficking organizations for a weeklong campaign to educate students, faculty and the community about human trafficking, from the lives of desperate sweatshop workers to runaway teens pulled into the sex trade. Despite the bickering between Democrats and Republicans over other issues, Anderson says human trafficking is something that people see as a universal, nonpartisan concern.

“All of the organizations we contacted said yes and that it was something they would make a priority,” she says. “We told each group that we are a Christian organization and we don’t apologize for that, so if you hang around us, you will hear us talking about Jesus, but whether you are interested in Christianity or not, we invite you to fight with us against human trafficking.”

InterVarsity led the coalition of organizations that sponsored 17 major events in one week. They brought in global anti-trafficking leaders, members of the U.S. Congress, front-line workers and trafficking survivors. Seven hundred students and community members marched against human trafficking, and thousands more learned how to take concrete action through seminars, a town hall meeting, interactive art stations, practical outreaches and a finale event with an attendance of over 1,200. Students who were involved in the Price of Life Invitational successfully worked to get new laws against trafficking passed, and since that time alumni have founded two very successful anti-trafficking nonprofits.

As a follow-up to the Price of Life Invitational, Connie developed an innovative six-day immersion learning project called The Abolitionist Plunge. During spring break, students from across the Midwest now have the chance to take part in this intense project. “During the second day, we drop the students off at a Greyhound bus station for a runaway simulation. We have them lock all their belongings in their cars, and ask them, ‘If you were a 12-year-old runaway, how would you eat tonight? We’re not feeding you this evening, so whatever you find to eat, that’s your dinner. We also want you to figure out where you would sleep if you were an actual runaway. We’ll pick you up in two hours.’ We ask them not to use their cellphones, and they don’t have money on them. Afterward, we talk about it. It gives them a little taste of the vulnerability and helps them connect emotionally.”

Anderson’s professional footprint has grown significantly since the OSU Price of Life event. As InterVarsity’s Director of Justice Ministries for a region that covers Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia and the western half of Pennsylvania, she describes her role as having one foot in the world of college students, and the other in the fight against human trafficking.

“The big question is, how do you actually move the needle in the fight against trafficking? Rescuing and restoring victims is critical, but sadly, traffickers will just go get new victims,” Anderson says. “To change the overall picture, we have to look upstream at things like reducing demand and developing thoughtful, innovative leaders to take this fight into the future. That’s where my work with InterVarsity comes in. It’s not as dramatic in the short term, but we’re trusting that this is like a tiny mustard seed that will grow.”

Connie’s Abolitionist Plunge project is a finalist this year for the prestigious Ohio Liberator of the Year award. An indication of the success of the leadership development that has been taking place through InterVarsity is the fact that two of Connie’s former students also are finalists in various categories for the work they have been doing since they were part of her programs. It looks like that mustard seed is growing!