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Happy May 1! Last Saturday, Bill Schwanke of the Missoulian shared my story of a kidney donation and transplant that will take place this month for a fellow Lutheran pastor, Barbara Westhoff of Westby, who suffers from polycystic kidney disease. I was thankful for the timing on his article because April is Organ Donor Awareness Month. The Missoulian ran a fine article earlier in April lifting up the importance and the need for people to consider the possibility of being a donor.

Every month of the year has many awareness topics connected to them. For example, May is National Stroke Awareness Month. It is also Asthma, Arthritis, Skin Cancer, Mental Health, Speech and Hearing, Foster Care, Correct Posture, Military Appreciation, Physical Fitness, Bike, Better Sleep, Good Car Care, Photo, Salad, Egg, Asparagus and Hamburger Awareness Month!

September is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. I can’t wait till then to share a few words on this vital issue.

First, is to take note that on May 4 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the University of Montana a special film titled “Call & Response” will be shown free. Following the film there will be a brief conversation. The film director’s goal is to expose some of the world’s 27 million terrifying secrets about human slavery. The film is geared toward high school and college-aged students, but others are welcome.

■ Human trafficking is considered the second largest and fastest growing illegal trafficking activity in the world. The estimates on the market value of human trafficking is $32 billion a year (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2008).

■ Eighty percent of victims are women and 50 percent are children (Trafficking Persons Report 2007 U.S. State Department).

■ One million children are forced to work in the sex industry every year. Between 100,000 and 300,000 children in America are at risk for sex trafficking each year. As many as 2.8 million children live on the streets, a third of whom are lured into prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home (Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, 2007).

■ Child pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry and among the fastest growing criminal segments on the Internet (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children).

These points are just a few of the overwhelming stats that we would rather not read or reflect on. Poverty is one of the contributing factors in human trafficking. There are others. As people of faith, what is our response? What can we do? We can start with small steps of awareness and acceptance of what is. We can continue to learn what we can and we can be open to how the Holy Spirit might call us to prayer and action. Justice is love and love is justice. Christ lived, loved, died and rose to set all people free from bondage and slavery of all kinds. “For Freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5.1).

Pastor Chris Flohr is a member of the Missoula Ministerial Association and serves as pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church. He can be reached at cflohr@stpaulmissoula.org.

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