The foreshocks of the groundswell began rumbling in our hearts four years ago. In the Fall of 2009, My friend Derek and I founded Unearthed. While in college, we had had the privilege of helping produce a documentary called "Baht." The documentary stirred our interest but left us with more questions than answers about how the sex industry operated. We decided to go deeper and make a documentary that would expose the support systems which enable the global sex trade. This led to extensive travel around the world with undercover cameras. Sometimes we posed as sex tourists to gain information that could lead to victim rescues or some sort of usable intel about the operating procedures of syndicates.
In some cities, we saw breakthrough as authorities raided brothels and executed justice for the helpless. In others, we saw exploitation at its worst: vulnerable people being trafficked and raped for profit with nobody there to intercede. Our hearts were continually crushed beneath the extensive weight of a pandemic. Sexual exploitation is a complex injustice that requires a cooperative blend of solutions. There's not a manual to follow because the variables can be infinitely complex and governments receiving payoffs are often uncooperative. The command centers of the sex trade operate in a hidden and "untouchable" realm that normal civilians don't have access to. Engaging this industry is intesely discouraging, and to stand firm, you need legs of endurance.
We captured quite a bit of footage over an 18 month period, but our story was unnervingly incomplete when we returned to the states and moved our operations to Lexington, Kentucky, to begin editing. Just about anyone can make a film about a problem—especially one with implications as visible as sex trafficking. So how was our film going to be helpful amidst an ocean of social justice campaigns? Netflix and CNN are already loaded with depressing information and jarring statistics that evoke short term responses that are too often rooted in guilt or some other fleeting emotion. When people saw our previews, they would react strongly and emotionally, but there was never any follow through. Why? Because we never enabled them to see what followthrough looked like. We had documented the poisonous fruit of this pandemic but offered no solutions. So, we pushed pause and entered into a season of listening.
A tree and its roots. You can watch it in an animation here, but a friend was praying over me and I saw an incredibly vivid scene. The central image of my vision was a tree which was rapidly growing fruit. A large group of women surrounded the tree with carts and buckets, picking the fruit. Strangely, the fruit was regrowing in place immediately as it was plucked from its branch. The women, exhausted and overwhelmed by their work, quickly beckoned for my help. I stood at a distance and respectfully declined. Their efforts didn't appear to yield any progress, but I did sense an urgency about their work.
Why are they so committed to doing this? I wondered.
Just then, someone—a man who appeared suddenly—handed me an axe. He told me to kill the tree at its roots. I took hold of axe, approached the base of the tree and raised the axe to begin chopping. Before I could swing the axe, the roots suddenly surged above ground through the dirt and exposed themselves. But these weren't normal roots. They were soaked in blood...shaped and contorted like human hearts and the bodies of men. Then I heard a voice declare, "I care as much about the roots as the fruit they're producing. Go to the hearts of men."
To change the fruit of sexual exploitation, we have to change the roots. Perhaps a more accurate way of saying it is that the roots must be changed. If we rescued, rehabilitated and reintegrated every human being who has been victimized, then what? If the demand does not cease, the exploiters will refill the supply immediately. New victims, new forms of abuse, new pornography. Legislative punishment, although necessary, doesn't bring permanent change to the human heart. And neither does awareness. Short-term emotional responses, which this generation is known for, will not result in the toppling of one of the most powerful demonic strongholds in the history of humanity. We need help from something outside us to heal something inside us. A surgeon who is skilled enough to operate on the cancer of the human heart—a gardener skilled enough to prune bleeding, contorted roots.
The Groundswell is a generation committed to killing sexual exploitation at its root. Victim care is absolutely critical to carrying out the ministry of reconciliation, but so is demand reduction. Nobody else wants to say that because of how messy demand reduction gets. Repentance is hard to hear about and even harder to execute, which is why many of our churches have all but omitted it from their preaching and teaching. But unless men are changed, the fruit they produce won't change, and we'll continue this crazy cycle for another 20 years. We might just be as tired, exhausted and overwhelmed by the problem as we are now - our communities full of men and women who know that God loves them, but still bound by guilt, shame and addiction.
Truthfully, it's good that we've come to a place of helplessness, because now we're exposed for how powerless we are. I'm relieved to acknowledge that the only one capable of healing sexual brokenness in the human heart is Jesus, who demonstrates his power in weakness. Who uses the foolish things of this world to shame the wise. Who forgives prostitutes and pimps. Who weeps with empty shells of women who sell their bodies for strangers. Who desires intimacy with every single man and woman living a homosexual lifestyle. Who eats with the transgendered. Who touches lepers. Who defends the fatherless and the orphan. Who is after the abused and the abuser— the addict and the user.
His scalpel goes deeper into the infection of our hearts than we could ever imagine. If this surgeon has his way with us, we may very well be healed...and the landscape of sexual exploitation will change from the bottom up. From the corrupt, twisted, and bleeding roots. Like a groundswell. And the new fruit— the healthy fruit— will be a generation who can break down brothel doors without their own hearts being enslaved.
This groundswell will only work on one condition: We can never look back and be tempted to blame human effort for what transpired. God isn't removing our hearts of stone and replacing them with hearts of flesh for our sake...it's for his. Revival is rising out of the sex industry, and it just might be the resurgence that ushers in the greatest renewal the church has ever seen.