South Charlotte Weekly
Sharon United Methodist Church will host a drop-in baby shower for Justice Ministries, a nonprofit committed to combating sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, on April 18, a Saturday, from 1 to 3 p.m. in the church lobby. Sharon UMC is located at 4411 Sharon Road in south Charlotte.
The shower will support four pregnant survivors of human trafficking and their unborn babies.
Anne McKelvey, a missions team leader at Sharon UMC and south Charlotte resident, said she first became interested in helping the cause in 2012, after reading a story on former human trafficking victim Jillian Mourning’s advocacy nonprofit All We Want is Love.
McKelvey was moved by Mourning’s efforts and worked to bring educational opportunities to the church, so the public could learn more about human trafficking. Mourning and Mark Blackwell, founder of Justice Ministries, spoke at the church that same year.
The church has since donated more than $25,000 to Justice Ministries as part of last year’s Christmas offering, as well as continuing to support its awareness campaign and providing office and meeting space for the organization.
One church member, who remained anonymous, volunteers for the nonprofit’s strip club outreach program, Rise Up, where volunteers visit Charlotte strip clubs, build relationships with strippers, help them with financial and emotional burdens, and spread the word about human trafficking and Justice Ministries rescue and recovery efforts.
“Spending time with the ladies makes me realize that we are all walking on the same path and we all fall short … We spend time with the ladies (in the strip clubs) … let them know we love them as Christ loves them,” the volunteer said in a letter.
The upcoming baby shower is the church and Justice Ministries’ first baby shower for victims of human trafficking. Blackwell said Justice Ministries has rescued and led recovery efforts for 185 survivors to-date, most of whom become pregnant. Blackwell added not all the survivors are impregnated by enforced sex acts, but some are.
Blackwell explained each case is complex and unique.
“Our goal is to completely customize the way we help each person,” he said. “We meet them where they are.”
Justice Ministries volunteer Anitra Polk-Davis organized the shower with the help of McKelvey and co-missions leader Debra Engelhardt-Nash. Attendees are encouraged to drop by the church with gender-neutral baby gifts, meet Blackwell and learn more about Justice Ministries while enjoying cake and light refreshments.
Some items the pregnant women need include, but are not limited to, diapers, blankets, bottles, wipes, crib sheets, clothing and gift cards.
Justice Ministries operates on a budget of $125,000 per year through donations from churches and individuals. Blackwell said they stretch every dollar to provide for these women. Their financial obligations include supporting local residential rehabilitation facilities by helping pay for their clients’ cost of living expenses, travel expenses for rescue and recovery and emergency items like clothing, undergarments, hygiene and feminine products.
“Our needs adapt and change often because of the increase (in local human trafficking rings),” said Blackwell.
Blackwell said their biggest needs are a fleet of vehicles for recovery efforts, recurring donors and building funds for their future residential rehabilitation program.
“It’s a sense of duty. We have a responsibility to help our neighbors and the oppressed. And this is a way to do it,” said Blackwell.
The beneficiaries will not be at the baby shower, because Justice Ministries prefers to protect their privacy. Engelhardt-Nash said the lack of personal connection shouldn’t be a deterrent to provide for these women and their unborn babies.
“Do something for someone else that doesn’t require a ‘thank you’ … thank you is compassionately held within your heart.”
Visit http://www.justiceministries.org for more information on the organization and human trafficking.