“One soul at a time, if need be”…
By Fred Comella
It’s easy to seem small and overwhelmed pondering the ways we as Christians can actually make a difference in God’s world. Evil is manifested daily by entire nations and ideologies. Moreover, ratings driven media outlets have tunnel vision in this regard, choosing to focus mostly on the geopolitical aspects of our dilemmas and the actions of larger genocidal and sociopathic groups. The acquisitions of nuclear weapons by rogue nations, arbitrary creation of borders where none have ever existed, and the reconstitution of the failed notion that government can somehow replace human initiative, freedom and even God Himself, dominate the 24 hour news cycle. So how can we as individuals possibly combat such monumental forces at work against good and decency? “What possible difference can “I/we make?” Well for starters, understanding that evil has a beginning allows us to step away from what the media tells us is the problem, and attack the issues at their roots instead, ultimately depriving that evil of the very fuel it needs to burn. Yes there will be battles to fight in the meantime, even wars. But evil ultimately lives in men’s hearts, and only the grace, goodness and love of Jesus Christ can eradicate it. Without this truth as a benchmark, all of our efforts (singularly or otherwise) are an exercise in futility. Therefore let us dig a little deeper….
From nearly the beginning of recorded history mankind has enslaved his fellow man for various reasons. In the broader sense, where nations have risen and fallen, entire cultures have found themselves in bondage deprived of the most basic of human dignity and freedom. With the passage of time however, we have learned the error of our ways, the moral bankruptcy if you will, of treating fellow man as if he/she were merely property …or have we? In modern times Hollywood’s portrayal of “human trafficking” in the movie “Taken” often places blame for this grievous abuse of human rights as something detached and “foreign” to our free country and clearly not something one associates with our constitutional value set. Truth be told, 65% of all those women held against their will for nefarious purposes in this country are American girls, taken right from our own streets, some as young as nine years old.
So why the topic of “human trafficking” today? Simple really, as Christians we’re called to do as described a few paragraphs ago, not necessarily to win the war, but rather to fight the battles, one soul at a time, one life at a time through Jesus, and ultimately to do His work by changing the hearts and minds of men. As stated, the issue of human trafficking is as old as recorded time, and exposes the most vile of human characteristics, unfettered by faith or accountability, and is only now being addressed with any sense of urgency because of the efforts of folks dedicated to choking out this unacceptable nightmare.
Admittedly, I too have had my eyes opened and been overwhelmed by the gravity of the many social problems we face today. “What can I possibly do to make a difference in all this mess?” Well, in my Christian walk I’ve found one thing to be certain, “knock and a door will open”. On the other side of that proverbial door this time, stands Pastor Pasco (Pat) Manzo of “Run for Freedom and Dream Again Ministries”. Husband to Mary Ann with whom he established “North Providence Assemblies of God” (NPAOG) in 1982, and father to grown children Isaac, Rachel and Josiah, this stalwart defender of the human spirit and God given freedom of all mankind, is leading the charge both to stamp out the evil forces behind human trafficking, and change for the better, the judicial and law enforcement culture that deals with it.
Pastor Manzo’s studies have earned him Master of Arts of Christian Ministries with a concentration in Culture and People distinguished with Summa cum Laude. He also received a Master’s of Divinity Equivalency from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, and has taught for over ten years as an adjunct professor and authored two books Urim & Thummim – Discovering the Will of God and Broken Flowers: A Commentary on the Tragedy of Sex Slavery in America. Pastor Manzo served as the Senior Pastor for 25 years at NPAOG and oversaw seven church plants. He also served as a Presbyter and Alternate Presbyter for ten years for the Southern New England District of the Assemblies of God. He served with distinction at Northpoint (Zion) Bible College as a member of the Executive and Trustee Boards for ten years.
My conversation with this real life champion for the broken and abused was to say the least both enlightening and frightening. A man obviously and constantly on the go, Pastor Manzo found a few precious moments for me on his cell phone the other day, and proceeded to bring to vivid light the horrific trauma of human and sex trafficking here and abroad. He quickly pointed out that unlike prostitution, victims of trafficking have no real choices and are regularly as young as 12-16 years old with some being even younger. Branded by a captors tattoo, drug and alcohol abuse are often but not always after the fact of abduction and forced on a victim as a means to weaken their resolve and bring about addiction and control. Free will and self-esteem are destroyed with young victims forced into the living hell of human slavery.
Pastor Manzo told me of his travels and how he’s often asked to speak as an expert on the subject. In one case he addressed a panel of judges in the Central Florida District, where he detailed an incident in which a 15 year-old girl was abducted on her way home from school and brutally raped at gunpoint for almost an hour in a van. Her attacker threatened her life and the lives or her family with murder if she did not comply with his demands. She was eventually taken to a trailer in the Lake County area where she was forced to have sex with as many as sixty men before her abductor was captured after being pulled over on a traffic warrant and jailed. He related this story to the judges in order to highlight the inconsistencies between the one year sentence this bottom-feeder received and the fifty years given in a similar case by a woman judge who was the mother of two daughters. Pastor Manzo told me the judge who gave out the 50 years was actually at that discussion and told him the offender in the case before her had a lengthy criminal record which played into her decision as well. Pastor’s intention here was to bring about awareness in the sense that these types of predators come in all shapes and sizes, and that law enforcement and jurists mustn’t miss the signs while taking stock of the totality of the charges.
This type of awareness and education are the cornerstones of Pastor Manzo’s campaign against human trafficking, and are a formidable weapon in that fight. Armed with facts, information and resources, individuals can be aware of the subtle clues we sometimes take for granted, and act on them. We talked at length as I pressed the good pastor for his thoughts on a solution to such a daunting and now very public problem and he was methodical in his response. I could hear the years of experience in his voice as he described his interactions on all levels of government, as well as all of the connections he’s made along the way, which he steadfastly maintains in order to aid his efforts. Most importantly he is bringing the uniqueness of a Christian heart driven to attack this evil, one soul at a time if need be.
He spoke of the pornography industry and how it fuels the problem by way of supply and demand, and that every time someone clicks their mouse for a porn website, this seemingly simple action demands an increase in the bodies needed to make the entire industry run. Google’s top word searches for the year 2010 show 338 million hits for the word “sex”, 277 million for the word “porn”, and 226 million for “porno”, and that was almost six years ago. “So if you think that doesn’t drive the human trafficking industry, you’re not being realistic” he told me.
Pastor Manzo gave me some other disturbing statistics and facts which dramatically affect human and sex trafficking, reminding me that 18.3 % of women in the United States have survived a completed or attempted rape. Of these, 12.3% were younger than age 12 when they were first raped, and 29.9% were between the ages of 11 and 17. He also told me of a child porn website that hauled in $5.5 million dollars at $29.95 for a transferable membership before being shut down by the FBI. In 1910, 5000 young girls per month were “recruited” for the sex trade right here in the U.S. That’s 60,000 per year. In 1913, what would eventually become “Universal Studios” made a black and white silent film called “Trafficking in Souls”, about the New York sex trade which grossed over a half million dollars when movies where just .25 cents, becoming the highest grossing film of the day. Most notably and sobering to me was that there are 21-30 million people in slavery today, more than at any time in human history, and the average age of a girl being forced into the US domestic sex slavery market is 13.…
Again we came back to the question of how one person can make a difference. Well by this point it was becoming clearer. Actions speak louder than words, and if this pastor who’d already dedicated most of his life to serving God could then pivot and take on something as big as human trafficking, then what would it look like if every Christian with a “heart for the broken” contributed in some small way to the fight against such evil? It would look like an army, that’s what it would look like. I guess what I’m saying, is that we can (and we must) make a difference as individuals first. Then collectively we may begin to turn the tide and secure freedom and safety for the young and vulnerable all around us.
Pastor Manzo related one more story to me about a women driving along an Orlando road that saw a young girl walking who looked confused and in need. At the risk of being “nosey”, but trusting her intuition, the woman stopped and acted on some information she’d received at a recent seminar on the subject of human trafficking. She asked the young lady if she needed help, and after some persistence and properly placed questions, finally made a call that saved the young girls life. She called the Trafficking hotline: 888-3737-888, (given as such to make it easy to remember), and discovered through Thomas Gillan of the Center for Human Trafficking Awareness, that the girl was in fact being exploited and trafficked. This 20 year-old was saved and is now thriving because a woman she didn’t even know decided to be “nosey” and pushed the issue. What difference can one person make you ask???
Truly, I could fill a book with the efforts and accomplishments of Pastor Pat Manzo, a man passionate for humanity who came to God and followed gladly as opposed to “walking away sadly” some thirty seven years ago, but I know those things are not his message. No, Pastor Manzo hopes and prays that “we” pray for the victims of human trafficking, and that his “Dream Homes” continue to bring hope and the therapeutic and healing power of Jesus Christ to all who dwell in them. He prays that his 5K road races and the money raised will help fund the $1 million yearly budget for each of four “Dream Homes” currently operating around the country. And he prays that his “anti-click it” campaign will stem the tide of on-line pornography addiction he knows fuels the fires of evil that drive the human trafficking crisis.
As a side note Pastor Manzo is also active in “Teen Challenge” and promotes that these types of education and intervention programs are extraordinarily important in combating things like human and sex trafficking. He told me the very addictions he and his staff help young people battle every day at Teen Challenge, can lead to or are a direct result of the scourge of human slavery and trafficking. Since Pastor Manzo’s introduction to Teen Challenge thirty-five years ago, he has been actively involved and passionate about its mission. As the Chairman of the Board of Outreach Ministries Inc., he participated in the consolidation of the ministries that brought about what is known today as Teen Challenge New England, Inc. While traveling abroad, he played a supportive role on many occasions with Teen Challenge International. Having served on the Teen Challenge New England & New Jersey Board of Directors for many years, Pastor Manzo was delighted to bring his experience in leadership, management and finances to his role as President.
Needless to say, I feel I’ve made the case by way of Pastor Manzo’s testimony, for the individual and heartfelt contributions we can and frankly must make as Christians to the causes of humanity. If in some small way we try to walk as Christ did and reach out to those souls crying for help, just think of the joy and feelings of hope and true freedom you might bring if even to just one human being. Read the statistics and look into the eyes of very real victims on Pastors website. My God, can there be any better tribute to one’s life, than to have made that kind of difference in another’s? I think not…
“God please bless all those suffering this day in human and sexual slavery, and give strength and courage to those Christ Warriors who would stand against the evil of human trafficking in His name. Amen….”
If you’d like to help Pastor and Mary Ann Manzo in their mission for the broken and desperate, you may reach out to them on-line at: www.runforfreedom.net or please CALL 352-536-1264.