Gilbert pastor Mark Connelly’s heart broke when he first heard the stories of young, defenseless girls who were being sold into sexual slavery.
“The thing that most broke my heart was hearing the testimonies of some of these girls, seeing their testimonies on video, their real-life trafficking stories and how tragic it was,” he said. “I just felt an overwhelming need to defend the defenseless.”
This desire to help inspired Connelly, senior pastor of Superstition Springs Community Church, to establish Vision Abolition.
“Vision Abolition is a movement to mobilize churches, organizations and individuals to use their resources to combat the sex-trade industry globally,” Connelly said.
On Friday the group met at Mesa Country Club for a fundraising dinner with Linda Smith as keynote speaker. Smith, a former congresswoman from Washington state, is a national advocate on the issue and founder of Shared Hope International, a partner organization of Vision Abolition.
Connelly said Vision Abolition partnered with Shared Hope in the beginning because they “didn’t want to re-create the wheel.”
“We felt that there were already good organizations out there globally, underground, doing a good work,” he said.
Smith said Shared Hope, with the help and resources of partner organizations like Vision Abolition, builds holistic villages in different countries for the rescued girls where they’re given a safe place to live and receive physical, mental and spiritual healing.
Connelly said it’s unbelievable for a girl who’s been trafficked and has no hope for any future at all to be able to come into a safe place.
“To come into a place where she will be loved and accepted and encouraged, where these girls can be educated and their kids can get an education — for them to have a business and earn money — they’re having their human dignity restored,” he said.
According to Vision Abolition’s Web site, sex trafficking is the commercial trade of an individual through prostitution, pornography, forced marriage or involuntary servitude.
“It’s a global problem,” Connelly said. “It’s not a problem of one individual nation. We tend to think of it in terms of Cambodia and Thailand and those kinds of places, but it’s just as much a problem in Las Vegas and Phoenix, so it’s a global problem.”
Connelly said the more people he talked to about it, the more he realized it was something that most people had no idea was going on. “So we made the decision to not just be a one-church effort but to be a regional, and hopefully national and international movement,” he said.
Bill Bush, vice president of Vision Abolition and senior pastor of Rock Point Church in Gilbert, said Vision Abolition is a network of churches and organizations.
“We’re not any one church’s program,” he said. “It’s kind of independent. Our job at our Vision Abolition is to connect like-minded and passionate churches.”
Vision Abolition is currently helping build a village in Fiji, Connelly said.
Their first team of volunteers went on a 10-day construction trip at the end of March to help build a school for the village, and another trip is planned for Aug. 18, he said.
Connelly said that in addition to working in countries globally, Vision Abolition is also looking to partner with local organizations trying to combat the sex trafficking problem here in the Valley.
Gary and Brenda Deutsch said they were aware of the problem because they attend Superstition Springs Community Church, but learning the full extent of the problem was moving.
“I don’t know how you can continue on with your normal life knowing that this is happening in the world,” Gary Deutsch said.