SERT Ministries Fights Human Trafficking
SERT Ministries: How Simple Acts of Courage Are Changing The Lives of Women In Bondage Across The Nation
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ” Matthew 25:40
Written by Shelley Barski
In as little as two years, SERT Ministries has brought light to a world cloaked in darkness. An acronym for “Search, Evangelize, Rescue, Train,” members of SERT are taking a stand for an issue that has become one of the largest viruses in modern day society. The business of human trafficking and prostitution is a thriving one. A drug can only be sold once, but a human can be sold over and over again. Human trafficking is the fastest growing organized crime business in the world, generating about $32 billion annually. Many go missing, either kidnapped or brainwashed into thinking this is the only way to survive.
Pastor Rudy Gonzalez officially founded SERT Ministries in Northern California in 2012, but he had been ministering to “the least of these” for years on the streets of places like Tijuana and Skid Row.
Gonzalez grew up in a Catholic Christian household and served in the Marine Corps after high school. He spent his time in combat as a part of a special operations team in reconnaissance missions. After he left the Marine Corps, he married his high school sweetheart and became a policeman, but later, God began to call him into ministry.
“I never stopped believing in God but I got angry with him because of all the stuff I saw as a cop,” he said. “I went to church and the pastor was talking about prostitution and that some of these prostitutes were as young as 4-years-old. I was angry and asked, ‘Why does this happen God?’ I heard the voice of the Lord tell me plain and clear, ‘You are my hands and feet, why do you let this happen?’ I was really convicted, and that’s when I decided to go on my first trip to Cambodia to help an orphanage there.”
Gonzales’ first assignment in his newfound calling happened when the parents of a missing girl in Davis, CA, posted on Facebook, asking if anyone with experience could help look for her. They thought she had been involved with sex trafficking and he knew he needed to help this family.
He and his team found the girl after only two hours of searching in a targeted neighborhood, but they were too late. She had taken her life the day she went missing. The tragedy was in the news and caught the eye of other girls who were in bondage. Many began contacting SERT ministries wanting to be rescued. Gonzales didn’t want any more stories to end in tragedy and was determined to press on and help save these women.
“We knew we needed to have good accountability to do this ministry. There are a lot of people that have a ‘hero syndrome’ and want to combat sex trafficking but do it for the attention. We put an accountability board in place to keep track of everything we were doing.”
One thing the SERT team does during their weekly outreach is call girls who are prostituting online.
[On unnamed websites], “you can buy a couch or buy a teenage girl,” explains Gonzales. “We had our team of girls call the prostitutes and tell them the gospel. This was an area I didn’t see anyone else touching and it was working. We call these girls and tell them that we love them. Then we tell them that they need Jesus and introduce them to Him.”
If the girls want to know more about how Jesus can change their lives, they are invited to meet a female team member for coffee if it’s safe to do so. Team members try to get the girls to be an equal participant in their rescue. The girls can be in bondage in many different ways. Some of them are physically bound with ropes, some are chemically bound with drugs and some have mental restraints through force or fear.
But if we can believe that Jesus can really bring us out of the situation we are in, bridges are built, chains are broken and cool things can happen!
“They will say, ‘I do this because he tells me he loves me,” Gonzalez explains. SERT offers the girls a true way out. “It’s only with Jesus that they can win,” he says. “We have seen girls who are addicted to heroine get delivered on the spot when we prayed for them. The chains were broken and there is a freedom you can see in their eyes. It’s not about a program. None of our girls have gone back to the lifestyle, whereas many girls, who try to get out without Jesus, end up returning to the lifestyle.”
SERT works with law enforcement and federal agencies on many cases of missing persons. Law enforcement welcomes working with SERT because they are able to get the intel that they need to be able to move on cases. Instead of being bound by so many restrictions whether it be budget or having to run up the chain of command, SERT teams can go straight to the scene and take action.
Gonzales and his team visit local churches across the U.S. and hold awareness trainings with the congregations to teach them how to combat the issues in their neighborhoods. They do unconventional warfare and get leads from people in ministry that do online intelligence gathering. SERT teaches them how to find out where the hotspots are; the places that are trending where law enforcement is not being effective. They then help with a strategy for combat. They teach the men how to do a “John Sting” undercover profile, posing to be a young prostitute and then setting up an operation at a motel or parking lot to catch the bad guys and share the gospel with them. Law enforcement and Special Forces teams get involved in the more elaborate undercover operations.
“One town we visited had a population of 2,600 people. When I got to the church to speak, I was greeted by a lady who said, ‘Thank you for coming, but we do not have a sin problem in this town.’ We did a John Sting and posted a decoy as a teenage girl prostitute within their town’s boundaries. Within a few hours, we had over 450 responses for that one teenager. That was over 25 percent of the male population in that town! These guys needed Jesus. So we taught the church how to do more John Stings and witness to these men.”
Each SERT ministry team is different. There are husband and wife teams, teams of all college-aged men or women and teams of middle-aged women. Only men can minister to men and women can minister to women, so there is no opportunity for temptation that could potentially derail the mission.
Gonzalez believes that one of the biggest obstacles that can keep SERT teams from saving these girls is their pride. Many of the girls believe that if they are rescued they are going to face judgment from family and friends. “I think all of us deal with pride. Our biggest obstacle can be ourselves,” he said. “But if we can believe that Jesus can really bring us out of the situation we are in, bridges are built, chains are broken and cool things can happen!”
And cool things do happen. Two years ago, Gonzales had a case in Central America where he and his team were able to work with law enforcement and purchase the freedom of 19 girls. Five men who were a part of the trafficking cartel were caught and arrested. The girls were placed in a six-month program where they learned life and career skills so they could get jobs and support themselves. Many of these 13 and 14-year-olds had children, so they were also taught how to raise them and be good mothers. At the end of the program they graduated and found jobs with the placement services provided.
Gonzales firmly believes that God is capable of working all things together for good, and success stories like these are the proof. The problem of sex trafficking may be of Goliath proportions, but he keeps himself motivated with the piece that God has placed in his hand.
“I look at what’s before me and say, ‘what can the Lord use me to do today? How can I make the problem smaller?’ The ones that are right before us are our ministry. I can’t accomplish this on my own, but Jesus can do amazing things. I just need to get out of the way.”
Gonzales stresses that rescuing someone doesn’t have to be complicated. His 16-year-old daughter accompanied him on a mission and helped rescue a girl who had been kidnapped and sold into prostitution. The girl was then reunited with her father that night.
“It’s really simple. Just go out and seek the lost and broken,” says Gonzalez. “If we all sought the lost, we would see cities changed.”
1 Source: UN News http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=22009#.VDtiMueA0fo
Article originally published in Risen Magazine, Winter 2014
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