Let Your Light So Shine: Speeches from 2016 Oratorical Festivals (Installment #1: Maria Bykalo – Columbia, SC)

Family Life Ministry is very pleased to have the opportunity to host speeches from our young people who participated in this year’s round of Oratorical Festivals in parishes across the Metropolis of Atlanta. 

As a website, we pride ourselves on hosting a wide array of Orthodox Christian voices, and our young people are certainly no exception. These students took time out of their busy lives to reflect on their place in the world as faithful Orthodox Christians. They broke away from the busy swirl of a modern society that always seems to be on, to instead look up towards Heaven. In looking up, they were able to see inward, to let their reflection of Christ’s light shine within them and to bring that light to everyone who heard and will read their speeches.

The first installment in this series was written and delivered by Maria Bykalo, a rising Junior and a parishioner at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Columbia. For her topic, Maria chose to address the issue of human trafficking.

Human trafficking (i.e., the exploitation and enslavement of women and children) remains a tragedy even today. We know that all human beings are created by God in His image (Genesis 1:27); therefore, how can we as Orthodox Christians help these victims and assist in the efforts to eliminate human trafficking?

Reverend Fathers, honorable judges, ladies and gentlemen, fellow speakers, good morning.

Right now there is a women hunched over a sewing machine slaving away without any pay.  Right now, there is a young boy who never went to school, being forced to stand in the rain and become a soldier.  Right now there is a man, hands cracked and bleeding, casting a net out into the water, wondering if anyone will ever help him.  As I stand here, there are millions of people being subjugated to crimes like these.  This is called human trafficking but what it really is, is modern day slavery.

This is the act of recruiting, harboring, or transporting a person for the use of labor or commercial sex through fraud or force.  It includes domestic servitude, forced child labor, sex trafficking, forced marriage, migrant farming, and the horrendous use of child soldiers.  These men, women, and children are all forced to perform these inhuman acts for others and every single one of these people has had their rights and freedom stolen away from them.  Not only have the children who are victims of these crimes had their rights stolen away, but their childhood.  They will never know what it’s like to go to school, connect with God, grow up in a safe environment, or even have a loving family.

Many of those captive are easily lured away from their homes with false promises of a better life, wealth, love, only to be tricked into slavery, with little hope of escape.  But do not think that you cannot be affected by human trafficking.  This is a worldwide practice that can affect anyone, regardless of class, race, gender, citizenship, or education. This a well organized crime caused by the want for profit, to obtain malicious power over someone, and the desire for immoral pleasure.  These desires go against what we believe as Orthodox Christians.  

As Orthodox Christians we know that all human beings were created by God in his image (Genesis 1:27) and by this, know that all human beings are equal. Human trafficking goes against this and goes against the freedoms we should be guaranteed as human beings along with debasing the humanity of those enslaved. We need to be able to come together as one community to stand up to this unchristian act.

There are about 30 million slaves in the world today with 800,000 being trafficked across international borders every year.  The people who are the cause of this, are earning about $32 billion in yearly profits for this cruel act.  No one should ever profit for acts such as this. Human trafficking operates on a system of supply and demand and traffickers are able to make such high profits and run low risks due to weak legislative policy and lack of law enforcement.

 But the truth is that these traffickers make up such a small fraction of the population that we can stop them.  The first step is to create one unified church that can sympathize with these victims and work together.  From there, we can all aid in the efforts of groups such as UNICEF to create a bigger difference. Also, by working with other Orthodox churches across the world, we can collectively stand up to this and help stop human trafficking if we push for stricter laws and enforcement of the laws.  As faithful people and religious leaders, we have a very important role in creating an opposition to human trafficking. We can help curb the demand for slaves by sharing our Orthodox faith around the world and getting people to believe in the love and kindness of God and the love they should have for others.

Not only can we begin a world-wide support against human trafficking, there are many things we can do right here in our own community.  The first thing we should do is pray for the victims of human trafficking.  We should pray for their release, their safety, their health, and their strength.  If we all join together as a community, we can raise money to be used to assist the victims and raise awareness.  Not only will this aid the victims, but it will encourage others to help. We could pass around trays during liturgy to collect money to help establish shelters and support organizations for those affected by human trafficking and get them back on their feet.

All of these actions can help eliminate and raise awareness about human trafficking. By people actually understanding how vast human trafficking is and what is actually happening, we can create a stronger push to end it.  This is something I feel doesn’t get nearly enough attention as it needs but when we come together we can help put an end to it.  Now, in the time it has taken me to say this speech, about 10 more people have become victims of human trafficking.  So let’s work together as Christians and loving people to eliminate this unchristian practice.

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