By Presvytera Aida Stratos
An Action and Educational Forum Against Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery was held on Sunday, November 4, 2018 at Saint Anthony Greek Orthodox Church in Pasadena, CA. This event was held with the blessings of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and with the support of His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco. Leading this effort was His Eminence Metropolitan Nikitas of the Dardanelles, Coordinator of the Patriarchal Task Force on Modern Slavery.
This event drew a Pan-Orthodox crowd as well as concerned citizens who had the opportunity to learn from professionals from a variety of organizations who are working to prevent and combat Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery, and to rescue and protect its victims. There were 300 people in attendance who actively engaged in presentations that were both informative but also provided a call to action as to how both individually and collectively people can make a difference in helping to address and eradicate this terrible plight befalling so many innocent people.
Several Orthodox clergy were present with their parishioners, as well as Metropolis Philoptochos President Jeannie Ranglas. The planning for this Forum was led by the United Orthodox Communities with the help of Saint Anthony proistamenos Rev. Father Peter Stratos, and Assistant Priest Rev. Father Christopher Retelas, who also served as the Master of Ceremonies for the afternoon event. The United Orthodox Communities is comprised of volunteers from Orthodox parishes from throughout southern California. Support for this event was also provided by His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of America; and His Grace Bishop Maxim of the Diocese of Western American of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
In addition to His Eminence Metropolitan Nikitas, presenters included representatives from the Sheriff Jim McDonnell from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office; Lisa Coen, Deputy in Charge – Human Trafficking Section for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office; and Susan Patterson, Director of Through God’s Grace Ministry and author of “How You Can Fight Human Trafficking”.
The most moving testimony was offered by Tyesa Harvey who gave a powerful and inspirational personal witness of survival and victory from the dark world of human trafficking. She saved herself and her two young children from this horrendous and dangerous situation and encourages the idea that survivors are overcomers.
Several community organization were present and provided additional materials and contacts for all those interested in taking action: Bureau of Victim Services, CASA of Los Angeles, East LA Women’s Center, Fair Trade LA, Five Acres, Journey Out, Men Standing Against Trafficking, Redeeming Love, San Gabriel Valley Human Trafficking Task Force, Saving Innocence, Ekota Film – Theotokos Girls’ Orphanage in India, Through God’s Grace, Trafficking Victims Assistance Program Catholic Charities of Los Angeles, Women Against Child Trafficking. In addition, the United Orthodox Communities Committee provided each attendee with a small take-home Program and Resource Guide with the online contact information for each of the these organizations and their representatives, as well as graphics, statistics, and additional facts about the global crisis of Human Trafficking.
At the conclusion of the presentations, participants had an opportunity to speak with the presenters and the many organizations present. This provided all those in attendance with the chance to connect with organizations and identify ways they could personally take action. United Orthodox Communities hopes that this is the first of many such gatherings in the Metropolis of San Francisco and across our Archdiocese. The more people are able to be educated and empowered about this pressing community and global crisis, the more connected we become with the warriors fighting on behalf of the most vulnerable, thereby making a greater impact as Orthodox Christians.
“The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco has made a serious commitment to join this effort and follow the direction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to eliminate this plague on humanity,” stated His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos. “It is up to us to heighten the awareness and take action so that all God’s people may live in peace and be freed of oppression.”