Combating Hunger in Waco

By Nikki Thompson

(Image courtesy of World Hunger Relief, Inc.)

Waco is a hotspot for hunger-related issues. Residents who struggle with poverty often deal with food insecurity. That, paired with the food deserts in Waco, results in a vicious cycle of eating unhealthy foods because they are the most readily available, getting sick, and being unable to pay for healthcare. Furthermore, research shows that nutrition directly affects performance in school. In Waco, food deserts correlate with underperforming and even failing schools. These circumstances reduce the student’s probability of getting a high-paying job, which then reduces options for the next generation. This cycle of poverty is connected to a lack of nutritional produce.

World Hunger Relief, Inc. attempts to address hunger on both a global and a local scale. Its involvement in the Waco community has seen a significant increase in healthy eating. WHRI partners with the Waco government and local nonprofits in various projects to promote policy reform and to increase wellness within the community. Two of their most successful projects are the Veggie Van and the school gardening initiative.

The Veggie Van was launched in June of 2015 as a mobile market system to bring fresh produce to food deserts throughout Waco. This makes it possible for those people who do not live within a two-mile radius of a grocery store and do not have a car to have access to food with nutritional value. The van sells fresh and locally grown produce at affordable prices. Each sale also includes a recipe, so the buyer can know how to cook the produce, thus making it more likely that they will eat it and continue to come back. The van not only makes healthy food available to the community, it sparks conversation about healthy living and why it is important.

Another way WHRI addresses hunger and health in Waco is through their school gardening program. WHRI supports the Heart of Texas Urban Gardening Coalition in many community-wide initiatives. The mission of this program is to partner with schools and develop sustainable communities by teaching students how to grow a sustainable food system and why it is important. Volunteers with WHRI teach students how to grow ornamental plants and food crops. Students are involved in the planting and maintenance of the gardens and as a result, they learn about plants and healthy diets. WHRI is currently partnered with Indian Springs middle school and J.H. Hines elementary.

These two programs are examples of creative ways WHRI addresses hunger in Waco. These are the kinds of solutions we should be seeking for community-wide problems instead of just focusing on legislation. By getting the community involved and making them aware of the problem, WHRI has seen a significant increase in the overall health of Waco. Understanding that communal problems are complex and affect multiple aspects of life is key to change.


Nikki is a junior majoring in professional writing and rhetoric.

The Human Trafficking Crisis in Waco

By Katie Mendez


Normally, when we think of human trafficking, we think of the movie Taken—of people being sold overseas, of people in other countries. Rarely do we think of people in our country being trafficked—and, when we do, we usually think of Americans being sold to other countries, much like in the movie Taken.

In reality, human trafficking looks a little different. Human trafficking is not just an “overseas” problem. It also looks like Americans being sold to other Americans, foreigners being sold to Americans, and Americans traveling to other countries to partake in child sex tourism.

Many people are shocked to hear the extent and prevalence of human trafficking in the United States. Even more so, Texans are shocked to hear that the state holds 313,000 trafficking victims, of which 79,000 are minors being trafficked for sex.


Breaking Down “Human Trafficking”*

Human trafficking is the general term given to modern slavery that involves the sale and trade of human beings. There is, however, more than one type of human trafficking. The most common types of human trafficking—with simplified definitions—are:

labor trafficking: the selling of human beings for construction work, domestic labor, etc.;

sex trafficking: the selling of human beings into the commercial sex industry; and,

debt bondage: a type of labor trafficking in which the trafficker uses someone’s debt to hold them in slave labor.

*It is important to note that this is not a comprehensive breakdown of human trafficking, but an introduction to facilitate understanding of the rest of this blog article.

The two forms of human trafficking most seen in Texas are labor trafficking (234,000 people in Texas alone) and domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST), where minors (anyone under the age of 18, therefore, anyone who cannot legally consent to sex) are sold into the commercial sex industry. In the past, many people referred to this as child prostitution, a misnomer, given that it is impossible for children to consent. Because children cannot legally consent, any act of “child prostitution” involves rape and immediately becomes sex trafficking once they’re sold.

Although Texas is the state with the second highest rate of human trafficking, the amount of services provided are limited. UnBound, an anti-trafficking nonprofit in Waco, provides great advocacy and education programs. The Advocacy Center provides great counseling resources and helps identify current trafficking victims, but is not equipped to shelter sex trafficking survivors. Likewise, the Family Abuse Center will house sex trafficking survivors when necessary, but is not equipped to provide case management specific to the needs of a sex trafficking survivor and is often at capacity for survivors of domestic violence.

Currently, there is no safe house dedicated to the needs of sex trafficking survivors, adult or minor, in central Texas. A two-page Google search will show six safe houses for survivors of human trafficking in the state, of which only one is tailored for survivors of DMST.  These safe houses are: Refuge of Light, Mosaic Services, Redeemed Ministries, The Refuge Ranch, Refuge City, and Freedom Place, which is the safe house for DMST survivors.

A safe house start-up in Waco, SHE is Freedom, is working to open a drop-in center for survivors of domestic minor sex trafficking. While the organization has found a location, garnering financial support has been a challenge due to Waco’s economic hardships and lack of government aid.

According to the Texas government, the best method for providing aid to survivors of sex trafficking is to rely on the foster care system or to place young victims with families that volunteer to help. On the surface level, the government’s plan sounds logical—use existing state resources, such as the foster care system, or vetted volunteers outside of the foster care system, so that young victims have a supportive family unit. But this plan is better in theory than in action, according to studies conducted on the connection between the foster care system and human trafficking. One study found that “98% of children who are identified as survivors of sex trafficking had previous involvement with child welfare services, and many were legally in the care and custody of the state while they were being prostituted by traffickers.” Further, it would be incredibly difficult to find families willing to take in a traumatized, often drug addicted youth; most importantly, they would not have the training to ensure that they would not return to their trafficker. The amount of resources that would be required to train 79,000 families to handle sex trafficking survivors would be better spent in safe houses with people who are already trained by multiple nonprofits and universities.


How to Help

Donating and volunteering with anti-trafficking organizations and nonprofits is a great way to get involved. Many students volunteer with UnBound and help mentor at-risk youth. Advocacy is a very important step in prevention of human trafficking; but, we need to do more for those who have already been victimized and need to escape. We need to do more for children who are falling through the cracks of a system not built for their protection. In short, we need a safe house. We need a place tailored to provide the services, protection, and mentoring within a community of individuals who have been there, not just people who sympathize.

(If you want to donate to SHE is Freedom, the safe house start-up, you can visit

Infamous Westboro Baptist Church Comes to Waco

Image courtesy of Pablo Gonzales


As some of you may already know, Westboro Baptist Church visited Waco last Sunday, September 10. Westboro Baptist Church is based out of Topeka, Kansas and has been widely denounced by Christian organizations (such as World Baptist Alliance, the Southern Baptist Convention, and others) for their hateful ideologies. A central part of WBC’s doctrine is the idea that “God hates f*gs” (see their website name, The way they spread this “theology” is by protesting at soldier’s funerals, spreading hate through speech, and attributing tragedies (such as 9/11 or Hurricane Harvey) to God’s hate and punishment for sin. They regularly travel the country to protest, saying that they wish to spread the message of God’s hate and condemnation.


On Sunday morning, Westboro Baptist Church protested outside of Antioch Community Church and St. Louis Catholic Church. They posted a press release online explaining their reasons for protesting, though its message is embedded in deeply religious phrases and seemingly obscure Bible verses (link: The document first asserts that Waco churches are enemies of God because they are not facing persecution. Furthermore, WBC says that the churches of Waco “gladly and greedily justify their sisters Sodom and Samaria,” which is presumably in reference to allowing homosexuality. The press release states that Waco churches have succumbed to the fear of men and thus abandoned all talk of “Sodom.” The document pronounces a “double woe” to the churches, as they have also exhibited pride in committing these sins. Essentially, it seems they are saying that Waco churches are cursed for not preaching the same idea of God’s anger that Westboro Baptist holds so dear.


The protesters were toting numerous signs boasting different slogans, such as “Obey and Seek Mercy” and “God Sent [Hurricane] Harvey.” Each sign was accompanied by a Scripture verse, which is what I wish to draw attention to. Westboro Baptist claims to be doing God’s work by “spreading God’s hate,” and a large part of this perceived power comes from their use of the Biblical narrative. It seems as if Scripture justifies and even encourages their ideas. Rather, I argue that they are taking verses out of context and therefore misrepresenting Scripture and the message of the Gospel.


Obey and Seek Mercy – Proverbs 14:22, Nehemiah 9:17

 A sign which read “Obey and Seek Mercy” cited both Proverbs 14:22 and Nehemiah 9:17. Proverbs 14:22 reads, “Do they not go astray who devise evil? Those who devise good meet steadfast love and faithfulness.” By itself, this verse can be used as a vague condemnation for evil, though when it is put into context it becomes clear the kind of evil to which the verse refers. Proverbs 14:21 says that “whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.” So, if we are to obey these verses, we are to love our neighbor and care for those around us, which logically would include people in LGBTQ communities.


The same sign references Nehemiah 9:17. In Nehemiah 9, Israel is confessing and repenting of their sins following a period of rebellion. Nehemiah 9:17 states, “They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.” I think the second part of this verse is particularly interesting, as it clearly states that God is ready to forgive and merciful. This idea of God as loving and slow to anger is in direct opposition to the God WBC presents.


God Sent Harvey/Irma – Psalm 126:6, Nahum 1:3

Westboro had a few signs attributing Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma to God as well. WBC cites Psalm 126:6 in the sign, which says: “He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” Psalm 126 is a psalm of lament, in which the community is asking God to show mercy on His people. The psalmist remembers the good things God has done and asks Him to “restore [their] fortunes.” Presumably, Westboro added this onto the sign as a way of asking God for mercy on behalf of the nation. Though, this does not explain why they believe God sent the hurricanes.


Nahum 1:3 talks about God’s wrath against Nineveh, saying “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.” It seems that Westboro has interpreted this verse as evidence that God sent Hurricane Harvey to punish the guilty with His wrath. Westboro has made other, similar claims about 9/11 and natural disasters, saying that God sent these things to condemn America for being sinful or accepting sin. The thing that these claims fail to recognize is that these events do not only affect “sinners,” but they affect Christians, too.


In the Old Testament, wrath was a way in which God showed His people their injustice and sin. The New Testament is very clear that believers are saved from God’s wrath through Jesus. The difference is that in the Old Testament, God’s people entered into a covenant with God through the Law, which led to punishment from God when they (in their sin nature) broke the law. Paul makes it very clear in Romans 7:7-13 that God must punish people for breaking the covenant, which is why Old Testament believers faced His wrath. However, the New Testament and the new covenant do not result in punishment from God, because Jesus took all of God’s wrath when He died on the cross. Romans 1:17 says that the “righteous live by faith,” opposed to living by the Law. This idea is repeated in Galatians 5:18 and Paul says in Romans 5:9 that believers are justified through Christ’s blood and that we are saved from God’s wrath (which is echoed in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 and 5:9). Therefore, believers do not receive God’s wrath for their sin and wrongdoing, because we are saved through Jesus’ death and not by our good works. Because of this, it is false to say that God sent Hurricane Harvey to punish us.


Jesus Will Return in Wrath – 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10

 The verses WBC selected read: “And to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.” In context, Paul is writing to the church at Thessalonica, which has endured much persecution but has remained loyal to Christ (verses 3-4). Paul reassures them that when Jesus returns, He will enact justice and repay those who persecute the church with affliction. Paul says that all those who believed in the gospel through the testimonies of the apostles will marvel at Christ and, ultimately, be saved from judgement through His grace. The passage does not depict a wrathful God who is acting out in anger, but a just God who is establishing righteousness.



Westboro Baptist’s message that God hates us and is punishing us is not truth because the authority they derive from the Bible is taken out of context and does not consider the Gospel and Jesus’ earthly ministry. While it is abundantly clear throughout Scripture that God hates sin, He does not hate sin because he is a wrathful God. He hates sin because he is a righteous God who desires righteousness for His people. The message of the Gospel is one of restoration, grace, and forgiveness. However, Westboro Baptist Church uses the Bible as a tool by which to condemn and hate others. It is clear to me that they are simply a hate group which has hijacked the Bible in an attempt to justify their beliefs.


Nikki Thompson is a Junior majoring in Professional Writing and Rhetoric with a minor in Religion.