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Masters weekend brings the crowds, but ministry needs continue through the year

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (BP) — With its manicured greens, blooming azaleas and a spectator menu featuring prices from yesteryear, the scene at Augusta National Golf Club in the first full week of April is, indeed, a tradition unlike any other.

The subject of faith can also be raised. Scottie Scheffler, the top-ranked golfer in the world who earned his first green jacket in 2022, recently talked about how the sport doesn’t define him; his faith does.

“I feel I’ve been given a platform to compete and show my talent,” he said. “… I’ve been called to come out here and compete and glorify God.”

Testimonies like Scheffler’s and the PGA Tour Bible Study group of which he is a part are an encouragement for believers and golf fans alike. However, the Gospel’s impact will not end with the final putt on Sunday.

The Broad Street Ministry Center partners with Southern Baptists and the Augusta Association of Baptist Churches throughout the Central Savannah River Area.

Together, they help community members receive access to a food pantry and clothing. Opportunities are also provided for Bible study, discipleship, literacy programs and job training.

Unfortunately, the Masters isn’t exempt from other large-scale events that attract those involved in sex trafficking. Groups like iCare4, Inc. are there to join with local law enforcement and push back. But their work doesn’t stop – or even slow down – when golf fans leave.

“Any time there’s extra money and extra leisure time, there’s also the ability for that to be exploited,” said Ginger Amerson, executive director and a member of West Acres Baptist Church in Evans.

“During Master’s Week, we encourage folks to be sensitive to the signs of potential trafficking victims and trafficking situations. If they see something, say something and report to proper authorities. We are a local organization focused on serving local survivors 365 days a year.

“Whatever the day or week, our mission remains the same. We are here to serve these girls and help them thrive.”

Amerson and her husband, Walt, co-founded iCare after serving in a downtown ministry and encountering a runaway teenager. The young girl changed their mind on “troubled” kids after they found out she left her suburban home near their own to escape abuse. By the time her abuser was incarcerated, the teen had become enveloped into the dark world of sexual exploitation.

A reminder of that darkness came one day from a college student who found a note shortly after the Masters’ conclusion.

It’s common for locals to vacate town during the week and rent out their house. College students and others are then hired to clean the homes before the owners’ return. One day a young lady who had cleaned one of the homes approached Amerson with a wadded-up piece of paper that had been left behind.

“Her little hand was shaking,” said Amerson. The list resembled something you would take to the grocery store. But the words were “brunette,” “blonde,” and other physical descriptions.

“It was like they were making an order,” Amerson said.

Pornography remains a strong driver of the sex trafficking industry. Such elements create a demand. It is those types of things where iCare is putting more of its focus.

“As a Christian organization, we’re attuning our message more to it,” said Amerson. “We don’t want businessmen going to other countries and buying children. We don’t want them buying our children here and making pornography of them.

“Stop the demand and help people understand what creates the demand.”

West Acres Baptist Church is hosting iCare’s Shed Light on Trafficking 2024 conference on April 25-26. iCare is part of Mission Georgia, with the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.

Volunteers are welcome with the ministry, said Amerson. When someone is rescued from being trafficked, they go through a process of restoration that includes meeting needs such as transportation. Other acts of support come through avenues such as baby shows and celebrating events like graduation.

“We truly believe this is a moment where God is opening the doors for the church to get involved and to help administer His healing love to victims,” she added. “That’s so incredibly important.”