Today the Justice Response/VAST team begins our January ‘Vineyard Spotlight’ series in which we will hear from pastors, churchplanters, ministry leaders and activists who are working in the area of Justice Ministry in order to help empower others to engage.
Today is Part 1 of 2 of our interview with Vineyard churchplanter Tom Camacho, who – with his wife and a small team – have begun to plant the Blue Ridge Vineyard Church in Asheville, North Carolina. Tom grew up in Raleigh, NC, where he learned to love basketball and barbecue. He graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a degree in Journalism and has a Military Science minor from Duke University. He served as a helicopter platoon leader in an Apache battalion during the 1991 Gulf War. He and his wife Beth have been married for 22 years and have four children: Caleb, Daniel, Caryn and Rebecca. Tom has been connected with the Vineyard for nearly 20 years. He led worship at the first service of the Coastal Community Vineyard in Wilmington, NC, in 1991. Later he left the corporate world of General Electric, to join the church staff as the worship and small group pastor and was ordained in the Vineyard in 1998. After serving in various pastoral positions in different churches, he and Beth stepped out to plant Blue Ridge Vineyard Church in North Asheville, NC in 2008. His heart message is the power of God’s Love and Compassion to change each of us and to change the world. He loves pastoring and teaching through the Scriptures.
When did you plant Blue Ridge Vineyard?
We planted Blue Ridge Vineyard in 2008 in our living room with 9 people, and five of them were my family. Our vision was always to be outward focused while maintaining the Vineyard culture of worship, moving in the Gifts, and authenticity. We started meeting publically in Dec. 2009, and became an official Vineyard church plant on July 7, 2010.
My wife’s ancestors were preachers and educators in the mountains of Western, NC, in the late 1700’s and 1800’s. When we moved to Asheville, NC, in 2004, we had a sense that God was calling us to plant in the northern part of Asheville, where her family had been settlers. We have been a part of several Vineyard church plants prior to starting Blue Ridge Vineyard.
The vision of BRVC is “Love In Action.” SO this justice ministry is just that, a way to show love practically in action to the world.
How did you first get involved in the human trafficking aspect of Justice ministry?
One of our church members had been involved in a violent motorcycle gang in the 1970’s. She was shot in a drive by shooting and as a result escaped their violent control and came to a relationship with Christ. Having survived such a similar lifestyle as the girls in trafficking, she has become an advocate of this issue. She invited me to a Saturday workshop. I honestly didn’t think really deeply about it. She asked me to come and so I did. When I heard the presentation, I just began to weep right during their talk. I was appalled and kept thinking about how horrible it was and how I couldn’t imagine my two daughters in such an awful mess.
We stepped up a couple months later and decorated an entire room at the Hope House – a shelter for victims and survivors of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking – for future residents. Our ladies made it really beautiful and the guys helped move all the furniture. We just wanted to do something to help these girls.
A couple months later, the founder of Hope House, Emily Fitchpatrick, asked me to be on the initial board of the Hope House, and after praying about it, my wife and I said, “yes.”
How do you lead your team into this kind of justice ministry?
By example. My wife and I have done ministry among the poor, homeless and broken for many years. We honestly didn’t know this was a domestic issue. We thought it only happened in Asia or Russia. I felt like this was an issue we could all get behind, so we just stepped out. It seemed like a really big issue for a small church plant, but God continues to use our involvement in the fight against trafficking to connect us with others and touch lives.
Honestly, I think we are living in a time when people want to make a real difference in their world. Although this is a large, complex issue, it touches people deeply and they want to help. It wasn’t hard. I just shared my passion with the team and off we went.
What were you initial concerns in presenting this kind of Justice ministry to your church?
We did have concerns. This is a graphic, ugly issue. We have had to be sensitive of how we present it. We say human trafficking instead of “Sex trafficking” when we share our mission. We are sensitive to young ears. My wife’s concern was that we didn’t just start something and not follow through. This is a longhaul issue. So we prayed about it before jumping in with both feet.
Another concern I had was the spiritual warfare surrounding such an evil and financially profitable issue. I prayed a lot and counted the cost of involvement because I knew the enemy would fight to keep these girls bound. And it has been a battle. Several of our girls have run away or fought the staff to go back to their old lifestyle.
Lastly, I had some people say that I was going back to the Social Gospel and getting off track to take on human trafficking. That really bothered me. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love the gospel and do not want to just deal with justice apart from the power of the cross. Billy Graham says there is only one gospel—we care for people’s physical needs, emotional needs, and spiritual needs. I just shook off their comments and kept moving forward.
What was their initial response?
Wholehearted support for the most part. Some are really into the effort and others are more reserved. God definitely puts trafficking more clearly on some people’s hearts. Those are the passionate people who feel called of God to end it. I think lots of people can be involved in smaller ways.
Were there any challenges to engaging this Justice ministry among the people of your church?
Not really. Some people are uncomfortable doing a strip club outreach. Our women go to the strip clubs to give out gift bags and encouraging cards to the women there. Some women have gone to Hope House to mentor or help with schooling with the girls there. This is truly not for every person. Those who do hands on work with these girls have got to have thick skin, spiritual discernment and strong prayer lives. It is very intense to walk with these girls.
I let the ladies mentor other ladies who want to get involved. As a male, I am better at the Board Meeting-type work, which is where my strengths are anyway.
[Be sure to check back for Part 2 will be posted Friday, January 7th]