Clayton Butler and Matt Robertson of Agape International Missions join Brett Snodgrass on Iron Deep Podcast to talk about the fight against human trafficking.
We are already in the fight to stop human trafficking, whether we like it or not. You don’t have to be involved in the actual rescuing of victims. Even a simple step like practicing sexual purity and building a virtuous family helps the cause. In this episode of Iron Deep Podcast, Brett Snodgrass brings in two great men who are making a massive impact in curbing this global problem. Clayton Butler and Matt Robertson are from Agape International Missions (AIM), an organization that implements a strategic and holistic approach to fighting and preventing human trafficking. What sets AIM apart is that they’re not stopping at rescues. They take the recovery and restoration process for the victims a step further by giving them an opportunity to gain a meaningful existence after being rescued. Learn more about the impactful things they are doing in this space and how it ties to their strong Christian ethic by joining in!
I have Clayton Butler and Matt Robertson on the show with me with AIM, which stands for Agape International Missions. In this episode, we're going to talk about how everyone is in the fight of human trafficking. Let's go.
I'm super excited about this particular show because I have some good friends, Matt Robertson and Clayton Butler on this particular show with me. We've had Matt on a previous episode. He was on Episode 62. They serve and lead an organization called AIM, which stands for Agape International Missions, which is going after human trafficking. They've been doing this for a while. They have so much experience.
We want to do this particular episode, number one, just to bring awareness, which is starting to get some buzz. You guys have probably heard about human trafficking and what other organizations have been doing. One thing for this particular show that was what Iron Deep is all about is we want to go deeper. We want to find out how can we not only rescue because that's a huge part of rescuing victims that have been in human trafficking but how we can prevent it.
A lot of men are reading this particular show. One of the things we're going to talk about is how we can do our part and help prevent it. Are we doing anything to have the growth of human trafficking? Before we get into all of that, I'm going to start with you, Clayton. Clayton, you are the CEO now of AIM. You stepped into that, but you have so much experience with this. Can you give us a little backstory of who are you and how you get involved with?
I always tell people I had a mentor who said, “Seasons of your life where you can do stuff crazy and dumb for Jesus.” He said, “You're out of college, you're not married, you don't have kids, you don't have debt.” He said, “Just do something stupid for Jesus.” I saw this upstart organization that had been going for about a year called AIM, Agape International Missions that was stopping sex trafficking. I thought, “That seems like something that you do when you're young, dumb, and single.” I said, “I want to volunteer. I want to serve in any way I can. Here's who I am.” I had a Bachelor's Degree in Business. I just said, “I don't know how that applies, but I'm available.”
I got on the ground in late 2006. It's been a while. I got to see God doing miracles before my eyes over the last years and got to see red light districts that were the most notorious in Southeast Asia be transformed by the power of Christ. I got to be part of low-budget investigations in the beginning. When you're stepping into a developing world context, there's a lot of ambiguity around who does what and how we do an investigation. I've always loved AIM that we never sat on the sidelines waiting there to be precedent or clarification of, “How do you do this investigation? How do you do this? Are we allowed to do this or that?” We always just said, “If there's a gray area, let's step into the void on that and see how we can make an impact.”
It was fun in the early days of just doing investigations, working to rescue kids, and then getting enough favor with the Cambodian government to partner with them to have a dedicated SWAT team that we get to work with in conjunction with the Cambodian government. I could tell stories. That's a little bit at a high level and worked my way up in the organization as a practitioner, putting on a bunch of different hats. A lot of your audience is entrepreneurs and you have to wear 40 different hats as something is starting up. That's how I grew within the organization. I have done everything from caring for victims of trafficking and rescuing to the more administrative level of caring for people that are wearing all those different hats.
I love what you’ve just said. Sometimes we say, “You start to do things, ask for forgiveness later.” One thing I want to ask you is, number one, it sounds like you got into this when you were a pretty young man. You wanted to do something. It sounds like you're adventurous, you want to do something crazy for Christ, and go and make a huge impact. This is years later. Now, you're the CEO. You've given your life.
What was it like inside of you? Sometimes you got out of that young man, and you're like, “I did that. I'm going to go change careers. I'm going to go make a lot of money. I'm starting something here,” but you decided not to do that. You said, “No, I'm going to sacrifice all in for an extremely long period of time.” What was that inside of you that sparked that?
On a spiritual level, I prayed a very specific prayer when I was about eleven years old. I was a pastor's kid. I wasn't one of these bad ones. I was a good little pastor's kid. A good kid would grab their Bible and go read it. I grabbed my Bible, went on a hike, and I tried reading the Bible up to the point. I never understood what I was reading. It was just words to me, so confusing.
At AIM, we never sit on the sidelines waiting for a precedent before doing anything. We step into the void and see how we can make an impact. - Clayton Butler
This day, for whatever reason, I grabbed a Bible. I'm trying to be a good kid and want to hike. I open up to James 1:27, “Pure, spotless religion is taking care of orphans and widows and their distress and keeping oneself from being included by the world.” It was the first Bible verse that I understood and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Even as a young man, I felt like I understood the context of like, “Pure reflection of all that God is writing in this book is just a life where you love orphans, widows, and people that are in distress.”
I remember praying. I said, “Lord, help me to live this out. Help me to be a person that does this.” You see people in nonprofits that are primarily empathetically driven by the emotional aspect of this. I felt like God provided all these different experiences for me. It was more of a conviction-based commitment of saying, “Lord, I want to be the type of person that honors you and lives out this pure religion.”
I know for sure that the reason I've done this for so many years isn't because I'm awesome and I'm cool, or I have this amazing conviction. It's more that God continues to work in my life, day in and day out, and whittle down my will to the point where I'm saying, “Not my will Lord, but yours.” There are many times when I'm happy to transition to something else, but I also want to be in a position that says, “Here am I. Send me, Lord. If I'm not here, how can I be growing your kingdom wherever you send me?” I do feel like I've won life on this planet. I want to be building God's kingdom.
Practically speaking, this work gets under your skin. Some of the evil gets under your skin in a temporary way. I would say it fuels you in a dysfunctional way. If that's the only fuel you have, it will burn out quick and it won't be helpful. When you see the transformative power of God and you get to be part of God restoring a life, there's not much more in life for me that I have found that feels like it's worth giving up my life for.
My wife and I returned from Cambodia and we got to go to a church service. This church service is run by a girl we used to serve. She was a rescue victim of trafficking. She was dating a guy and both of them got radically saved. Now they're church planters and to be there. This woman that we poured into was leading the children's church where our daughter was at. To see her introducing Jesus to our daughter, that level of redemption and transformation, when you see something like that, it's hard for me to figure out what else I would do that would feel that meaningful.
That's amazing. Thanks for taking us into your story. That's intimate and I appreciate that. Matt, I know that we've shared some emails. We shared some conversations. You've been on the show before, Episode 62. Let's revisit. You've been involved with AIM since 2016?
It was 2013 when I joined the staff of one of our partner churches, Bayside Church here in Northern California, officially on staff for a few years now. I'll never forget the Christmas of 2014. Bayside does a big production for Christmas, ten services and tens of thousands of people. That year, we were raising money to support a SWAT team in Cambodia. I was just getting to know AIM at that time and fell in love with the organization from a distance.
We did a number of events for AIM at Bayside, but that Christmas, I'll never forget it. We were raising money for a SWAT team and bulletproof vests and all the things that a team would need. You never know what you could be doing is part of an answer to someone else's prayer. There was Clay and the team over in Cambodia praying for this opportunity.
It was unexpected. It wasn't in the budget. It wasn't in the plan, but it was a need. We were partnering with an organization that we were giving intel to and information was getting leaked out. The organization that we were partnering with would go to do a raid and the girls would be gone. There would be a tip-off.
Clay and our Founder, Don, came up with this plan, presented it to the government, and they said, “Let's do it.” It was unexpected. Fortunately, Bayside stepped up during those Christmas services and raised more money than was needed to start the SWAT team. That's part of my journey with AIM. It is being from a supportive role, being a partner church, visiting Cambodia originally in 2016, and then joining the team in 2018.
Matt, you also talked about your visit to Cambodia. You had some anger, just your experience. Can you share a little bit about the feeling behind what you saw and experienced and how can that relate to other men here that are reading?
I got wrecked when I went. You hear all about it. You read stories. You see videos. I was getting to know AIM well from a distance, but to go in 2016 with a group of men, walking around the streets of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, and seeing men there by themselves walking around the streets of Phnom Penh, there's one reason why they're there. It's to purchase sex with girls. I was there visiting an organization that was trying to fight this thing. Here I am, we were encountering these men that were there for that reason. This anger welled up inside of me that I didn't realize I had. As a dad of a daughter, I wanted to go up and just punch these guys out, in the name of Jesus.
I realized, 1) That wouldn't be effective, 2) I probably didn't want to spend time in a Cambodian prison. There are other ways to deal with that anger. As Clay said, that's temporary fuel. It's good to have those moments. Jesus had that moment in the temple, knocking over the tables. There was more ministry there, just like with AIM. We're able to rescue these girls and provide restoration and healing to them and minister to the traffickers. Some of the men that have been involved in these families that have sold their children, out of just sheer desperation and poverty, we minister to those families. We reach out to them. They're part of our school and part of our church.
The thing that I love about AIM is that it's not just holistic in terms of the approach to fighting trafficking with the rescue, restoration, reintegrating, equipping, and empowering the girls with jobs, but it also looks at society as a whole. How do we reach the traffickers? How do we reach the families that are impacted by this as well?
AIM is not just holistic in its approach to fighting trafficking by rescuing, restoring, reintegrating and empowering victims. It also looks at society as a whole.
I love that. I want to dive into that. That's what I loved about AIM. I was talking with Clayton. You sent over some topics that you love to talk about. We see a YouTube video and we see someone get rescued and punching that guy in the face. We have that fuel. We get angry about it. We applause at that, and that's awesome.
We rescue a life, but there's a restoration process that you guys do. You have restoration homes. That takes a huge amount of time, or else they're just going to end up right back into that life. One of the things that I want to dive into is instead of getting angry honestly at these men, how do we love them? How do we see them as a child of our Father?
That's a deep topic right there. You guys are trying to provide resources for men living in these areas so that they can build community. You have an employment center, where we've bought some t-shirts and some clothes from you. You're giving jobs to some of the rescued victims. Clayton, why don't you talk about this a little bit, the holistic approach with AIM and some of the different aspects of how you're trying to not just put a Band-Aid on them but to restore?
We always talk about how far upstream we can go. You say that we've rescued a girl. We have a squad when we rescued a girl. We're going into a restoration home and we learn all sorts of stuff from that young lady during counseling. What were the things that made her vulnerable to trafficking? You start to find deeply broken families. We're all broken. That's why we need Jesus in all countries and societies, wherever we are from. We're in desperate need of Jesus.
As we work in our aftercare center, we find commonalities like, “This city, this area, there's an acute problem. There is something happening where there is a high vulnerability for kids.” We as an organization said, “We want to go upstream to that problem and to see how we can empower the church to be the answer to that problem.”
The most notorious sex trafficking district in Cambodia was called Svay Pak. We went there, and that place was pure chaos, just trafficking everywhere. The vulnerability of kids was insane. We did what any normal person would do. We planted the church because Jesus says, “On this rock, I'll build my church and the powers of hell won't prevail against it.”
That was our greatest strategy. We thought, “I don't know what to do with this community, but I'm going to stand on that Bible verse because this town is under the influence of the powers of hell.” We started as a church and started reaching out and doing kids club visits and we would go house-to-house. My favorite phrase is, “We're Christians. We're here to love and serve you. How can we love and serve you?” The amount of stuff we were learning about the community and how we could impact them was immensely helpful. A lot of that information was helpful for law enforcement to do rescues.
As that continued to grow, we started sponsoring kids to go to school, kids that were highly confident and were being trafficked. We wanted to say, “How can we interact with these kids' live and position where we're having more influence on the family and knowing that, to a certain degree, that certain hours of the day we know they're not being trafficked?”
We started sponsorship that grew to a point where now AIM has its own dedicated school with about 800 students in it now. We have a specially designed social work program that whenever a kid is absent within an hour of that kid not showing up to school, we're following up to make sure nothing has happened to that child where no one has taken them, they're being abused, or anything like that. It is one of our most powerful preventative programs. We're excited to see how we can come alongside other schools in Cambodia and export what we've learned through that program.
One of the most interesting things we do in the former red light district is we have a gym for young men that are at risk of a lot of things. They're at risk of being Johns in that community of purchasing sex in that community. They're at risk of being traffickers, pimps, and drug dealers. I'll be very honest. I did not have a passion for this issue when I first came to town. I had more of an anger of like, “I can beat these guys up. I'm going to get these guys arrested.” If you indulge me, I want to share a small story.
We at the church were doing kids club. We had these kids that were 7, 9, to 11. They're at prepubescent age, these boys. They were a handful. As far as we could tell, they were addicted to drugs. They were using this crude version of meth called Yaba. They were almost uncontrollable, but they would still show up to our kids club program. We would dedicate a staff member to them. I had a deep passion to see them transform for Jesus. I'm praying for them. The reason they're addicted to drugs is their older brother is a drug dealer and their family. This is part of what they do. This is why they're in the community. I'm praying, “God, would you transform them?”
4 or 5 years go by, and these kids are now teenagers. They're drug dealers and they are traffickers. I look at them with deep compassion and care for them. I get choked up even thinking about them now about what they grew up with the dysfunction of their home and the fact that their brother is introducing them the drugs at a young age. I realized I would have no joy in these kids getting arrested. I know at some point that might be the best thing that needs to happen for them and the community, but I have no joy in it. I'm saying, “Lord, would you have mercy on them? Lord, would you create a place where these kids can be transformed?”
I realized over time of serving that simple one-dimensional story of good guys and bad guys in this community broke down when I saw the bad guys are the kids that I had a deep love for. I wanted to see these kids transformed. That's when we started this gym. Jesus says, “Pray for those who persecute you.” He says, “Love your enemies. If someone slaps you on the cheek, slap them back.”
Jesus says, “Pray for those who persecute you.” He says, “Love your enemy.”
We started a kickboxing gym. You could do that literally and slap them back. They slap you on the cheek. It's been great. It's a tool for the raw realities of what men are going through in this community. It's a great place for us to just get in there, physically work out, and get some of our stress out. It's a great environment to work out some of our emotions and get to know Jesus. We start with a devotion and end with a devotion. We kickbox in the middle and exercise. If we're going to address this problem, we have to be reaching out to men, not just to arrest them, but to also see them be part of the solution.
I love that. That's why we started our organization, Iron Deep, just pouring it into men. I love the ministry behind that. That's why Christ uses the phrase, “See them as a child.” To hear your story of seeing these children, when you see them now, maybe they're teenagers, 14, 15, 16, 17 years old and they don't look like children, but you still see them as a child. That's where our Christ sees us. Thanks for sharing that story. That's amazing.
You guys have some employment opportunities. Part of the restoration process for rescuing these children is giving them employment opportunities. A lot of times, maybe the reason why their families are in this particular situation is maybe because of financial reasons. Matt, can you want to talk about some of the other employment opportunities that you guys offer as part of your process?
In our restoration homes, we want to start these survivors on a journey toward their future. We want to get them thinking about what God has for them next. Even in the restoration homes, we have vocational training classrooms where they can learn skills like sewing, woodworking, musical instrument, salon care, hair care, and that sort of thing. A lot of girls will end up working with us. Survivors will work in our employment center making clothing, jewelry, bracelets, handbags, and stuff we sell all over the world on our website and also at events. Businesses and churches get their products through us and get their t-shirts.
Brett, you've ordered from us before. Thank you. Business owners out there, if you need t-shirts or polo shirts, Clay is a great model for our polo shirts, great dri-fit polo. The girls sew them and screen print them. We can customize it to make it completely your business, your logo, and everything on there. We have hundreds of businesses and churches that do that with us to keep these survivors employed. Also, they get to support their families and minister to their families by supporting them, providing for them, and sharing about the work that they're involved in.
It's a great way to tell the story of AIM. It's a t-shirt, a bracelet, or a handbag. Whatever it is, it tells the story that every item comes signed by the survivor who makes it. We always tell people when you get your product home, tear the tag off. Don't throw it away, but keep it as a reminder to pray for the girl that made this. It's very impactful and it helps us employ hundreds of girls and take care of all their families.
These are amazing quality t-shirts. We order all of our t-shirts from AIM. Thank you, guys, so much.
We have our event coming up. We get t-shirts for all the guys. They're all from AIM. It gives us a chance to share the story about, “This isn't just a t-shirt,” and where this came from and it gives guys fired up. I want to transition into talking to the men that are reading this. Whoever's reading this maybe has heard a story. They've seen some videos.
Clayton, can you share? When our hearts change, especially guys reading this, a lot of them are driven, type A, they love to do something and go on adventures. Like you, they love to achieve. They own businesses. How do we get fired up behind this and not just be like, “That's nice?” This isn't a fairy tale thing. This is a real thing and it's growing. Maybe you guys can even talk about that. This is growing and it's a huge problem. It's becoming close to home even too. I'm from the United States, This isn't just happening in other countries as well. This is happening at home and it's growing. How can we, as men, get behind and get fired up for this?
We need to realize that we're already in the fight, whether we like it or not, in the battle for issues of pornography. Pornography can directly fuel demand for trafficking. I won't get into the details, but the amount of force, fraud, and coercion that exists in pornography, especially pornography that is produced overseas, there's a lot of trafficking that is forced webcam stuff that people are willingly doing. It is not. There's a large portion of pornography that is sex trafficking.
We're already in the fight against human trafficking whether we like it or not.
Our battle for sexual purity and integrity in that area is part of stopping trafficking. God wants to work in our hearts, our church, and our community. Sometimes when we see this issue of sex trafficking, we're like, “Lord, would you transform the world with this issue of sexual impurity but don't deal with me and my heart and don't deal with my church either? Let's keep us out of it but just deal with the world out there.” That's not how God's kingdom flows. God's kingdom is going into our hearts, into our families, into our churches, and then into the world.
The other part of the battle that we're in is one of the greatest tools that we have long-term to fight trafficking is by having wonderful families and raising and supporting our kids. When you teach kids how you show value to your daughters, how you show your men how to be protectors, what is biblical masculinity looks like, which to me is sacrificial love and servant leadership, is the core of what biblical masculinity is. It is what is needed and what fuels us at AIM why we go to rescue. It is from a place of sacrificial love and servant leadership that we engage in these tough issues.
Servant leadership is the core of what biblical masculinity is.
I would say you're already in the fight, whether you like it or not, especially this fight for sexual purity. It is continually becoming more and more in your face, even if you're trying to resist it. The world is making some of that stuff pop up more on your phone, ads, and what is in the movie now these days. That battle continues to be more acute and more difficult.
Let me put it this way. We are all called as believers to grow the kingdom of God. We can sometimes get deceived and grow our kingdom, using our energy to grow our own personal kingdoms. We use our energy and time and money to do what we think to better our lives, something that we think is better. The Lord says, “If you want to save your life, you must lose it for my sake. Seek first my kingdom and all these other things that you think are important will be taken care of. Don't focus on that stuff, just focus on my kingdom.”
I don't say to people, “Everyone needs to be engaged in this issue.” I say, “Everyone needs to be engaged in growing the kingdom of God and figuring out what part of that they have.” That will influence the issue of trafficking, whether you're doing that directly or not. For some people, their unique calling in pursuing God's kingdom is in protecting vulnerable people and caring for vulnerable people. I have not found a more vulnerable population than victims of trafficking. For me and Matt, it's one of the areas where we say, “This is what we're wanting to give our lives to of how we grow God's kingdom and see his impact with the most vulnerable people.”
Thank you for that. Matt, I got two more questions. My first is I want to get your opinion on that. You're a man. You went over and saw that. I'm going to maybe rephrase the question. Clayton, you went into this a little bit. How are we a cause of the growth of sex trafficking? Are we doing things that cause it maybe not over there, but are there certain things that we're doing to cause the growth of it?
Yes, and Clay referred to it earlier. Our Founder, Don Brewster, puts men into two categories when it comes to the link between pornography and trafficking. Either you are ignorant or you're addicted. You are ignorant of the link. You are ignorant that when you click on that link and watch that video or see those images, you are fueling trafficking that most men inherently believe is evil. We're educating you now. You get educated, you learn more, and you're able to fight it and stop it.
There are those that are addicted. I was in that category a couple of years ago. I had to seriously work through the power of the Holy Spirit, the support of my wife, the support of a group of men around me, and my church. I was able to fight the addiction. I didn't realize back at the time that I was fueling trafficking by what I was doing. Those that are addicted need support. They need care and love. Ideally, their church can come around them. Unfortunately, a lot of churches aren't willing to talk about this issue.
A group of men, a supportive wife, whatever it is, men that are addicted need support. They need counseling. They need to know that, “If I'm going to fight this, I've got people with me and I've got joy on the other side. My wife's going to support me. My friends are going to support me. Whatever it is, when I get through this, when I overcome this, it's going to be good. There's going to be a community around me to keep me accountable.”
That's what I would say along with Clay and others. Find out where you're at. If you just need to be informed, you're informed now and we pray that you stop. If you are addicted, get support, care, and counseling. There are guards you can put in place. Covenant Eyes is a great guard that you can put in place to help you fight this and be accountable. Talk to men in your circle. Chances are they're probably struggling with this as well. This can lead to healing, it can lead to restoration, and it can lead to an even more aggressive fight against this, “I've fought this. I can help other men fight this. What more can we as a group of men and what more can we, as those who are healed, do to heal others?” That's what I would say.
That's awesome. The thing that I've heard is, number one, don't be ignorant. Pornography does fuel human trafficking. I don't know why, but it's the closet thing that guys stuff down for some reason. Every man battles with lust. It's something that if you are struggling with that and does fuel that, get help. Here is the other thing I heard more and more in the community. We all know that community is huge, whether it's through these men, going to the gym, with the church planted, or with the restoration process of these women. Community is just coming around them. That's huge.
There is one final thing I want to ask that I am curious about. You guys have probably started to talk about this a little bit, which is the news with AI coming out. This is an off-the-wall question. I wanted to get your take on AI and the potential of this technology fueling human trafficking. I want to get your take on that.
Believe it or not, I have some weird opinions on this. The world will look at AI and say, “This is better.” I say the world in general, but not the Christian community. They'll say, “AI is better because we can auto-generate images that look realistic of things that we wouldn't want people to have to experience.” Even if it's like, “This person has an addiction to a certain type of pornography that is degrading or hurting or something, but here's an AI-generated version of that where no one got hurt.” For people without an ethical framework or a Christian worldview, the world will say, “This is better. Less people get hurt.” That will be a real challenge for world governments to define why we should not create digital child pornography or digital material.
The other thing I think it will do is it will manifest visually the dysfunction of people. AI will search out what is pornography that people are looking at and then continue to make more and more outlandish, non-humanly achievable versions of those people. Ultimately, it's going to continue to create something that is not realistic and does not exist in real life and isolate men. It will be destructive towards marriage.
I wish I had remembered the term, but it's this concept of you trying to make something that mimics nature, but it is a hyper version of nature. The example they give is butterflies are attracted to other butterflies and they're attracted to the color. They've used a brighter version of cardboard paper. That butterfly will fly into that brighter version of cardboard paper that is brighter than any natural butterfly can be and they will die trying to fall in love with a piece of cardboard paper.
AI is going to do a version of that with pornography, a counterfeit intimacy that we know is fake. It's a piece of cardboard, but it is so sadistically wired to appeal to the most dysfunctional part of our brain and to be more and more addictive. I see a great risk in this that the world might view as potentially beneficial. It will manifest a lot of the world's dysfunction around sexuality and create an unattainable version that we're addicted to that will be damaging to real relationships, real connections, and real marriages. Hopefully, I didn't go too abstract, but it's a crazy topic.
I would just add. The problem with that too is that even though that AI-generated version may not harm someone, eventually that person is going to want to act out what they're seeing. It's never going to be good enough. That's the problem with any addiction within. It's never good enough. We always try to fuel it with more. Eventually, they're going to want to act that out, and that would involve harm to another person.
That's a totally different show. I've just been studying a little bit about it. We can go deep into that, but I thank you guys so much for being on our show. Clayton, Matt, it's been awesome.
Where's the best place for someone to go to check out more information about AIM? Is it just your website, AIMFree.org?
Make an order. Again guys, if you guys want apparel, I would definitely. If you're a business, we all order t-shirts and clothes. I would say that's a great starting point to help support the organization and do it for a great cause. Beyond that, I'm here if you guys want to chat with me. I know that I want to get just to go deeper into this and help with the cause. That's why I had you guys on the show. Thank you, guys, so much. It's a wrap.
Thank you. Bless you.