Not a pretty kind of truck stop

I like to read a good story.

Story, I said.

A story is not the same thing as a report. A report might give you all the facts you need to know (the five W's and H). But a story tells a tale. A story has characters, details, insight. There's a beginning, a middle, an end.

A story by CNN Belief Blog co-editor Eric Marrapodi caught my attention this week. Here's the top of Marrapodi's story on "The new Christian abolition movement":

Greensboro, North Carolina (CNN) —The truck-stop hooker is no Julia Roberts, the trucker in the cab with her no Richard Gere, and this truck stop off the highway could not be any farther from Beverly Hills, the staging ground for “Pretty Woman.”

The woman sports baggy shorts, a white T-shirt and frizzy hair. Her fat middle-aged pimp sits in a beat up red Honda, watching as his “lot lizard” moves from truck to truck, in broad daylight.  If this pimp has a cane it is for substance, not style.

She moves through the parking lot, occasionally opening a cab’s passenger-side door and climbing in.

The trucker and hooker disappear in the back for 10 minutes.

Danielle Mitchell watches from the other end of the parking lot and shakes her head.

Keep reading, and you learn that Mitchell is (or was) the North Carolina human trafficking manager for World Relief.

The nut graf:

Mitchell is trying to tackle a disaster in her home state.   And she is not alone.

Motivated in large part by their religious traditions of protecting the vulnerable and serving “the least of these,” as Jesus instructed his followers to do in the Gospel of Matthew, World Relief and other Christian agencies like the Salvation Army are stepping up efforts and working with law enforcement to stem the flow of human trafficking, which includes sex trafficking and labor trafficking.

“Jesus didn’t just go around telling people about himself.  He also healed the blind and healed the brokenhearted, he freed captives, and I think that it would be ridiculous to walk up to someone who is hurting and tell them, ‘Let me tell you about the Gospel,’ and then walk away while they’re still hurting,” Mitchell says.

Up high, the Godbeat pro does a fine job of capturing the religious motivation of the main character. Overall, this story benefits from at least three P's (none of which is "prostitute"):

Place: The reporter takes readers to the scene of the action and provides specific, compelling details.

— Personality: The reporter includes gems such as this:

This truck stop is the type you think twice about. It’s grimy and run down.

How badly do I really have to use the bathroom?  I bet I could hold out for another 12 miles.  That kind of place.

— People: The reporter puts a real human face on the movement, in the form of Mitchell.

However, there is one peculiar aspect to the story (hey, there's another "P"). After proclaiming up high that World Relief is "stepping up" these efforts, the writer drops this minor bombshell deeper in the piece:

“Victims are not going to self-identify,” says Mitchell, who has since left World Relief and is considering going back to school after a lack of funding threatened to cut her hours to part time. “ They’re not going to say ‘I’m a victim of human trafficking.’ So the burden is really on the service providers and law enforcement and the community."

Not sure I understand how World Relief can be "stepping up" efforts if it's cutting back on staff. I'm sure this wrinkle did not make the journalist who'd already invested time in this piece overly jubilant.

My other nitpicky question: According to the story, the number of victims of human trafficking being referred to World Relief for services is up "700% in 2011." That's a big jump, yes. But what specific number of victims are we talking about? Is the writer quoting actual verifiable records? Or is that figure coming straight from Mitchell's mouth?

Alas, this is not a perfect story. But I enjoyed it.

I like to read a good story.

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