MINOOKA – Chris Baker, a Christian tattoo artist and founder of the Oswego-based INK 180 Ministry, said many people think sex trafficking is prostitution, strictly an inner-city problem or resembles the 2008 movie, “Taken,” which dealt with kidnapping and sex slavery.
Wrong on all counts, Baker said.
In sex trafficking, victims are forced into performing sex acts for money. This crime – which is increasing, Baker said – happens everywhere, even in Joliet, he said. That’s why Baker and his 17-year-old daughter, McKenzie, offer a free monthly Teen Cyber Safety Class at the ministry’s shop.
The father-daughter team also will present that one-hour class Sunday at Minooka Bible Church. They will discuss the trafficking problem and how cyber relationships can link to trafficking.
Parents are encouraged to attend with their teens. Kids as young as 13 are victims, but Baker knew one instance where the victim was age 6.
“The father was a pimp, and the mother was a prostitute,” Baker said.
The Teen Cyber Safety Class is just one aspect of Baker’s INK 180 Ministry. Since its inception four years ago, Baker’s ministry has performed more than 2,600 free tattoo removals. Clients include survivors of sex trafficking and domestic violence along with individuals previously associated with gangs.
Baker also does cover-ups for self-harm victims and removals for young people entering the military. About 80 percent of the tattoo work Baker does is ministry-related, he said. Of the remaining 20 percent, 75 percent of the tattoos Baker inks are Christian-themed.
But it wasn’t always this way.
Rich in everything but faith
“I was a very selfish and greedy person,” Baker said. “At the time, I just wanted to get something bigger and better instead of using the gift God gave me to give someone else a second chance.”
Until six years ago, Baker could afford to be greedy. Baker said he earned $100,000 a year working for a Fortune 50 company – until the company laid him off, and Baker lost his house and cars.
Baker said he was depressed and self-destructive. He said his wife, Lisa Baker, insisted he seek help. They saw a counselor in Naperville who prayed for them. The next day, Baker went to church and began talking to God about his calling.
“The answer I got was, ‘What do you love to do more than anything else, and will you do it for free?’ ” Baker said. “Well, I love tattooing, but no way is that doing God’s work.”
Baker said other Christians often criticized his tattoos – Baker, who has loved art since childhood, is covered in them – and cited their interpretations of Bible passages to support their criticism.
But Baker trusted God.
So he rented space in a shop and began removing tattoos, many more than the three to four a month he anticipated. As the ministry grew, Baker also grew the business side to support it. In addition to the tattoos, Baker also does speaking engagements and rents part of his space to another tattoo artist.
Removing gang-related tattoos has special meaning for Baker. Although Baker said he never belonged to a gang, he had friends in gangs back when he was growing up in California. Some of those friends, he said, died or went to prison.
“I don’t care if people hate tattoos. It doesn’t break my heart, and I’m not here to convert people into tattoo-lovers,” Baker said. “But I am here to give people a second chance in life and to get rid of the marks that are holding them back in life – or change them into something positive.”
For Baker, whose tattoos mostly reflect his Irish heritage and love for Jesus, tattoos are outward manifestations of the inner person, and he’s proud to wear them. Still, Baker does regret one tattoo – his initials, inked on his 18th birthday.
“It was dumb,” Baker said. “I wish people would think before they get a tattoo and not get something they will regret later in life or not like.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Teen Cyber Safety Class
WHEN: 1 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Minooka Bible Church, 412 N. Wabena Ave., Minooka
ETC: Teens to adult, free, donations welcome