Freedom Week–Original Story & My Thoughts

The following is a story that I wrote for a magazine writing class.  I am hoping to get this story published in Collegiate magazine, a Christian magazine run by LifeWay Christian Resources.  I will also add to this story by inserting my thoughts into the week and will add my thoughts/opinions/biblical insight/whatever you want to call it into this post.  Everything in italics comes from the original story.  All else is non-story material.  This story, this post, the video story I’ve done on this, and all that was done March 5th-9th at the University of Montevallo is for the 27 million people that are enslaved around the world.  May Christ break every chain with the power of the gospel.  Enjoy.

The mood in Palmer auditorium changes as she takes the stage at “Freedom Night.”  There is no more chatter, no more laughing.  Every pair of eyes are watching her intently as she tells her story:

“There is a circuit from Atlanta to Birmingham to Nashville to Memphis to Chattanooga, and you’re trafficked quite often.  But it’s not about transportation,” she says calmly.  Looking into the crowd of college students, she continues her story:

“I have been raped more times than I can count.  I stopped counting at 21.  My throat has been cut, and a gun has been placed at my head and the trigger pulled.  By man’s law I should not be here.”

Tajuan Lewis became a victim of sex trafficking at age 15.  She was prostituted, beaten, and raped.  It took her more than 25 years to understand what had happened to her.  She was in and out of prison until one day, her eyes were opened to the gospel, and she received Jesus as Lord and Savior.  She met her husband Kelly, and soon after, she was called to open the Well House, located in Birmingham, which serves the needs of victims of sex trafficking, caring for and helping women who have been abused.

I had the great honor of interviewing Ms. Lewis and her husband Kelly.  These people love the Lord.  At the end of the interview, I told them how refreshing it was to interview someone and talk with people who unashamedly talk about Jesus.  So many people focus on being politically correct, thus compromising the message.  Mr. and Ms. Lewis, thank you for your honesty and boldness for the name of Jesus.

Her story is just one of millions.  27 million, to be exact.  According to the U.S. State Department, there are more slaves now than in any other period of history.  The International Labor Organization reported that human trafficking generates more than $32 billion annually.

I chose not to publish more statistics here, because eventually, statistics do one of two things: They make us numb to the information, thus turning us off, or we get overloaded, and we become emotional over numbers and not over the people involved.  More statistics on human trafficking can be found by searching for the U.S. Department of State’s 2007 report on international human trafficking, or by going to ILO (International Labour Organization) website and looking up similar statistics.

Jeremy Springer of She Dances told the story of Sophia, a girl born in Honduras, who was sold by her own parents into prostitution.  She was raped, beaten, gagged, and trafficked as a child.  A child, just like your own.  She, he said, had dreams, plans, she had desires…and all of that was stripped away by the evils of human trafficking.  While I firmly believe and assert that our ultimate treasure is in heaven, and that our hope should be there….no child deserves this.  No one deserves to have a life filled with rape, torture, abuse, and slavery, for themselves or their children.  If we simply stand by and let this happen, we are the idle, the lazy, the sinful, disobedient, unfaithful, unloving people Paul, Peter, and James warn us of.  James tells us to look after orphans and widows “in their affliction.”  This is the affliction of our time.  Human trafficking seems to be the great evil of our time that we are standing up against.  More on that to come.

At the University of Montevallo, located in Montevallo, Alabama, students stepped up to make a difference during Freedom Week, held March 5-9, 2012.  The event raised money and awareness for modern day slavery and human trafficking.  A campus ministry, Ecclesia, led by Brian Fulton, sponsored the event as a result of hearing about trafficking at Passion Conference in Atlanta.

“We took a group to Passion Conference, and God had already been giving us a heart to help students find a way to be involved in providing and taking care of the poor and the oppressed.  It just made sense to do this and get involved,” Fulton said.

The goals of Freedom Week were to raise $5,000 to go toward three different organizations: The International Justice Mission, The Well House, and She Dances.

Fulton quoted Isaiah 58:6-7, which says “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”

The phrase “flesh of my flesh” actually comes from Genesis, as Adam says this of Eve.  Yet, the phrase fits in with slavery.  Whether they are our earthly family or not, we should strive to show justice here in this life.  God’s justice as far as our eternal fate goes is that we all go to hell because of sin.  Jesus’ grace and salvation means we don’t have to if we trust in Him as Lord and Savior.  Now, for us, God’s justice means He was satisfied to look on Christ instead of us.  Therefore, as Christians, if we believe that humans are made in the image of God, and we believe, as Paul says, that we have been given the ministry of reconciliation, and we believe in a God of justice, we seek to show justice, not for this life only, but for eternity.  We work for eternity.  We desire that no one face the wrath of God that leads to hell due to their sin.  So we work for justice here on Earth that they may see the glorious grace of God in Christ Jesus.

Let me make that clear: We do not deserve good things on Earth, we deserve hell.  No one, however, deserves to be mistreated by their fellow man.  To mistreat your fellow human is to promote yourself to the position of God, and it is sin.  Keep reading.

“My hope is that people would begin to see that we are responsible, that we owe people justice.  Humans are made with rights, and I believe, as a Christian, made in the image of God.  Therefore, we owe justice.  Justice isn’t a suggestion,” he said.

I believe two things about earthly justice, and the Christian role in regards to it.  Feel free to give me your thoughts on this: 1) While we may not deserve “good things” on Earth, no one deserves to be in bondage to someone else.  Why?  Because they are not just a victim of slavery, they’re a victim of someone else’s sin.  Only God knows why He’s allowed these evils to continue for so long, and certainly God is sovereign over it.  This, at a basic level, is a result of sin in the world.  And again, while I want to be careful saying what we do and do not deserve, I do assert this: While we may not deserve anything here….we have no right to strip whatever we, as humans, do have so that we can lord over each other.  2) I believe in a God of justice, as we stated earlier.  I also believe in God as Creator, and God who wants people to come to Him and worship Him.  How will they do that if they are in bondage to someone else?  It’s not a matter of us deserving good things, it’s a matter of freeing them from their earthly chains so that they may see Jesus, who frees them from the deep chains of sin.  That’s the beauty and the simplicity of our message.  It’s not about us, it’s about Him.  Our goal is to free them so they may see Jesus, who will truly free them.

The average age of entry into prostitution is 12 to 14.  Almost half of all forced labor victims are under the age of 18, and more than one million children are trafficked every year.  Sexual exploitation drives almost 80 percent of all human trafficking.  The Lewis’ believe that the best thing people can do to fight these evils is to talk about it, confront it, and take the chance to be wrong.

“If you’re not willing to take a chance on being wrong, you’re not taking a chance on pulling someone out of the situation that they’re in, and they might be in bondage.  You can’t see the chains, but the bondage can be there,” Kelly Lewis said.

There are people all over the world that are dying each and every second as a result of someone else’s sin in trafficking and forced labor.  Micah calls us to do justice and walk humbly before God.  Are we doing that?  I believe if we take this to heart, we will do what Kelly Lewis calls us to do.  Take a chance to be wrong.  Ask questions.  You don’t have to probe deep, just ask what’s going on!

On the night of March 6, more than 250 students attended Freedom Night, the headline event for the week.  The event featured Jeremy Springer from She Dances, Tajuan Lewis, and Olivia Terry, a Montevallo graduate working with Make Way Partners.  After the week was over, $5,700 had been raised.

“God blew our expectations for Freedom Week out of the water. The entire campus became aware that trafficking is rampant today,” Fulton said.

Brett Roney, a member of Ecclesia, added that the week was not simply for money, but for future efforts to help those in need.

“My hope is that through Freedom Week, one student will take the week’s heart-felt purpose, duplicate it in their lives outside of school, and carry it with them into their futures so that others will also come to stand for something bigger than themselves,” Roney said.

As the students continue to listen, Tajuan, becoming emotional, continues to speak.  She explains how trafficking works, and that most victims that enter the Well House come from the state of Alabama.  She says trafficking and prostitution can happen anywhere, and is not just limited to big towns like Los Angeles or New York City.

“In March of last year, there were 40 people arrested in Fort Payne, Alabama.  Fort Payne is rolling green countryside.  It doesn’t happen there.  Or that’s what we think.”

Fort Payne, Alabama is where Tajuan was once abused.

“What’s sad, and what breaks my heart, is that 26 years later, we’re going back to the same house…in the same town,” she cries.

I wish there was a way to put her tone into this quote.  That was such a raw, emotional moment.  As I stood there, recording this, trying to put together a broadcast story, it hit me: This is so much bigger than me.  This is real.  This isn’t just another story.  And I knew that, but in that moment, it hit my heart.  Her tears became mine.  And as she boldly professed that Jesus saved her, I couldn’t help but say amen.  Under my breath of course, so you don’t hear me interfering with a poignant moment.

This night, filled with other speakers, guests, musicians, etc. was emotional, but it provided hope as Tajuan wrapped up.  Keep reading.

As she finishes her story, she ends on a positive note:

“I’m no longer a victim, and I’m no longer a survivor.  I’m an overcomer!”  She boldly proclaims that she knows Jesus saved her.

Tajuan’s story brings hope.  Hope can be such a fragile thing.  If not for the stories like Tajuan’s, the 27 million slaves around the world might not have any hope.  If not for people like her and other organizations like The Well House, hope would seem like a laughable joke, an object of wishful thinking, not a tangible reality.  This week, this event, and these students, weren’t just raising money or awareness.  They raised something else, something more powerful.  They raised hope.

That’s it.  For this part of the story.  There are still 27 million slaves around the world.  There is still work to be done.  In recent weeks, the campaign Kony2012 has picked up steam.  Despite what’s going on with Invisible Children management/finances and the disputes over Kony’s actual location, the fact remains: There are people, especially children, all over the world, being tortured, mutilated, abused, murdered, raped, and forced to kill in the case of the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army), and we must step up to do something. (For more information about Joseph Koney, Uganda, and Invisible Children, search for Kony 2012 on YouTube. There is a 30 min informational video).

Christians: This is a call to step up.  Not so that we can outdo the non-believers, but that we may set an example.  Oh that we would relish this opportunity to shed the stigma of hypocrisy and actually do something that matters!  The world doesn’t care about whether or not you have contemporary, super-contemporary, or old-school Baptist worship services.  Are you serving God in your community, in your country, and around the world?  Or are we content with settling on and centering our Christian lives on issues in the church that, while important, have no bearing on how the world sees Jesus.

If Jesus isn’t about it, we don’t want to be about it.  That’s what someone told me one time about a homeless shelter in Louisville.  A homeless shelter in the middle of a nice, urban city where it would be easy to fit the mold and conform.  It’s easy for us to get in our bubbles.  Break your bubble.  Stand out, stand up, and be a voice for those who don’t have one.  This is our time, our fight, not our children or our children’s children.  We can make a difference if we would only let God move through us.

May the freedom and justice we proclaim to those in bondage point to the life-changing, chain-breaking power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  May we give all that we have to this gospel.  May we sacrificially love those who cannot help themselves.  May God bless you as you go to proclaim freedom to those enslaved, both to others and to sin.  Jesus, You are the Great Redeemer, the Great Liberator.  Free us, Lord.

God bless,

Neal E

If you have any questions about Jesus, the gospel, or anything you’ve read here or in other posts, please feel free to email me, message me on Facebook, or comment here.  Feel free to share this with your friends and family.

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