Freedom Week–Small University Seeks to End Modern-Day Slavery

This is a story I wrote for a magazine writing class.  I’m hoping to have it published in Collegiate magazine, a Christian magazine produced by LifeWay.  The story is about Freedom Week, the event to raise money and awareness about human trafficking that took place on Montevallo’s campus earlier this month.  Enjoy.  Blog version (more information, my take on Freedom Week) coming later.

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.

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.

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?”

“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.

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.

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.

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.

 

A Christian Image–You should care what others think

Ever heard the phrase “I don’t care what other people think about me?”  Or “It’s not about what others think of me, it’s about what I think of me.”  Maybe even your parents told you that.  I hate that phrase.  A lot.  Because we do care.  As humans, it’s inevitable.  There’s a reason I get up, shower, put on deodorant, and put on cologne (sometimes) every day.  Yes, I want my girlfriend to think I smell good.  But I also don’t want the guy next to me in class to sit through a lecture thinking “Oh wow….he smells like fish guts and three-week old milk.”  There’s a few reasons I brush my teeth every day.  One, I have a decent sense of personal hygiene.  Two, I don’t want my breath to smell like crap.  I put on decent clothes and try to look my best so my professors and classmates know that I take my work seriously.  So stop lying to yourself, both Christians and non-Christians alike…you DO care what others think.  And to the Christians, you should.

Now, before I go any further, let me define what I mean when I say you should care what others think.  For the Christian, we are NOT to find our satisfaction in man’s praise.  We are NOT to define ourselves by the world’s definition.  My definition of success is not when the world tells me good job, it’s when the Lord is glorified by my work.  Yes, I want to succeed in journalism.  I want my professor to say good job.  But when she says good job, what I hope is that she understands by my attitude and by the content of my writing and how I present it, that I serve God, not myself.  Ultimately, however, if I never make it “big” as a journalist, I’ll be content if God is made much of through my writing, and I never even receive a sticker.

What the Christian is to care about is what people see when they look at you.  While we find our comfort, our sense of who we are, and our knowledge of true success and love in Christ, we are also called to be the image of Christ to the nations.  I DON’T care if people never praise me for my writing.  I DON’T care if they ever see me as a great guy in the worldly sense.  If they don’t think I’m “cool” or a “manly” man…so be it.

“For if i were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”–Galatians 1:10

But I DO care, and all Christians should, whether they see Christ in me.  If they see love in me.  If they see me as someone they can come to with problems and can trust me.  If I can be comic relief when it’s needed.  If they see me as reliable and dependable.  I do care if they see me as tenderhearted and caring.  I DO care if they see Christ…and care even more if they can’t see Him.

Let me pose some questions:  What happens when non-believers look at our churches today and see that our divorce rates are the same as the non-believers?  When they see that our anger is just as great as theirs?  What happens when they see scandals that rock our churches?  What happens when they see us arguing and bickering over secondary issues that really don’t matter?  What happens when they see us elevate ourselves, our buildings, and our paychecks over what we say we believe?

What happens when we do these things, but fail to remember the Great Commission?  When we do not share Christ with the world around us?  I’ll tell you what happens.  Well, actually…..Jesus will.

“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.”–Luke 12:8-9 ESV

That’s what happens.  We say we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that He has changed our lives.  And people watch us, day in and day out, and I believe that far too often, all they see is someone who puts on khaki pants on Sunday mornings and may even listen to some new music.

God didn’t radically change your life, or my life, or send His Son to die for us, so that you could wear nice pants and listen to Chris Tomlin for the rest of your life and call yourself a Christian.

The simple fact is, is that when we live like the people described in the questions five paragraphs earlier, and when we fail to truly live the Christian life, people do not see God.  And we must start to question whether we ourselves have actually come to know Christ.

What difference does Christ make in your life?  Ask yourself this.  For me, it means that when I feel lonely, I can go to my heavenly Father and find comfort.  When I start to feel overwhelmed, I can give up all my troubles to Him.  It means that I find my satisfaction in knowing that I am loved by Him who created the world, and that I am no longer captive to the destructive power of sin.  If you find that it really doesn’t make a difference, start asking yourself if you have ever truly believed.

The world is watching.  And we MUST realize this.  We are called to live radically different than the world.  When trouble comes, we trust in a higher power.  The Creator of the universe.  When disaster hits Japan, we point to God’s sovereignty and rest on the promise that He IS in control, no matter what.  When parents get divorced and husbands die, we rest on God’s promise to never leave us.  That’s what makes the difference.  It comes down, not just to morals, but to where our sense of right and wrong, of what to do in all situations, and how to live life comes from.  It comes from God.  Another phrase I don’t like: “Share your faith, and if necessary, use words.”  It sounds good, and there’s truth in it.  We are to live lives that point to the cross.  But there are hundreds and thousands of people who live good, upstanding, moral lives that are going straight to hell.  Gandhi and Thomas Jefferson are two of them.  We must SPEAK about why we do what we do, and about where our strength and love comes from.

Do we build ourselves up, or do we make God known?  What image do you put off everyday?  Does your life shout and scream the glory of God, or does it say “Yeah, I’m a good guy, I can do all these things, and yeah, I guess Jesus is pretty cool?”  As the church, are we more concerned with building good-looking buildings than building up the kingdom of God?  Is the majority of our money going to spread the Gospel?  Are we loving with other believers who we may not agree with on every single secondary issue?  I hate to see Christians divided over these issues that don’t matter (and I’ll save those specific issues for later blogs).  Because when it comes down to it, the church, the universal body of Christ, has one goal, and one goal only, and that’s to bring glory to God by making Him known.  If you are not doing that, you are failing. Period.  No way around it.

One more question I’ll leave you with:

If the world isn’t seeing Christ when they look at you….what do they see?

Scary thought that someone could look at a “Christian” and see anything BUT Jesus.  Unfortunately, especially in America, where nominalism is prevalent, this happens everyday.  People of God, church: We must come back to true faith that transforms lives, and allow God to transform our image, that we may make His name known.  And we must do this now.

God bless,

Neal