“To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice” (Proverbs 21:3 NKJV).
In rural Thailand, 20 tribal children are no longer vulnerable to human trafficking due to extreme poverty. Now that they reside at International Child Care Ministries’ Lahu Hostel, they can access education while receiving food, clothing and Christian care.
In Seattle, dozens of at-risk girls in foster care are now connected to peers, resources and mentors to support them on their journey. With 70 percent of commercially sexually exploited youth in Seattle having spent time in foster care at some point, these girls are more equipped, supported and empowered to pursue promising futures.
Across the other side of the nation, there is now a home in Illinois where women who have survived human trafficking can heal and flourish. These women, once coerced and forced to engage in dehumanizing acts, are now pursuing a relationship with the Lord, learning how to form trusting relationships, studying to obtain their GED or a bachelor’s degree, and even securing dignified employment.
And by the end of this year, as many as 10 Roma girls in Bulgaria will be able to move into a prevention home that Free Methodist missionaries Chance and Dee Dee Galloway were able to purchase last summer. All of these girls are otherwise at risk of exploitation due to harrowing life circumstances including poverty and neglect.
How did each of these powerful projects come to thrive? There is a common element to all of them: Each one was either launched by or supported through Freedom Sunday, which will be held Sept. 30 this year.
More Than a Day
Freedom Sunday is more than an event. It’s more than a day. It’s a movement of hope.
On Freedom Sunday, we acknowledge the tragedy of human trafficking within the appropriate context of worship. We lament and repent. We focus on the creator and champion of liberation, Jesus. The Spirit leads us into hopeful responses. We sing and celebrate. There is no room for despair. Worship forms and informs us and is a catalyst for joy, hope and action.
A significant aspect of Freedom Sunday is how the generosity of Free Methodists is bringing hope and healing to broken places all around the world. Over the past eight years, Freedom Sunday offerings have raised over $800,000 for more than 17 freedom projects, including the Lahu Hostel in Thailand, the foster care ministry in Seattle, Eden’s Glory in Illinois, and the St. John’s Home for Roma Girls in Bulgaria. Additionally, the annual observance has helped catalyze Set Free Movement teams and other ripple effects in communities across the globe.
This year, participants in Freedom Sunday have the opportunity to build resilient communities in three powerful ways.
Project 1: Raising Up Kenyan Leaders
In Kenya, an estimated 39 percent of women and girls age 15 and above will experience physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime. And an estimated 26 percent of females in Kenya have already experienced domestic violence in the last year. Making matters even worse, this violence can leave women vulnerable to human trafficking and other forms of abuse.
How do we respond to such a chronic problem? There is no quick, simple solution —but there is certainly hope.
Ashley Carroll — a spirited, emerging leader and missionary from Gerry, New York — is taking Set Free’s community-based, anti-trafficking model to Kenya.
Acknowledging that broken relationships are a significant part of the deeper, underlying issue, Carroll will be partnering with national leaders, Free Methodist World Missions, and Set Free to develop female leaders.
By fostering an environment of spiritual care and formation, Carroll will disciple and mentor young women to become role models to girls and other women. She will also train them to be community advocates equipped to identify and respond to gender-based violence and human trafficking in their own community. Together, with churches and other organizations in Kenya, these passionate freedom workers will be centered on Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit to help transform communities, systems and the culture.
Being equipped to build healthy, resilient communities with zero tolerance for abuse and exploitation, these young women will benefit generations to come as role models and leaders.
Project 2: Paula Guazon Freedom Scholarship
In many resource-poor nations, there is a critical need for social service workers—especially those with a capacity to address human trafficking. Without these professionals, the cycle of abuse and exploitation continues to tear apart families and communities, creating a generational problem.
There are numerous barriers facing some people in developing nations from pursuing the education needed for accreditation in social service work. In Eastern European countries like Bulgaria, racial prejudice toward the Roma often forms an obstacle to educational advancement. In India, people belonging to lower castes are often prevented from educational opportunities — even from basic literacy — and may end up in child labor, working for little or no pay in potentially hazardous conditions.
Poverty is another driving factor. In the Philippines, 21.6 percent of the population live in poverty, making the notion of going to university and getting a good job a nearly impossible feat. In the wake of the Khmer Rouge genocide, which targeted and killed anyone who was educated, Cambodia’s primary and secondary education system tends to be lower in quality. Crippling poverty also pulls children from completing even lower secondary school, especially for parents who cannot afford school fees and need their children to help with chores, field work or generating an income.
But we seek to stop the cycle of abuse while addressing the barriers to education. Honoring Free Methodist missionary Paula Guazon, we are partnering with International Child Care Ministries and national leaders in India, Cambodia, the Philippines, Haiti and Bulgaria to support young, emerging leaders in these locations who are otherwise held back from attending post-secondary education due to poverty. The Paula Guazon Freedom Scholarship removes those barriers by funding tertiary education for students in these resource-poor countries who are pursuing justice-oriented degrees.
This is more than an opportunity to help young leaders and their families to pursue brighter futures. The ripple effects of this scholarship will surge into entire communities. These aspiring social service workers will become a transforming presence in society by being equipped to address the vulnerabilities that may lead to exploitation, such as poverty, racism, migration, legal injustice, abuse and more.
Project 3: ICCM in Cambodia
Cambodia has long been known as a hotspot for human trafficking. According to the Global Slavery Index, an estimated 41 percent of Cambodia’s population are vulnerable to human trafficking. Sexual exploitation as well as forced labor, marriage and begging are prevalent. Cambodia’s thriving sex tourism industry preys especially on vulnerable children living on the streets.
But International Child Care Ministries is working to prevent this from happening in the first place.
In partnership with the national church, Set Free and other agencies, ICCM seeks to reduce vulnerability to human trafficking among ICCM-sponsored children in Cambodia. The primary strategy will be to incorporate anti-trafficking awareness and education into existing programs, using a community-based process. This program will reach thousands of children, parents, pastors and church members.
A hopeful response
As Bethany Hoang writes, “Seeking justice doesn’t begin at the door of a brothel. Seeking justice begins with seeking the God of justice.”
We know that human trafficking and its compounding issues are creating a global crisis. Our hearts are broken that an estimated 40 million people are enslaved in our world today (fmchr.ch/iloslavery). These are not people who are paid a low wage and who go home at the end of the day. These are people who are trapped in violence, threatened and abused in horrific ways.
Our world may be broken, but we are not powerless. That is what we declare on Freedom Sunday.
By gathering in the direction of freedom, we declare together that all humans were created in God’s image and were not meant to be used and abused for the purpose or profit of others.
By worshipping in the direction of freedom, we acknowledge that God is the one who is in control of all things. We lament and confess as we seek God’s forgiveness, but we also seek God’s blessing. As we sing, we invite the Holy Spirit to bring hope and empowerment. As we pray, we place Jesus in the center and unite together with the mission of Jesus to proclaim good news to the poor, to set captives free, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord (Luke 4:18–19). Worship is incredibly powerful and is the fuel for pursuing justice.
By giving in the direction of freedom on Freedom Sunday, Free Methodists have the opportunity to be part of a movement that is not just stemming the tide of human trafficking but is working to transform the entire system. This is more than a movement to seek justice—it’s about pursuing shalom. Alongside effective, sustainable programs in education, prevention, advocacy, rescue and restoration, the three Freedom Sunday projects are bringing healing to broken relationships, shifting the harmful values that perpetuate abuse, restoring fragmented communities, and recreating unjust systems.
But God is the only one who can bring healing to the brokenness. Jesus came to set all people free physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, and He offers both forgiveness and healing. This is the gospel. The church, with Jesus at the center, led by the Spirit, helps others find freedom. It’s not just emancipation (freedom from something) but liberation: the full expression that begins with freedom and moves to citizenship and human flourishing.
In order to do this, we need to lean into community. We need to be a united people of hope. This Freedom Sunday, will you join with us and thousands of others around the world to be part of the solution? Click here to register.
Kevin Austin, D.Min., is the director of the Set Free Movement and a Free Methodist missionary working to end modern-day slavery. Katie Bergman is the director of operations and communications for the Set Free Movement and the author of “When Justice Just Is.” Austin and Bergman are the authors of “Urban Shalom: Restoring Hope and Justice to Communities Affected by Modern Slavery.”