A21 Walk for Freedom
I sat under my bedroom desk, desperate to run away. The only thing between me and my next mistake was scrap material sewn together from the dresses Mom made us when I was little. For my thirteenth birthday, she’d turned the scraps into a quilt she placed inside my hope chest.
Ha. In the two years since then, I’d nearly made a career of messing up. “There’s only one thing I can do right,” I told myself. “Might as well make a living at it.”
Regret isn’t deadly. My response to it could have been. I thank God that instead of running away, I stayed home. Eventually, I rebranded myself. Rather than flashing my maturing body like a vacancy sign, I became known for compassion and a strong mind.
Not everyone gets that choice.
Last Saturday, October 14, 2017, thousands of people in 50 countries joined together for the A21 Walk for Freedom. Silently, mouths covered, they walked in support of those who can’t call for help. According to the International Labor Organization, approximately 24.9 million children and adults are trapped in forced labor, including 4.8 million being exploited sexually. Some are sold by their own families, some get into debts they can never repay, others are manipulated into lives of terror and shame.
It’s overwhelming, so we might tell ourselves the statistics must be wrong. Perhaps they’re including people who want to be in the sex trade. People in cultures where the rules are different, or in situations of their own making. We know better, so we stop denying statistics and sigh, “It’s too much. There’s nothing I can do.”
In 400 cities last week, people did something.
Christine Caine, co-founder of A21 says, “It is easy to ignore suffering on the earth and not get involved and feel hopeless when something is nameless and faceless, when it’s just a number. But all of a sudden, you put a name and you put a face to that number, and everything changes.”
Since 2008, A21 has been doing something. They’re recognizing and rescuing victims, restoring them and equipping them for new lives.
They’re also educating free people. Think back to the time before you realized slaves might be making your shoes. It made a difference when consumers became informed. Now, A21 is making a difference by providing curriculum so our children learn their own value, and so they learn to recognize and avoid predators. Before the walk in Tulsa, Corporal Trace Zeller said the trafficking cases he’s worked have always begun with someone taking a girl out for a mani-pedi. She feels special until she hears, “Now you owe me.” Manipulation turns to abuse and threats.
A21 is teaching everyone how to recognize victims and speak up.
If you meet a fearful or overly submissive person who’s accompanied by someone that controls the person with threatening body language, verbal harshness or physical restraint, you might be witnessing an abusive relationship or trafficking situation. Scars and bruises are often hidden, in areas that won’t diminish the dollar value of the victim. Victims are often distrustful of those who offer them assistance, having lost hope that anyone truly wants to help. They might have a cell phone but no other belongings; they might not be allowed to hold onto their own money or drive themselves around.
It’s hard to think about, I know. But in the convenience store, in the bus station, a few streets down from where you park each day, someone needs this nightmare to end. Today, you can support A21’s efforts financially, and you can also bring their curriculum to your adult or young-adult group for very little cash. I’m not affiliated with A21 or receiving compensation from them—I’m just impressed with their work and ready for us to win this battle.
We outnumber them.
My mama’s scrap quilt made a difference. Memories of innocent times, a mom who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, the desire to prove myself to my tough but loving father…those things saved my life. Today, even if your kid has a list of mistakes longer than a Christmas catalogue, say, “Hey. I love you. Let’s get through this together.”