By: Cecilia Lopez
Freedom- The state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint; the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action, liberation from slavery or restraint- or from the power of another.
When we think of freedom we often categorize the word within our nation's history. In a time we do not know, and have yet to realize. Our minds just cannot think of a time in our generation, in our precious country, when a group of people where sold as property, kept in conditions that were less than par, and without any choice to make on their own accord.
What if I told you that there are more people enslaved today, than ever before in world history?
What if I told you that these enslaved people are among us, each and every day?
According to A21.org there are millions of slaves in the world today. More than ever before in human history, and only 1% of victims are ever rescued.
I'm sure that by now, you are a little confused and not real sure what I am talking about. Let me explain because these are the statistics that shook me to my core. These are the statistics that were engraved in my mind and in my heart for months, before I decided to be a part of the solution. And like you, I was confused. I just couldn't understand, and sometimes I still struggle with these numbers.
Human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs. It is considered to rank among the top three in biggest organized crimes in the world. Up there with drugs and weapons.
In 2015, I joined a Walk for Freedom in Killeen, TX. Four hours from San Antonio, where I reside. A21 is a global organization in the fight against human trafficking internationally. They have twelve offices around the world, two in the U.S. As part of spreading awareness on this issue, they have a global event called a Walk for Freedom. It happens all over the world, on the same day. For a period of twenty-four hours there is a new walk starting every five mins somewhere around the world. It's a very powerful, and moving event. My first experience with this walk was in Killeen. There was nothing closer to San Antonio. I couldn't understand that.
I drove the four hours in anticipation to join with abolitionists at this walk and make a difference. Not really knowing what to expect. As I drove home, I was so impressed with the young lady who hosted the walk. She was a senior in high school. The school she attended required a major project before graduation. She mentioned her classmates were putting on walks for breast cancer, and other types of events. She'd met Christine Caine, the founder of A21 a few summers before at a church camp where she was a guest speaker. She remembered being heart broken by what Christine described on the topic of human trafficking, and thought that the Walk for Freedom would be the perfect event she would host for her project. Impressed by her, and with some help from the Holy Spirit, I knew I was called to do the same in my city.
n 2016, without knowing how everything was going to play out, I decided I would not only host the Walk for Freedom in my city, but I would also start an A-Team [Abolitionist Team]. I met so many people who would become great friends, and help me accomplish this goal I had set out to do. There were some bumps in the road, but overall, we put on a wonderful event. We had a few shy of 300 participants. The impact on so many people was just overwhelming.At this point, we knew we had to do it again.
My goal of hosting a walk turned into creating a non-profit organization, becoming a part of AACAT [Alamo Area Coalition Against Trafficking], having many allies in this fight against trafficking, and being a part of the Super Bowl Justice Rally in 2017.
As a team, we set out to begin the planning for 2017 Walk for Freedom. From the onset, things were rough. Planning was not easy. There were many pieces that had become so difficult, so expensive, and so unexpected. We prayed throughout the year, that somehow everything would work out. As the day approached, things seem to fall into place. There were a few loose ends we had to prepare for. The day finally arrived and with anticipation, we gathered.
The morning started a little rough. There were a few things that transpired that added worry and weight on my heart. As the walk began, and there were things happening both during the walk and back at the park where we began, that were out of our control. I remember praying as I walked- ' Lord, cover this event with your peace. Settle my heart. Be here with us. Let your grace cover us.'
As we finished the walk, we had a live band playing worship music with songs geared toward freedom. My heart rejoiced, and I was quickly reminded that no matter what was transpiring all around, the goal of our event was being fulfilled.
As I met with several people after the event, including our guest speaker, when I heard someone say they thought there was a survivor walking this walk with us. My heart stopped for a second. At the moment, the only words I could think were: 'We did this for her! She was THE ONE!'
After I went home, those words just resonated in my mind and in my heart. I became undone. In the quietness of my time in prayer, I opened my heart and every tear that I'd held. Every worry I'd kept inside. Every fear I had. Were now soothed over by the realization of what had just occurred. That day our ONE was in the midst of our cause. The ONE we fight for. The ONE we pray for. The ONE we walk for.
She was there.
I still get emotional telling that story. All of the trouble we went through all year, even the day of....had now made sense. We have a very real enemy who will stop at nothing to make sure we do not see anyone saved. Today, we not only walked for the ONE. We walked WITH the ONE. Side by side, declaring that freedom rings, and Jesus saves. Today, our enemy didn't win. Freedom did. Freedom will always win- and we are here to make sure of it. We are modern-day abolitionists, Freedom Chasers.
Definition of Freedom: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/freedom & http://www.dictionary.com/browse/freedom
Definition of Human Trafficking: https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/what-is-human-trafficking.html
By: Harmony S. Vuy
Our world is experiencing a love drought of epidemic proportions these days. Elicit billboards with sexy imagery line the highways in anticipation of men wanting a pleasure break from their long and lonely drives. Women (and even girls) get caught up in the industry of temporary satisfaction in search of the seemingly elusive concept called love. They are on the receiving end of an unwanted demonstration of imposter love that reveals itself through association and expectation. Someone lied to them and led them to believe that they had to work for it. And the only thing that is going to stop their accidental pursuit of unhealthy love is a purposeful response of healthy love.
“Dear children, let's not merely say that we love each other;
let us show the truth by our actions.”
1 John 3:18
Love by Association
Fifteen-year old Susie turns to Facebook when things get tough at home. She lives in a nice neighborhood and has everything she needs but her relationship with her parents isn’t what it used to be. Her dad never asks her how she’s doing when he picks her up from school. When she skips dinner to cry in her room over bad grades or last night’s argument with her best friend, he just assumes that’s what teenage girls do: they thrive on drama. He isn’t trying to ignore her. He just doesn’t know how to talk to her about her feelings so he leaves it be. And Susie feels neglected and sad. However, her new Facebook friend, John, does listen to her complain about school and friends. He messages her at just the right time of day, when she’s the most likely to be in her room trying to tune her parents out. And he promises her that he can give her what she wants as well as what she needs. He promises to love her the way she DESERVES to be loved. So she believes him. She turns from what she’s always known as safe and familiar to something new and exciting in a desperate attempt to feel loved and wanted. To feel heard. She associates his offer of fancy things and freedom from her house rules with childhood dreams of Prince Charming and fairy-tale endings. The season of romance is short, however. John lures her away from home with promises of forever but takes off the mask of protector and loving boyfriend when she leaves her safety net. Now she’s trapped in a strange place doing awful things for money that she never sees with men that are twice her age. She’s disgusted and ashamed but she can’t walk away now. What would her friends and family think? Why didn’t anyone tell her that love doesn’t look like dollar signs or feel like an obligation? Love that was once seen as picnics and roses is now seen as threats and debt. She’s trapped.
Love by Expectation
Tracy needs $500 to pay her past due rent this month. She’s waitressing at the diner close to school so she doesn’t have to waste gas on driving back and forth between shifts, but she’s still not saving enough to pay the bills. She can’t ask her mom for money because she’s also struggling to make ends meet herself. She always has. That’s why Tracy moved out as soon as she turned eighteen. She knew she had to make something of herself or else she would end up like her mom. Always dependent on someone else. But lately, her minimum wage paychecks weren’t cutting it and her grades were dropping as a result of agreeing to work longer shifts. Enter Buddy. One night after an extremely grueling 8-hour day, Buddy walks in and orders some french fries and a coke. He makes small talk with Tracy, trying to lighten her mood. He has a way with words that make her feel special somehow. Noticed. He knows she’s been slaving away at this place for months now. He says he wants to help her out and that he manages the strip club down the street. She’s too beautiful to be hiding behind an apron with ketchup stains on it all day. She could be working less and making more, Buddy says. After all, with her looks, guys will be falling in love with her at first glance. Her tips could be triple what she makes at the diner. Tracy feels a knot in the pit of her stomach as Buddy tells her how the guys at the club would drop hundreds of dollars a night on her. She hates to even consider it but she doesn’t know what else to do to make rent. She tells herself it’s only temporary. She’ll be graduating in a few years and then she can actually make money doing what she loves. This is just a necessary part of growing up she thinks to herself. We all have to sacrifice to make ends meet at some point, right? Her independent mindset brings expectations that she must fulfill. I mean, actresses sleep with movie directors all the time to get the part. This is just her way of paying her dues. Pay now, play later?
“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”
You may think that these scenarios are uncommon but, unfortunately, they’re not. The first situation represents Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking and it is happening, on average, about 275 times a day right here in the United States. The typical age of a girl being trafficked is 12-14 years old. (Think Freedom Campaign)
The second situation represents fatherlessness which, according to the National Center for Fathering, “is the most significant family or social problem facing America.”
Why do girls like Susie and Tracy end up making the choices they do? The answers vary but one thread remains the same through them all: There’s always more to the story than what we see on the outside.
Church, we have to rise to the occasion before us. We must respond to these situations and those like them with heartfelt love and compassion. It’s not enough to just tell these women that we love them. That’s what the traffickers and clients do. We have to show them. And it has to be the all-in, messy, get our hands dirty, no matter the cost, kind of love. No judgement or condemnation for the paths they were on. If we, as Christ’s chosen representatives don’t step in, then who will? How can they ever hope to be healed without divine intervention? Aren’t we supposed to lead the way to the Healer? Rescue is not just a single act that takes place once to remove someone from a dangerous situation. It’s daily. It’s hard work. And these girls need to know that they’re worth it.
To get involved in the fight against human trafficking,
check out some of these amazing resources:
Liars and Posers
January was Human Trafficking awareness month in the United States. For our team, it was a great opportunity to share the real facts, statistics, and stories of Human Trafficking in our city, and state. Every number represents a story- a person. Every news report includes someone’s daughter, someone’s son.
As abolitionists it’s easy to see the numbers as just facts on a screen. As new details for a presentation. My prayer is that we never become desensitized to the reality of human trafficking. That our burden would always be fresh, and our passion always fueled.
Although January is over, the issue doesn’t end…therefore our work for freedom continues. As we work throughout the year to bring more attention to this issue, I pray that you would consider what you can do towards this issue? What influence do you have that would help to bring freedom to others? What skills / talents do you have that would help this fight?
I strongly believe that this fight cannot be won by one person, one group- but every person doing their part, and contributing to see that every person be free.
Human trafficking has many faces, many possible scenarios, yet all evil, and all inhumane. All requiring different levels of attention, and all requiring a long term healing process.
Will you join me in praying for this issue? For praying for our city, and this problem? Perhaps you don’t live in San Antonio, TX. Pray for this issue in your city. This crime happens in major cities, as well as rural areas, and suburbs.
No can do everything, but everyone can do something. First things first, let’s pray.
San Antonio Community,
Thank you for a warm welcome in 2016. We sincerely appreciate all of the work, all of the help, all of the contributions that you’ve made towards FREEDOM.
As a new non-profit organization, we have seen and experienced first-hand all of the hard work it takes to serve and be available to our community. We embraced it in 2016, and will continue to work towards FREEDOM in 2017.
As an A-Team (Abolitionist Team) under the global A21 Organization, and a local non-profit; we are in a great position to not only align our service work under A21, but across to our local community and work together to combat human trafficking.
We thank you for a great 2016, and look forward to serving you in 2017.
This holiday season, as you prepare to join with family and friends- we ask that you say a prayer for every person who is still enslaved. For every family that still holds a place at the dinner table awaiting a loved one who’s been taken. For every family that has suffered the loss of a loved one due to this injustice. For every person that has been rescued and still suffers the mental and emotional trauma. For every organization, and person who fights against human trafficking.
From the A21 Freedom Chasers- Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Have you ever been looking forward to something so much, that you overlook what otherwise would seem like common sense? I can't say that I've made a habit of this. In fact, I would like to think that I'm fairly thorough in planning, and careful at executing just about anything. I think my military background helps me in this area.
I began the brainstorming phase of this journey in late March 2016, and immediately began planning the specific routes, the supplies I would need, and the budget of this journey. As I set my course and began to condition my body to the exposure of riding day after day, I was convinced I could do it on my own with zero support. My friends and my family expressed their concerns, yet I felt I was capable. I thought to myself, 'What could really go wrong?'
A few weeks before the commencement of my ride across the big and hot state of Texas, my family and friends all volunteered their personal time to shadow me in a support vehicle on this journey. I was never more grateful for that, than on day two. I realized then, that I had been wrong.
Thirty minutes after leaving Ft Hancock, I was forced to leave the roadways and enter the Chihuahuan Desert. The first section was twenty-nine miles. It only took a few hundred feet for me to realize I was entering a world of hurt. What was marked on the map as a service road turned out to be a sand pit of pain and suffering. Every single pedal stroke had my front wheel going in one direction, and my rear wheel spinning and pushing in the opposite direction. It was almost as if the desert wanted to throw me off of my bicycle. It was intense. Staying upright and not falling off of my bike, took every ounce of energy I had within me. There were stretches I could not pedal through and taking up my bike walking was the only option. This was a really tough mental ride. Throwing in the towel crossed my mind so many times, but I kept pushing. I reminded myself of my mission and realized it was too important to walk away from. Using the excuse that it was "too hard" was not an option for me. As I rode on this stretch of desert, I started to quickly realize that my stubbornness and ignorance could have caused me severe injury, and maybe even death if I had not accepted the assistance of my family and friends.
I have the luxury of a shadow vehicle fully equipped with water, energy drinks, and nutritional items to keep me fueled. Without this aid I would not have made it out of the desert alive. Cycling for Freedom, would have ended much different. There is no amount of training that can prepare you for spending extended periods of time in these desert conditions. I immediately became grateful. I made it through that day. It was not because I was able to endure the physical and mental strain, but because I had a support system in place to ensure I made it out alive.
Victims of human trafficking do not have the luxuries I have on this journey. I am able to finish my days replacing lost calories with food, and drinking all the water my body can handle. I end my days knowing that I have a place to rest to regain my strength.
My journey to cycle across Texas is my choice. No one has forced this upon me. Every pedal stroke I take, I choose to put myself through temporary pain in hopes that this story will start the conversation, and pave a path to ending modern day slavery. Those being held against their will need us to act. The silence surrounding this horrific crime needs to end.
I challenge you to start the conversation with the words of a holocaust survivor below-
We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.'
- John F. Kennedy, January 20, 1961
Hello, my name is George Aranda. I am a United States Veteran. You may have recently seen me on social media, promoting my ride across Texas, Cycling for Freedom. As a veteran, I have protected the freedoms that we so proudly enjoy in this country. As of recently, I have become aware of a heinous crime that exists in our country, in our state, and most surprisingly - in our own backyards. For many years, I believed that human trafficking existed in other countries....but not in ours. As I came to work closely with the A21 Freedom Chasers, and becoming one myself, I have become aware of this modern day fight for slavery. Knowing that we have more humans in slavery today, than ever before, is a thought that makes me cringe. For years, I was satisfied with the thought of being a veteran, and having served my country in previous years.
As an A21 Freedom Chaser, I am continuing the fight for freedom. I am now a voice for the voiceless. Why? Why not. As an American citizen, as a U.S. Veteran, as a human being- I cannot ignore the startling statistics. I can not sit silently while others take this fight on. For my family, for your family - my fight for freedom continues.
Follow along with me during this journey as I share my thoughts with you:
Today, 23 July 2016, I arrived in El Paso TX on the eve of Cycling for Freedom. This journey has consisted of several months of training, preparation and plenty of sleepless nights.
Here in El Paso, I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Cynthia Horton and Sarah Romero from Paso Del Norte Center for Hope. They greeted me with praise for the journey that lay ahead, as we had a great conversation on the progress that El Paso is making in the battle against human trafficking.
It is amazing to hear the number of service organizations that have partnered with them to take on this battle. The dedication Cynthia and Sarah have towards this cause is evident in their conversation, as they share stories of success. Witnessing their passion provided me with even more fuel and determination to bring awareness, and an end, to modern day slavery.
I am honored and humbled to be on a mission that will help bring freedom back to those who are a victim of these horrific crimes.
May 26th marked the Day of the Missing Children, reminding us all to be vigilant and continue the search for the missing. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports 1 of 5 children reported missing were most likely sex trafficked (http://www.missingkids.com/home). The actual numbers may be much higher and impossible to confirm due to the secrecy that surrounds this heinous crime. Offenders, for obvious reasons, will not discuss their crimes, and victims often feel too ashamed to speak up.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children lists numerous resources for victims and their families in addition to their 24 hour hotline 800-THE-LOST. Other ways to contribute in bringing them back is to sign up for one or more email lists to receive information about NCMEC activities, subscribing to receive missing child alerts in RSS format, and joining the Poster Partner Program and receive alerts via email when the poster of a child missing from your local area becomes available (http://www.missingkids.com/StayInformed).
Let's do what we can, as a community, to bring these children back!
The Human Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud or coercion) for an improper purpose including forced labor sexual exploitation.
Do you know that there are different categories of human trafficking?
They are foreign, domestic, gang controlled, pimp controlled, familial, survival, rural, urban, sex and labor. All of them have one thing in common; the victim feels helpless and is forced to comply with the demands of the traffickers. The best defense is to recognize the RED FLAGS that indicate you may be vulnerable to being exploited before it is too late. Find out more about the RED FLAGS
The Link Between Child Abuse and Human Trafficking
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. According to an article in the San Antonio Express News, published on March 31, 2016- ‘Last year, the Children’s Shelter was unable to place more than 2,700 children in its foster-care program, due to a critical shortage of licensed foster-care homes in Bexar County. Almost 70 percent of the children, removed from their parents because of abuse or neglect, were 5 and younger.’
Safe Horizon reports that ‘Abused children are 25% more likely to experience teen pregnancy. In a study of young adults who suffered child abuse or neglect, 80% met criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder by age 21, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicide attempts. In a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study of homeless youth, it found that 46% of those surveyed had escaped a home where they suffered physical abuse, and 17% left because of sexual abuse.’
These numbers are depressing, but even more shocking, is the realization that those children are often targeted by human traffickers due to their vulnerabilities left by prior abuses. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s studies show that ‘Runaway and homeless youth are vulnerable to trafficking. A study in Chicago found that 56 percent of prostituted women were initially runaway youth and similar numbers have been identified for male populations. Runaway and homeless youth lack a strong supportive network and runaway to unfamiliar environments and are particularly at risk of trafficking. Runaway youth are often approached by traffickers at transportation hubs, shelters or other public spaces. These traffickers pretend to be a boyfriend or significant other, using feigned affection and manipulation to elicit commercial sex or services from the victim.’Their findings also include that ‘Individuals who have experienced violence and trauma in the past are more vulnerable to future exploitation, as the psychological effect of trauma is often long-lasting and challenging to overcome. Victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, war and conflict or social discrimination may be targeted by traffickers, who recognize the vulnerabilities left by these prior abuses. Violence and abuse may be normalized or beliefs of shame or unworthiness lead to future susceptibility to human trafficking.’
Help stop this injustice from happening and become an advocate for a child today! If you are in the San Antonio areas see the attached links for more information.
National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888
National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-Child 1-800-422-4453
Those interested in becoming foster parents through the Children’s Shelter can call (210) 212-2500 or visit childrensshelter.org.
On 17 March 2016 A21 Freedom Chaser joined the ranks of Super Heroes during the annual Run 4 Hope sponsored by the San Antonio Rape Crisis Center. People of all ages, and some of their furry friends, showed their support for victims of sexual assault by dressing up as their favorite hero and dedicating a moment of silence prior to the race. It was a powerful moment, uniting people from all different backgrounds to champion for victims rights.
A recent study by the University of Texas in Austin revealed that 2 in 5 women and 1 in 5 men will experience a sexual assault during their lifetime. The actual numbers may be much higher as not all assaults are reported for a variety of reasons. Victims may be too ashamed to report the assault and/or made to feel they provoked the act. The Rape Crisis Center is helping San Antonio lead the way in providing support to victims and their families.
If you want to join the ranks of super heroes it is not too late. You can make a difference; help shine a light on violence against men, women and children! Check out how the San Antonio Rape Crisis center continues to make a difference in our community at http://rapecrisis.com/get-involved/.