The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 7, 2013

Church raising awareness of slavery

By Robb Murray


It may have seemed unusual, a dozen people standing on the side of the road holding signs up calling for an end to slavery.

But here’s a fact that might blow your mind: According to International Justice Mission, there are 27 million slaves in the world, more than any other time in history. Many of them are children. And many are forced into lives of sexual slavery.

That’s what prompted the members of Elevate Church to create signs and stand in the snowbanks that line Victory Drive, which runs past their building, waving at passing cars. By standing outside for 27 straight hours, they’re hoping to raise awareness Ñ and money Ñ for a problem many people don’t fully understand.

Elevate’s all-night event was part of a national effort by more than 500 churches and other organizations throughout the United States. By Thursday morning, they’d already raised nearly $5,000, all of which will go to the Minneapolis offices of International Justice Mission.

Elevate Pastor Ron Phares brought the idea to Elevate. He attended a conference several years ago in Atlanta where he first heard about International Justice Mission. That’s where he listened to a talk by Gary Haugen, the national leader of the movement to end human slavery and sexual slavery.

“He said, ‘Everybody wants to go in and rescue the kids. But awareness is doing the work,’” Phares recalled.

So Phares decided to bring the work of International Justice Mission to the people of his church. That’s what the all-night event was all about.

Called “Stand-up For Freedom,” Phares’ people stood, in three-hour shifts, on the curb near the church. They started at 4 p.m. Wednesday and were done by 7 p.m. Thursday; 27 hours for the estimated 27 million people in slavery around the world.

One of the church members putting in time on the street was Susan Meyers, a 25-year-old transplant from Denver. She said she moved to Mankato because her husband was offered a job here.

She said she was interested in the issue of slavery back in Denver, and was happy to see her chosen church in Mankato was making it a priority, too.

“It’s something I’m passionate about. It’s devastating,” Meyers said. “These men, women and children are defenseless. ... Everyone is getting hurt by this issue. It’s destroying lives, destroying families.”

Meyers said that while she was on the curb holding up her sign to passing motorists, cars honked their horns and waved. A few people even stopped to talk to the group. When they did, church members told them all about the issue of slavery.

Phares says he’s hoping that once people understand the problem, their conscience won’t let them stand idly by.

“One day, my daughter will ask me, ‘Dad, where were you on this issue?’” Phares said. “I don’t want to tell her I did nothing.”