Shoes Against Human Trafficking

You’re looking at over 4000 pairs of shoes.

Imagine the people who might have worn them: men, women, children from every nation, every race. Now imagine 7000 people standing behind each of them. Can you see them?

Those are the people currently held in slavery around the world … TODAY.

I’m not talking about pre-Civil War America or even Ancient Egypt. I’m talking about 2013.

While we’ve spent the past couple weeks railing on one another over gun rights, gay marriage and how our nation should be spending our money, these people have disappeared. We’ve planned vacations, redecorated our homes, and argued over school budgets. They’ve watched their actual human rights be stripped from them, day after day, held captive, exploited, abused and all too often forgotten. Those other things are important; don’t get me wrong. But let’s try a little perspective.

I’ve written about human trafficking a number of times on this blog, most recently in January. That post outlined five relatively easy ways to get involved. You could do almost all of them right from your laptop. Today I want to share with you something different. It’s a little less comfortable. It requires more than a click or two on the internet, but you can do it.

Shoes Against Human Trafficking at WPU

The InterVarsity Christian Fellowship students at William Paterson University decided to raise awareness about human trafficking. Their goal: to create a visual display that would show people the enormity of the problem and prompt them toward action. I was fortunate to get involved, both as a representative from our church and my local community.

We spent four weeks collecting shoes. Our aim was to have 27,000 pairs of shoes, each pair representing 1000 people held in bondage. We didn’t reach our goal, but it was still an amazing event. Even with just 4100 pairs of shoes, the image staggered. Multiply it and imagine.

After collecting the shoes and creating the display, campus leaders hosted an informative open-air event  on Palm Sunday. They used the platform to educate people about human trafficking and what we can do to stop it. We also gathered together in a circle of prayer. It was beautiful and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it.

What happens to the shoes? We partnered with Soles4Souls, a shoe recycling charity that distributes collected shoes to those in need around the globe. The shoes may not reach the lost people they represented, but they will bring hope and warmth to homeless and orphans from Nashville to Haiti, from LA to Africa.

This is something you can do, too!

You don’t have to do exactly what we did. You don’t have to collect shoes or partner with Soles4Souls. You can, however, do something — anything — that informs and makes an impact. Try a lemonade stand or a community garage sale with proceeds going to IJM (International Justice Mission). Host a showing of one of the many gripping documentaries, such as Half the Sky or Not Today (opening in theaters April 12th). Use your book club as a platform. I listed four great book choices in January’s post and link to more on my facebook page. Host a freedom walk. They had one in Buffalo this past weekend that went very well. My point is that it doesn’t have to be a shoe drive or an open-air campaign.

Let me share with you what I appreciated most about this particular event. All of the following factors could be implemented into any of the ideas listed above.

  • It was tangible. I was actually doing something rather than just talking about doing something.
  • It was nonthreatening. I was able to help people (clean out their cluttered closets) while they helped others (by raising awareness without even trying). I didn’t have to preach at anyone. I never once felt like I made others uncomfortable by raising the issue.
  • It involved the community. This event crossed boundaries between ministry and community involvement. It presented the church (universal church, not just my local church) as a positive light that cared about important issues and engaged the community to do the same. It made Christians visible and relevant in a world that too often sees us as passive aggressive and judgmental.
  • It educated and equipped. Even before the open-air event, news spread with facts, statistics and action items. Those who attended the event received even more information about the truth of modern-day slavery and what we can do about it. Those who want to make a difference no longer feel helpless to do so.
  • It permitted whole families to participate.

My biggest struggle with missions education and experience relates to the limits placed on those who can participate.

You can’t be married; you have to be married.
You must be at least this age; you can’t be any older than this age.
One constant: Kids stay home.

Even our local homeless shelter and food bank won’t let me bring my kids to serve meals or distribute prepackaged food. It’s very frustrating!

This event allowed me to involve my kids.

Our children are seven and nine years old. I didn’t share with them details about girls being kidnapped and sold or facts about human trafficking truths. I did talk to them about slavery, but in age-appropriate, rather sterile terms. In their minds slavery relates to working in fields or factories, not brothels and basement hotels. That’s enough for them right now. They don’t need to know all the atrocities to make a difference.

Zach loved loading the truck and helping to distribute and sort the bags. Ellie was all about the shoes, making sure we had complete pairs and that we counted each bag properly (and that none of the really cute ones fit her). They both encouraged people to give. They both got excited about helping people they’d never met. And they both could not wait to see the pictures when I returned from the event. It was fun! And it made an impact.

Tomorrow for Wordless Wednesday I’ll share more photos of the event. In the meantime, I want to encourage you to visit the links I’ve provided above, especially my last post on slavery that prompts you to sign petitions and research movements toward abolition.

More than that, however, I want you to pray. Pray for the victims and the violators. Pray about what God wants you to do. It may be in this battle for human rights; it may be an entirely different battle. It may be something global or something close and local. I don’t know what it is, but I know He wants you to do something; I have no doubt. Pray about it. And, if you feel led, share it here. I’d love to follow your divinely appointed adventure!

Your Turn: What service activities or events have you experienced that include whole families and whole communities?

For more tools on Raising a Mission-Minded Family, follow my Pinterest board. I post links to articles, educational websites, practical ideas and inspiring stories for whole families seeking to serve and reach the lost all for the glory of God.

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