Monday, March 25, 2013

Stand for Freedom: Raising Awareness for Global Slavery

It’s 7:36 a.m., and I’m trudging through the winter weather to grab breakfast in the Lane Student Center. On the chapel lawn, I squint through the wind to see a girl wrapped in a blanket, standing alone over a small smoking fire pit. In her hands she holds a crooked sign with two words painted in white over black: END IT.

At this early hour, she’s the only one standing. In an hour or two, however, more will join her. The numbers vary with the time, but over the course of 27 hours there will always be someone standing there representing this message. As my fellow students and I go about our busy days, we will pass this makeshift gathering place, looking at the students at the fire with a mixture of confusion and awe. A lot of us know they’re standing for freedom, but we don’t really understand why they have braved the cold at all hours of night and day. The story those students tell shows their determination to fight for a cause in the midst of the college life routine.

Stand for Freedom, part of the END IT Movement and the International Justice Mission, is an initiative on college campuses across the country to raise awareness about global slavery. Students stand for a period of 27 hours, representing the 27 million slaves in the world today—more than at any other time in the history of the world.

Angel Nguyen '16 was one of the organizers behind Stand for Freedom here on campus. She credits her awareness of modern-day slavery to a Passion conference she attended with other Gordon students, where she heard powerful stories of individual slaves and learned about International Justice Mission (IJM) chapters at colleges and universities. When they returned from the conference, Nguyen, along with fellow first-year students Amber Woods '16 and Julia Bartos '16, they started their plans for an IJM chapter at Gordon and began planning for Gordon students to participate in the nationwide Stand for Freedom event.

After three packed-out weeks of planning, recruiting, advertising, praying, and support from Gordon's student-run Human Network, the new group began its 27-hour-long stand for freedom on the chapel lawn. There were scheduled times of prayer, Scripture reading, and worship music, and performances of poetry by members of the student Spoken Word group. Between events, students came and went, talked in low voices, or stood in silence. At times, 30 or more people huddled around the fire in knit hats, holding their Bibles. For the entirety of the event, the fire ring was never abandoned.

“We stood for 27 hours,” says Nguyen. “We took shifts, of course. When it was freezing temperatures at night and started to rain we had to really pray and focus on why we were doing it all.” 

In spite of the challenges proffered by the March weather, the students at Stand for Freedom remained steadfast in their purpose. Multiple students testified to one stand-out moment in which they felt God’s power. Toward the end of the 27 hours, under a dry sky, the students sang worship songs—and switched to singing “Let it Rain,” when raindrops started falling around them. As soon as the song ended, so did the rain. “I got chills during that moment,” says Nguyen. “You could physically and literally feel God’s presence in our group as we were praising him.”

The 27-hour Stand For Freedom event has ended, but those involved continue to emphasize that engaging with global issues like slavery is not just for those in the mission field. As Nguyen put it, “This is the kind of thing all Christians should try to do.” Julia Bartos ’16 agreed, saying, “The church needs to be leading the fight against human trafficking, educating people who don’t yet know about it, and rejoicing in the Spirit’s work taking place.” And to those who believe an awareness event does little for the cause, Nguyen says, “Awareness is action. Maybe we cannot go into the field and rescue victims, but that does not mean that we should do nothing. God uses what we have to make a difference—if we offer it up to him.” That’s the focus these student are trying to cultivate as they stand as an example of justice on a global scale. Amber Woods ’16 added, “It’s about the broken reaching out to the broken, and pushing for the redemption and love we’ve all received through grace.”
Nguyen, Woods, and Bartos plan to establish an official chapter of the International Justice Mission at Gordon next year. In the meantime, Nguyen hopes for continued faith and support on campus for this cause. “Faith can move mountains,” she said, “and no prayer is unheard by God.”

To read more stories and student reflections from the Stand for Freedom event, check out the Human Network tumblr here.

Rebekah Connell ’15 is an English major from New York and student writer for the Office of College Communications. She has a concentration in creative writing and is published in Idiom, Cicada Magazine, and Thought Catalog.

Rebekah has been a writer for Notes Along the Way since freshman year, when her writing as a senior in high school grabbed the attention of an editor at Gordon. This fall, Rebekah will continue her studies in literature as she spends a semester abroad at Oxford University. 

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