To Proclaim Liberty to the Captives

Isaiah 60:1-3

Word of the Day – Super Bowl

        There’s a major event tonight. An event that even people who aren’t sports fans watch. Some of us will be looking for these guys to do well. Others will be cheering for these guys. Some may simply watch the game, not caring who wins. And people like me, will watch the commercials, eat during the game, and not really notice who wins anyways. And a few people may simply check the inside of their eyelids. But for a different group tonight. They will see something completely different. For them, this is what they will see.

        It is hidden behind the lights, the sounds, and the excitement of the game. Many people will say that it doesn’t affect me. Others will say that it happen other places. But never here. For many, we don’t think of it because it is out of sight. And out of mind. Side note. Did you know that crime tends to happen out of sight? It happens in a way that people do not know that a crime is being committed. I recently asked about this issue. Where to find information. One person replied, “I was at the 2011 Passion Conference in Atlanta when they focused on human trafficking. It was a surreal time of hearing what was going on underneath our noses.” Going on underneath our noses. And yet, we, like the author of the book of Isaiah, have been called to proclaim liberty to the captives.

        I’d like to introduce you to Sacharay. Sacharay was 14. And looking for a friend. She was at that time where she was growing up. She was becoming a high schooler soon. And she needed someone. She recalls getting picked on. She was dark-skinned and wore glasses. And she was sensitive. The hurts inflicted by her classmates led her to look elsewhere. An older classmate got to know her. And Sacharay felt that her fortunes had turned. That she finally had a friend. She recalls, "I thought she was like my best friend because I could tell her everything. One day she asked if I wanted to skip school and have fun, you know, so we went to the barber shop. When I was there, she introduced me to these guys." That day changed everything. Her friend introduced her to new friends. A man in his mid-30s noticed the 14 year old girl. He began to court her. He got her gifts. Paid her compliments. And gave her advice about adolescence. From there, he became more of a father figure than a boyfriend. But a father figure that took on characteristics of a marriage. To put it simply, it was child rape.

Things progressed from bad to worse. It started as a complicated relationship as father, boyfriend, and  lover. Then other men came into the picture. Sacharay began to do things for the man that made him money. He would endlessly thank her for what she did. But in reality, he manipulated her to do what he wanted. And his exploitation increased. As did her pain and confusion. But he didn’t care. He would make sure leaving wasn’t an option. He would show her a gun and say, “If you go somewhere, we'll see." As Christians, we have been called to proclaim liberty to the captives.

In one city alone, traffickers can make $32,000 a day. In Atlanta, the traffickers make over $290 million every year. And when the traffickers get busted, the women can be prosecuted for prostitution. But these aren’t prostitutes. These are victims. Victims of slavery on the streets of America. Their average age is essentially the age of Sacharay. 11-14 years old. Did you know that when a child runs away from home, there is a 1 in 3 chance that they will be approached by a trafficker within 48 hours of running away. And every year, the biggest event is the Super Bowl. Right now, as we sit here in worship today, women are being trafficked to Minneapolis. Or they are waiting in hotel rooms and back rooms. Waiting to be exploited for the financial gain of their traffickers. We have been called to proclaim liberty to the captives.

These stories are about Atlanta. They are about Minneapolis or wherever the Super Bowl is. It doesn’t happen here. Not in the Quad Cities. Not in rural Iowa or Illinois. Right? Wrong. A few years ago, an article told about trafficking in the Quad Cities. An organization called Braking Traffik had been setup. Their goal was to combat trafficking here. The chair of the organization, Maggie Tinsman, is a former state senator. She says, "It is a big issue and we're not doing anything about it. But the FBI has even told me that, you have it Quad Cities and you aren't doing anything about it.” She goes on to say, “It's here. It's just not obvious at all.” Once again, crime isn’t obvious. When criminals commit a crime, the generally hide it. A vehicle involved in trafficking could go past us and without us knowing. But we have been called to proclaim liberty to the captives.  

Fortunately, things are slowly changing. The state police in Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio are educating truckers on what to watch for. Stewardesses on airlines are also being trained. Churches are becoming more and more aware of it. Several years ago, I used to attend a church that held a Super Bowl party. At halftime, a group of believers would gather up and pray over the crimes that were being committed at that moment. They prayed for the victims. They prayed for the traffickers. And they prayed for the men who paid for the trafficking. They fulfilled the call to proclaim liberty to the captives.

You may be asking, what can I do? What can we do about this issue? Well, we first must know about it. Let’s say I asked, how many here today didn’t know that adult trafficking was a major backdrop to the Super Bowl? Or, what if I asked, how many knew that trafficking was a problem here? Or, what if I asked, how many knew the amount of money that traffickers make? I would venture a guess that most people would say no. Today is a starting point. The video we’re going to watch is a starting point. But more is needed. You can look up Braking Traffik to learn about the issue in the Quad Cities. Or, you can simply go to my blog marcshefelton.com and learn from the articles I posted this week. Acknowledgement is the start. But it’s not enough. The second part is action. We’ve been talking about the Holy Spirit in our Ghost series. And did you notice the words at the start of today’s scripture? “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” In the Spirit of the Lord is power and presence. In the Spirit of the Lord tonight, he can move within hearts. The Spirit of the Lord can change lives. Therefore, I challenge each one of us today to lift up our prayers. Pray during the Super Bowl. Pray for the victims. Pray for the perpetrators. Pray for the lonely and lost souls who are abusing these women. Because God is powerful. And when we pray, we proclaim liberty to the captives. Including the captives on their way to the Super Bowl this morning. Including those who are awaiting the events of tonight. Let us proclaim liberty to them through prayer.

But if I were you, I’d probably be saying to myself, Okay, I need to learn about this issue. Tonight, I need to pray about this issue. What next? What can I do to help that trapped and abused woman that drives past me? My answer may surprise you. What more can we do? I don’t know. But this is a start. And even though we may not have an answer, God does. So when you pray, ask him for guidance.

        Back to Sacharay. The fourteen year old looking for a friend. Working her way through those awkward middle school years. Trapped. Sacharay found her way to a sanctuary run by a local non-profit. They provided for her in ways that she had previously thought were unattainable. They found her a job. They helped her get a GED. She found social support that she had desperately wanted when she stumbled into trafficking. She says, "I used to hate looking in the mirror at myself. I still struggle, but I can say I'm stronger. I'm wiser. And I can honestly say I do love myself. And I have hope for myself." Friends, we have been called to proclaim liberty to the captives.