Bethel’s International Justice Mission fights against sex trafficking.
By Jessica Nafe
During the 2017 holiday season when many families are looking forward to celebrating Christmas, many Bethel students are reminded of the staggering statistic that 21 million people are in slavery around the world. These students are rallying to put an end to human trafficking.
According to the Minnesota Family Council, modern slavery can take place on online pornography sites, at fishing industries, on tree-cutting farms, in quarries and in brothels. A21 campaign, a non-profit organization fighting against sex trafficking, estimates that someone becomes a victim of slavery every 30 seconds.
“This isn’t a cause,” said Zachary Port, co-president of the International Justice Mission chapter at Bethel. “This is a human issue – there are people affected by slavery. We want them to be saved.”
After a short absence, Bethel’s IJM chapter was relaunched this fall and is putting on events throughout the coming year to raise awareness of modern slavery in hopes of facilitating change in the world. IJM is a world-wide not-for-profit organization that started in 1997 with the mission to “rescue thousands and protect millions.”
The issue of slavery is close to home, too. The FBI estimates that 213 girls in Minnesota are sold for sex through the internet each month at an average of five times per day.
IJM is working to end the injustice with a team of lawyers, investigators, social workers and community activists at work in the United States and in their 17 field offices in foreign countries. IJM uses their professional resources to rescue victims, bring justice to trafficking criminals, restore survivors, and strengthen local justice systems to stop oppression before it begins.
To date, the organization has relieved over 40,000 people from oppression, according to research done by IJM personal.
“This is exactly the kind of work that Christians should be doing,” said Deb Harless, Bethel’s provost and long-time supporter of IJM.
Harless had the opportunity to travel to some IJM headquarters in Africa in 2009, where she learned more about the organization’s work and got to meet some of the victims IJM rescued.
One woman that Harless met was a victim of property grabbing, which often happens in countries where citizens’ rights are not enforced.
Widowed and the mother of three, her husband’s relatives demanded that she leave the property she had inherited after her husband’s death. They burned her crops and threatened to harm her children if she did not leave.
“That land was her survival,” Harless said.
IJM helped her prove her ownership of the land by legally representing her. They worked with the local government to ensure the relatives understood their threats were illegal. Eventually the land was returned to the woman.
“Seeing IJM help these people move forward with their lives made me even more convinced,” Harless said. “It’s truly a remarkable organization.”
Bethel’s IJM chapter is one of 120 college groups around the country that aid IJM in fighting slavery through three core principles: prayer, advocacy and fundraising.
Senior Zack Port and junior Eveline Tcacenco launched an official IJM chapter on campus with hopes of getting people on fire for ending slavery.
“It’s hard to do this type of work by yourself,” said Port. “There is power in the collective.”
IJM has been present on campus for a number of years, but in a less formal form. This year, the chapter is recognized as an official special interest club. The leadership team meets biweekly to learn more about the issue of human trafficking and to coordinate campus events.
“IJM is living out the biblical calling to care for the oppressed,” said Bekah Olson, a senior international relations major. “We are a student body with opportunities, resources and confidence, and we can use those to seek justice.”
Bethel’s first IJM event, Freedom Fast, took place Nov. 30. Students fasted for 24 hours, spent 24 hours in prayer, and donated 24 dollars. The money raised through Freedom Fast, which was carried out by IJM chapters all over the country, will help pay for 13 rescue missions overseas.
The goal for Bethel’s IJM chapter isn’t just to raise money, though. The goal is to get the conversation around slavery started.
“We don’t want students to be oblivious to what is happening outside of Bethel or Minnesota or even the U.S.,” said Rohan Suri, Bethel IJM’s vice president of advocacy.
More campus events will happen throughout the rest of the year. Before the Super Bowl, Bethel and the University of Minnesota’s IJM chapter will join forces for Justice Weekend to raise awareness of human trafficking. Rally for Freedom, a campaign in which participants stand for 24 hours to show support for victims of slavery, will take place around April.
In addition, students are invited to attend open IJM meetings that take place once a month on campus. Smaller events take place periodically on campus, during which students get the chance to discuss the issue of slavery and how changes can be made.
“It’s more than just helping people be aware,” Suri said. “It’s saving the oppressed and helping them live the lives God wants for them.”