SARAH NEUBECKER: United by a Passion

UNITED FOR FREEDOM: Passion 2013 drew 60,000 18-25 year-olds to Atlanta, Georgia for four days of worship, teaching and prayer. (Herald Review photo/Sarah Neubecker)
UNITED FOR FREEDOM: Passion 2013 drew 60,000 18-25 year-olds to Atlanta, Georgia for four days of worship, teaching and prayer. (Herald Review photo/Sarah Neubecker)

I didn’t know slavery still existed. But after uniting with 60,000 Christian young adults at Passion 2013, I joined a movement to end it.

Flooding the Georgia Dome in Atlanta for four days of worship, teaching and prayer, more 18- to 25-year-olds than I’ve ever seen in one place came together to seek God and learn more about him. We came from 54 different countries and left with one goal — to shine a light on modern-day slavery.

The annual conference began on Jan. 1 and included messages of freedom and God’s love from popular speakers such as author of “Crazy Love,” Francis Chan; Passion conference founder Louie Giglio; and founder of the International Justice Mission, Gary Haugen. Worship was led by popular Christian music artists including David Crowder, Jesus Culture and Chris Tomlin, who unveiled new songs for the Passion audience.

But aside from the talent and big names that filled the dome, it was the individual connections that made the conference personal for each of us. After being randomly placed with eight other young adults in a “family group” on the first day, we met together six times to share our feelings on each message and grow together throughout the conference. By the last day, we had all shared our fears, successes and brainstormed ideas to help end modern-day slavery with these people we had met just days before.

A year removed from college life, I embraced being a part of the small non-college population of 18- to 25- year-olds at the conference and the only one in my family group.

“What college do you go to? Oh, you’re a reporter for a newspaper? How cool!” (It’s even cooler than they think.)

But without my notebook and camera and outside of my small-town beat, I was not identified by my occupation at Passion 2013. I was one of the 60,000 people who united for spiritual awakening and freedom.

While the majority of people who came to the conference were Christians, some had come at the request of a friend or with a church group and had never decided to pursue knowing Jesus personally. After a speaker gave an invitation to non-believers to trust their life to Jesus and many people took the leap of faith, new Christians were encouraged to tell their family group about their decision.

During the conference’s opening session, Louie Giglio spoke from Ezekiel 37. He shared how God told the prophet Ezekiel to prophecy to a field of bones so he could bring them to life, cover them with flesh and put his heart into them. I thought the story was an awesome example of how God can bring hope into parts of your life that seem to be lifeless, but I didn’t yet see how that impacted me personally.

Throughout the conference, I learned that 27 million people are trapped in slavery today — more than any other time in history. From sex slavery to child labor, people as far away as Cambodia and as close as the streets of Detroit are used to fill the selfish desires of others. We heard the story of a 12-year-old Filipino girl named Rachel who was sold into a brothel. She worked against her will for a number of years before being rescued by the International Justice Mission and Love 146, two Christian organizations working to end slavery. After watching the video story on jumbo screens in the dome, we were introduced to Rachel, who sat quietly in the audience with a smile on her face. Through a translator, she told us that Jesus had changed her life. Cheering erupted yet again.

Motivated by justice, my peers and I gave more than $3.1 million over the course of four days to kick-off the End It Movement, which supports 18 organizations working to abolish modern-day slavery. We all prayed that God would continue to give us the opportunity to do our part to end slavery, whether it be giving money, creating awareness or traveling across the world to rescue slaves.

By the end of the conference, I had a new passion to end slavery and fight for justice. In essence, God had put His heart for setting the captives free in me, just like he had the bones in Ezekiel 37. I was ready to go back into the world, shine the light of Jesus and set the captives free ... somehow.

My first day back to work, I was sent to write a story on a movie being filmed in Osceola County that details a 14-year-old girl’s journey through human trafficking. The next day, the publisher of the Pioneer asked me to write this column on my experience at Passion 2013.

“Collectively, we become a force for justice.” – Louie Giglio.

For more on Passion 2013 or the End It Movement, visit www.268generation.com or www.enditmovement.com.