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Freedom Weekend

Sam Stephenson —  June 22, 2014

In May of 2014, The Exodus Road and local partners hosted a two day Freedom Weekend event in Colorado Springs.

On Friday night Jack Quinn’s, a local pub, and Jamie The Very Worst Missionary welcomed over 150 guests for a time of shared stories, experiences, and a question and answer session.

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*Photo Credit Cassidy Brooke Photography

On Saturday night, Ivywild School (shout out to Events Coordinator Nikki Lee) catered to 100 Colorado Springs residents as Matt Parker, President of The Exodus Road, shared his vision for rescuing victims of sexual slavery. The event at Ivywild School, sponsored by local partners Bristol Brewing Company, Bluestar Group, Lewis Roca Rothgerber LLP, Mission Trip Insurance, New Life DOWNTOWN, Discovery Church, Jim and Martha Cole (residents of Colorado Springs), brought the community together in shared pursuit of one common goal: doubling the number of rescued victims (from 253 to 506).

The Exodus Road Freedom Rocks

Local artist, Lois Sprague, creating a beautiful piece for our silent auction.

Local artist, Lois Sprague, creating a beautiful piece for our silent auction.

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Musician Emily Knurr plays for guests at The Exodus Road Dinner

Musician Emily Knurr plays for guests at The Exodus Road Dinner

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*Photo Credit Mike Lyon Photography

It is with immense gratitude that we report the success of the event. All funds received on Friday and Saturday night have helped further fuel rescue efforts in India and Southeast Asia. The Exodus Road headquarters, located in Colorado Springs, stands in awe of the community support, involvement, and belief in our organization. It is because of partners like this, that act where they are, when they can, that we are able to move ever closer in finding and rescuing victims of human trafficking (today, we are pleased to report the rescue of 284).

To our city, our home, thank you.

 

Human trafficking is everywhere. The mechanisms for slavery exist in nearly every country around the globe. Labor trafficking, sex slavery, indentured servitude– these are realities for an estimated 27 million brothers and sisters of ours around the world. Today. On our watch. 

And The Exodus Road cares deeply about all. of. them. 

However, 27 million is a large number for one NGO to tackle, and since our roots began in SouthEast Asia through our own undercover work and police partnerships there, today our main focus remains in this part of the world. About a year ago, we launched into India, as well, funding cases and delivering covert gear to quality field teams. And it’s a necessary location to work in counter-trafficking, as estimates show that up to 24 million of the 27 million modern day slaves exist in Asia alone (check out this report HERE). As an organization attempting to systemically create change, we strategically apply pressure to adjust the landscape of modern slavery. And what better place to start than in some of the countries where slavery runs most rampant?

We’ve also learned through working with police and NGO communities here on the ground that significant resources are lacking particularly in this developing region where the numbers of victims are most staggering– and that’s why we’re here.

It’s why I send my husband out into brothels to look for children. It’s why we work long hours to raise funding for equipment that trusted police partners have asked for. It’s why we advocate and travel and write and have meetings, and quite frankly, bleed-out. Because a girl or boy in a brothel, and even millions of them, are begging for freedom, are desperate for it. And it’s not a half-hearted effort that will provide it for them. 

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But having said all of that, we know, too, that the girl enslaved in a brothel could be in America, as well. 

And while the reported statistics of human trafficking and sex slavery are significantly less in the United States, we believe that freedom in the Land of the Free is something worth fighting for, too.

An estimated 40,000 victims were identified last year, according to the TIP (Trafficking in Persons) Report. Though they assume many more are present, the research remains inconclusive as to the current number of victims within the U.S. It’s also estimated that 100,000 children are victims of domestic trafficking right now and that 17,500 victims of trafficking were brought into the country last year alone.

- Modern-Day Slavery, NBC News

For the past eight months, my husband has been building trusted partnerships with several local government agencies in Colorado. This work takes time, and we’ve learned from experience that strategically fighting slavery must be done in partnership with local authorities. We’ve also been developing a program for local communities to actively become equipped to fight trafficking in their own neighborhoods, in partnership with police. We have sixty volunteers already signed up to run a pilot program in Colorado, and we’ll be hosting our first training for that program in late August. Our lawyers and our development team are still in process of setting up the program, both legally and effectively, but our hope is that by January of 2015, we’ll be able to provide average U.S. citizens with the tools necessary to really watch and combat trafficking, right in their own backyards. We’ll be revealing more over the course of the next few months.

We know that fighting trafficking on American soil will be slower and “less dramatic” work with much fewer tangible “rescues.” (Though even our beginning efforts have resulted in an arrest and rescue with local police in Colorado.) Trafficking in the U.S. is much more difficult to identify for many reasons and the laws about what an NGO can legally do are much stricter than in foreign countries. We know that; but we still believe in mobilizing civil society to rise up on behalf of the slaves in their own communities. Justice is in the hands of the ordinary, after all. 

Because, again, these things take time. 

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Some people have asked us why we host blogger or donor trips to SE Asia to observe human trafficking, since slavery happens right on American soil. Wouldn’t it save money? Wouldn’t it help “our” people more to just stay home?

My answer to that is simple: while the mechanisms of trafficking are the same in every country, it’s much easier to realistically observe and learn about it in places where it is most rampant– places like here in Asia, where such a large percentage of the world’s modern slaves walk the streets (or aren’t allowed to walk the streets). Since we as an organization are still developing our U.S. initiative particularly, we simply don’t have the infrastructure to effectively teach and demonstrate real cases of trafficking in America. Here, in Asia, we do.

Perhaps by next year at this time, we’ll be able to host blogging trips that highlight effective partnerships at “home” (for us) in America. But, for now, we feel confident that seeing slavery firsthand– and meeting those in the trenches sacrificing to fight it — is powerful in and of itself.

When we think of the scale of modern-day slavery, literally tens of millions who live in exploitation, this whole effort can seem daunting, but it’s the right effort,” Kerry said. “There are countless voiceless people, countless nameless people except to their families or perhaps a phony name by which they are being exploited, who look to us for their freedom.”

- John Kerry, in releasing the 2013 TIP Report 

Thanks, as always, for following along with us here at The Exodus Road. Please continue to read and share the stories that have been written this week about our time in the field by four seasoned writers. And please keep watch for reports about our upcoming program to bring freedom efforts to communities in the U.S., as well.

 
- Laura Parker, VP Communications, The Exodus Road 
*A note about statistics. The estimates around modern day slavery are extremely difficult to determine. Many organizations and government agencies report varying statistics, or even, as the Polaris Project says, claim that the results are too inconclusive to even estimate. If you want to learn more, check out any of the U.S. TIP Reports, especially the country summaries of places of interest to you. 

We’ve had several victories through field teams over the last month and a half — successes that have pushed freedom forward on three continents and resulted in the rescue of 33 women and teenagers trapped in sex slavery. In addition to rescue, we’ve tackled two after care projects with partners, as well.

As with any victories that we report, our organization played a direct role in operations — whether by funding it, providing critical pieces of covert gear, or giving or funding investigative services. Of course, our field partners are engaged in many more rescue, investigative and after care projects on a monthly basis, and while we are so proud of their work, we only report officially on the cases or projects that our donors for The Exodus Road have directly funded. Most of this monthly funding comes to teams on various continents through our Search and Rescue Program {which we’d love for you to consider joining!}.

case files sex trafficking

Pictured above are six case files, representing an estimated 300 victims, which DELTA team has tirelessly built evidence around. 

United States {CHARLIE Team}

Working with a local police task force we had built relationships with and with a local retail partner who sponsors us, we were able to pass on a key tip to officials that resulted in the rescue of two girls and the arrest of their pimp. We’ll have the official press release soon, but we wanted to share this news as an example that sex trafficking does indeed happen right here in the United States.

In connection with this case and with our commitment to holistic care, we also donated $1,000 to assist with the restorative after care of one of the victims who desperately needed a safe place to stay.

 

India {BRAVO Team, DELTA Team}

We’ve had two successful missions recently in India in two different cities. One raid of a dance bar on June 17 resulted in the release of 28 victims of sex trafficking — seven of the girls were under the age of 18. We were proud to sponsor all the expenses of this case that was led by our partner Indian Rescue Mission. We’ll be releasing news articles about that case shortly.

We were also asked by a U.S. Agency to conduct investigations into a popular tourist city in India. Thankfully, two members of DELTA team were able to accept the case and deployed from Asia. The Exodus Road funded their trip for several days, and they were able to investigate key brothels and begin a partnership with an NGO stationed there. They investigated several parts of the city and interfaced with local police, as well. The authorities have already asked for their return. Again, this mission was a prime example of locals who lack the resources (and often training necessary) utilizing the investigative services we as a coalition are able to provide.

 

SE Asia {ALPHA Team, DELTA Team}

We support two groups as part of our ALPHA team, and one has recently rescued three cross-border trafficked victims. The case is still being processed, so we can’t share details at this point, but we are grateful to have been able to fund a portion of this immediate rescue op with police in Vietnam.

In addition, DELTA team still continues to gather incredible evidence against traffickers. Currently, they have solid cases which represent an estimated 300 victims. We’re working on getting those cases pushed through the proper government channels. They’ve also recently added a new member to their team — a female. We will be publishing an interview with her shortly, so that you can hear from her perspective what her last month has looked like in her training.

sleep with me

In other news, The Exodus Road is hosting its first blogger trip this week, and we’d love for you to follow along. Heather Armstrong, Kristen Howerton, and Roo Ciambriello will be here for the first time, along with Jamie Wright, who will be serving as team lead, along with Matt and Laura Parker and DELTA team. We are excited and thankful that these women are choosing to use their voices and their platforms for the modern day slave. Follow the hashtags #ExodusRoad on social media to see our work through their eyes.

And as always, if you are a monthly supporter of a Search and Rescue Team or a financial donor, please know that your generous giving is what makes these steps forward, possible.

33 women and teenagers who are no longer in brothels would say thank you for being a part of The Exodus Road. 

Seeing is Believing

Sam Stephenson —  June 16, 2014

Red Light

“Can you take us to Svay Pak?”*

“Svay Pak, oh yes, Svay Pak.”

“130 Guest House.”

“Yes, yes, no problem.”

We haven’t had much luck with cabs so far. We have paid too much, gotten dropped off at the wrong places, missed a few good ones, and wanted to get out of a few bad ones. As we start the drive from Phnom Penh, I am not feeling confident.

“Welcome to Svay Pak” one sign reads. Another “Good guy go to heaven, bad guy goes to Svay Pak.” We made it. But we cant find our hotel.

Every time the cab slows down or turns down an alley, women approach the car. Music is blaring from the 15 bars that surround us. The red glow from surrounding shops seems to slowly pour into the vehicle. The air conditioning only works if the car is moving. Our driver is starting to lose his mind. “you. don’t. know. hotel!” he mumbles in the front seat. He is right, we have no clue where we are going.

We call our boss and hand the phone to our cab driver.

“Walking street.” We overhear him say.

“Yes, yes, walking street, no problem.”

Three minutes later we stop in front of walking street and the driver gets out. He hands us our bags, we pay him, and there we are, standing in front of one of Cambodia’s largest red light districts, luggage in tow.

A fifty year old man stands across the street, wife in arm, staring into Go-A-Go-Go, iPhone out, recording as the door swings open and closed. His wife stares at the ground.

Every sense is engaged on walking street. Neon lights tear through the darkness, music blares from what seems like every speaker in the eastern hemisphere, each step taken is met with the hands of a prostitute or a salesmen, the smell of cheap beer and seafood sporadically overwhelm, our dry mouths crave a drink.

The words of poet Marie Howe echo in my ear as I search for a language that will explain what I am feeling. “Can we ever really be seen? I think the thing of Jesus, I mean he must have been like this — and Buddha must have been and all these great enlightened ones, he must have been able to really see people, you know?”

Can we ever be seen? Can I take some time to see people while I am here? Can I see the prostitute – as a human being? Can I see the men, young and old, from all the nations of the world that seem to inhabit this street – as human beings? Can I stand in opposition to the ethic of this street (an ethic that says human worth is directly correlated to what is being sold) and still see?

An investigator picks us up and takes us to a hotel. It is nice to put our luggage down.

“You ready to go out? You are going to see nakedness. Get over it. The most important moments you will have on this trip are in conversation.” We walk over to the nearest bar. Kelli. Sam. Covert Investigator. What has happened in the last 10 minutes?

A prostitute comes over to us. Looks at me and says “you have someone, that is nice, see, he does not, and it is not good for a man to be lonely.” The investigator and the prostitute start talking.

She is in her thirties and has come to the big city to work. There is a lot of money in this field, she says. She has three kids, who have a dad that vanished as soon as the third was born, leaving them to fend for themselves.

The investigator tells her he is married. She shifts her body weight, leans in and says “you are married, your wife is a good woman, she is taking care of your family, I won’t sleep with you.”

We walk out of the bar. First night of work done.

Our investigator looks at us, eyes glistening “there I am, in the middle of a go-go bar, and she is trying to protect me.”

The prostitute sees. It is what drives her to work in a bar in the middle of the city. It is also what allows her to take a stand for something she cares about to no end: family.

The investigator sees. It is what drives him into bars, nightclubs, go-go’s, and various pockets of a highly sexualized underworld, at all hours of the day. It is what allows him to take a stand for something he cares about to no end: human dignity.

Seeing inspires us but it also wounds us. For the next two weeks, I am keeping my eyes open and trying to see.

 

*Dates and locations have been changed for the safety of investigative teams. 

The Exodus Road works hard to provide key resources for nationals to fight modern day slavery in their own backyards. Since immigration law is a key element in cross-border trafficking, we were pleased to partner with the Thai Labor Department in an all-day seminar about trafficking as it relates to labor laws in Thailand. Several hundred Thai attended the seminar on May 28, 2014, along with a few Western and Thai NGO representatives. Topics covered included:  Immigration Law and Modern Day Slavery, Transnational Trafficking, The Importance of Collaboration, and Trafficking and Thai Law. Keynote speakers included Joel Karum (Ezekiel Rain), Colonel Appichart Hattasin (Thai Royal Police), Matt Parker (The Exodus Road), and several key leaders from the Labor Department.

During the seminar, one of the national attendees said to founder Matt Parker, “Thank you for doing this. It’s the first time I can remember an event like this being done for us.”

We are grateful for the leadership of Buddy Rathmell, Field Director of The Exodus Road Thailand and Founder of Stop Slavery and Thanakorn Viwatronakit, Board Member of Freedom Foundation. Without their on-the-ground leadership, the event could not have taken place.

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police exodus road

conference

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volunteer exodus road

Our friend, Amy Garcia, recently helped us wage war against sex trafficking—and she did it with a party.

A resident of Phoenix, Ariz., and mother of two, Amy recently held a fundraiser to collect money for a motorbike, which undercover teams in Southeast Asia could use for raids and operations. She called the event “Fundraiser for Freedom,” and it featured a silent auction full of items such as Rodan + Fields skin care products and burlap tote bags. The night also included a raffle and catered food from P.F. Chang’s. Matt Parker spoke briefly, as well, about The Exodus Road organization and the importance of its work. In addition, Amy set out Exodus Road merchandise for sale, and attending children wrote letters to undercover investigators, thanking them for their work.

The event raised $5,000 to purchase a $2,200 motorbike, making Fundraiser for Freedom a resounding success. The excess money would go toward the purchase of other necessary equipment for undercover operations.

The event developed out of Amy’s desire help enslaved women overseas.

“When I first learned about the prevalence of sex trafficking, it weighed heavy on my heart and I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” she said. “I wanted to help but I didn’t know how.”

volunteer party exodus road

She heard Matt speak at The Grove Church in Chandler, Ariz., a year ago and began helping with social media and journalism needs for The Exodus Road. But, she wanted to do more to equip investigators with the supplies they needed to initiate raids. She wanted to give more than just her time and talents. She wanted to give money.

“I knew that my donation would be nothing compared to a group of people coming together and donating so I decided a fundraiser would be the best means to achieve this goal,” she said. “I also thought a fundraiser would bring about awareness of sex trafficking as well.”

Matt provided the means for that awareness. During his talk, he gave partygoers statistics on women and children who are forced to perform sexual acts daily.

“Some people were shocked about how big of an issue it really is—especially in Southeast Asia,” Amy said. “I think when most people think of prostitution, they think the women are there because they just want to earn money.”

volunteer party

party exodus road volunteer

But after hearing from Matt, people were horrified. Amy said they wanted to know more about how they could help abolish sex trafficking and free the millions of slaves around the world. Yet, by attending the fundraiser and purchasing skin care items or tote bags, they had already contributed to the cause. With money from the event, Jim*, a former Special Forces member and current undercover investigator, purchased a new, silver motorbike.

“These are nice bikes, large and powerful enough for bigger guys and should last us a long time. As always, thanks very much for your hard work and giving us the tools we need to do the job.” – Jim*, Undercover Investigator

Amy’s simple fundraiser can be replicated at any time and at any place so that undercover investigators can have the equipment they need. We at The Exodus Road need people to help with this fight and to host their own events. Whether it’s an Undercover Run, a Search and Rescue Home Party, Cocktails for a Cause, or another creative avenue to connect more people with the mission of child rescue.

“By volunteering, hosting a fundraiser or donating, you will be giving that woman or child a voice, giving them hope and an opportunity to be free,” Amy said. And then beautifully lived out her own conviction.

Amy Garcia and Matt Parker

Amy Garcia and Matt Parker

 

To find out more about how to host your own fundraising event, check out some of our volunteer fundraising opportunities here.

*Name changed

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On Feb. 26, 2014, coalition-member Indian Rescue Mission agents raided a private brothel in Southern India, freeing a trafficked girl. During the operation, they used undercover cameras and equipment provided by The Exodus Road.

When The Exodus Road first began its partnership with IRM, the latter team operated with one half-broken camera. Using Exodus Road funds, they purchased at least two cameras for each team member along with a computer and several other pieces of surveillance gear, which helped to gather evidence against the brothel during the February raid. The first images of this video come from that covert equipment and depict that operation. They show a narrow alley, and a tiny, sparsely furnished room. In the video, a woman peeks behind a curtain, presumably calling a young girl. A moment later, the girl enters.

Agents showed these images to police, who then partnered with IRM to free the victim.

She was roughly 15 years old, and she told IRM agents that her parents had died when she was 8.  Her aunt took care of her until she reached puberty—and then, that aunt began to sell her, forcing her into prostitution. The film shows the aunt covering her face with her hands after confrontation with police. The abused niece hugs the social worker present during the raid, and buries her face in the older woman’s shoulder.

“She was in a trauma stage during the time of raid and she thought all of us are police,” an IRM agent said. “But our social worker went and took her to her side and then counseled her and gave her support.”

After the rescue, IRM sent the girl to a protective home.

The IRM agent who spearheaded the raid felt a deep connection to this case because he knew the particular community well. He said he felt a responsibility to make sure the girl attained her freedom. With courage, wisdom and cameras, he did.

“All those got involved were happy about the case and many people from the city appreciated the raid,” he said.

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In 2013, The Exodus Road gifted 125 pieces of covert equipment, including undercover cameras, to field teams. Without these supplies, those teams couldn’t gather the evidence needed to motivate police to act.

You can help The Exodus Road fight sex slavery by clicking here to donate. Your gifts will be used to purchase vital cameras and covert equipment for the investigation and pursuit of human traffickers.

table

A core value of The Exodus Road is the belief that we all have a role to play in the fight for the girl or boy trapped in the brothel. We believe that modern day slavery will not be solved by one faith community, political group, racial descent or ideological bent working in isolation. Instead, human trafficking is an injustice that demands advocates from all walks of life, backgrounds, experiences, beliefs.

Because a core component of our work is in collaboration, we want to invite everyone to the table– the table where the focus is bringing justice and deliverance for victims trapped in some of the worst forms of abuse imaginable. To this end, we are an organization that crosses party, national and religious lines, for the sake of the Sarah’s of the world. While we do operate with standards that fit with best practices and local law, we do not discriminate partnerships based on race, religion, or creed.

It is with this spirit of inclusion on behalf of a common cause that we support undercover investigators that are from a variety of faith, political, and employment backgrounds, and why we work with governments and individuals, police and NGOs, military and civilians, men and women, students and adults.

We do believe that it is possible to bring freedom and rescue as a faith or politically-minded organization (and we know of many who do this brilliantly), but this path is not the journey of The Exodus Road. While the Christian faith is the driving personal force of Matt and Laura Parker (founders), the organization itself is a registered 501c3 nonprofit, without religious affiliation.

 

As always, we are deeply grateful for your support of The Exodus Road and its partners, and we are hopeful that in rallying many for the modern day slave, we might play a role in fostering greater collaborative unity for the sake of justice.

 

For other questions about our organization, check out our FAQ page.

image credit here

volunteer investigators

Do you remember back in January when we hosted our first training for volunteer investigators? We developed a rigorous interview process, and then eight individuals came for a weekend to our home office in Colorado. These eight underwent a two day training with founder Matt Parker and chief investigative trainer Bill*, a retired military member with years of undercover work in India.*

Bill’s team had told us that they needed help. They were constantly given more cases of trafficking and pedophilia to work with local police, and they needed fresh investigators, more “boots on the ground.”

And eight individuals in this community were able to step up. Paying for their own airfare, both to the training and to the field, these volunteers came ready to give 4 weeks or more annually to the work of finding sex slaves and supporting the on-ground team.

And two of them, a married couple, just finished their first deployment last week. This couple spent two weeks working alongside Bill and his team. They were able to gather surveillance on a suspected criminal, participate in identifying underage sex workers, and even worked a sting operation with local police partners.

“I want to go back. We’re not finished there yet,” the husband said when we asked him if he wanted to return to India to continue to help in the future.

One of the longtime investigators said of this couple after the two week on-the-ground training:

“They’ve both shown us that our selection process works well and gets us the right kind of character that we look for in our investigators. I know it’s been quite an eye opening experience for them both and they’ve both had to step way outside their personal comfort zones during the live training . . .  we’ve been impressed by them and their efforts.”

- Grant*, Investigator in India

Justice in the hands of the ordinaryAnd these two investigators? They are not what you might typically expect. One manages a warehouse, while the other works as an accountant. They have children and live in a “normal” American city. They are “ordinary” like the rest of us, but, when faced with the realities of trafficking, they refused to walk away.

And, so, they filled out paperwork and got FBI background checks. They endured uncomfortable interviews and covered their own travel expenses. They gave up vacation time, and they invested both money and emotion in a practical, supportive venue to those on the front lines.

And it worked. They were helpful. The field teams were encouraged. More evidence was gathered.

 

And the army of the ordinary people standing for justice, continues to grow.

******

From that first training session in January of 2014, our hope is to deploy five of those individuals to the field in the upcoming year. Two are actually planning on serving field teams for an entire year, beginning in May.

*****

If you are interested in joining our team of volunteer investigators, check out our Careers Page. We are planning to host another training event in the Fall of 2014 or next January 2015 here in Colorado. Please be aware that we are selective in the interview process (for obvious reasons), and that volunteer operatives are expected to cover (or raise) all travel expenses.

*As always, names and locations are often changed throughout our communications to protect the security of operations and teams. You can check out our media policy here

letters to frontline investigators

Bekah emailed us at the office several months ago. She worked with students in a faith community and wanted to connect her church with the cause of bringing freedom to the modern day slave, and she wrote us to see how she could help. We gave her some ideas, she quickly joined the Exodus Army as a powerful advocate.

In addition to raising funds through a Christmas campaign at her church, she also invited the students she works with to write letters of encouragement to undercover investigators. And while it may seem a small thing, pen and paper and a message, it was anything but that. Here is an example:

letters to investigators

 

It’s because of students like those in Bekah’s community, and as a result of Bekah’s own advocacy and leadership, we’ll be handing over a stack of mail to our undercover teams in May. We will have the privilege of delivering messages from teenagers in the West directly to men who are actively working to rescue other teenagers halfway around the globe, trapped as sex slaves. Men that seldom get thanked and rarely recognized.

Will you join Bekah’s group? Consider taking time yourself or rallying your own community to write letters of thanks to the frontlines. Check out the details and video here:

—> Letters to the Frontlines.

 

And a huge thank you to the community at First Trinity Lutheran Church in NY for leading the way in delivering hope to the those in the trenches. You guys are continued proof that we all have a role to play in this fight for justice. 

 

* A note about these letters. The Exodus Road is a secular nonprofit, and many of the supported investigators are from a variety of religious backgrounds. And though this was a Christian church group that wrote these cards, religious language was greatly limited out of respect for the investigators themselves. We love that Bekah and her group of teens understood and followed this request.