Volunteer Highlight: Rene's Story

Rene PicMy journey with Freedom 4/24 began in the winter of 2013.  As a newly stay-at-home mom with school-age kids, I struggled with how to occupy my time.  During my devotions one morning, I was reminded of a prayer I prayed almost two years before – that if the Lord would give me the opportunity to be at home, I would use my time for Him.  God’s timing is always perfect.  But, I had no clue what He wanted me to do.  I felt called to women’s ministry, but little did I know that my idea of “women’s ministry” was completely different from where He was actually leading me. As I sat there praying, I remembered a conversation a few months prior where someone mentioned Freedom 4/24 to me.  I had no clue who they were or what they did, but as I poured over their website, I was compelled to act.  I clicked a link on their website and told them I would like to host a Run 4 Their Lives race in my hometown—York, Pennsylvania.  That same day, I received a call from Ryan Barr, Freedom 4/24’s Executive Race Director about how he would help me with all the details in hosting a race.

Even though I was hosting a R4TL race, I still had a very limited understanding of human trafficking.  I read the statistics – 27 million slaves in the world today, a $32 billion industry, 80% of victims are women and children.  These numbers were sobering, but it wasn’t until I read books such as Not For Sale and Half the Sky and watched Trade of Innocents and Nefarious: Merchant of Souls that it really started to sink in just how horrific the sex industry is.  I realized then that this is what God had in store for me when I thought about “women’s ministry”.

On October 19, 2013, we had our 1st annual Run For Their Lives event in York, PA. We had 250 participants and over 70 volunteers. Every time I saw a participant raise his or her arm to show the name of a trafficked girl that he or she was running and praying for, I couldn’t help but get emotional. Seeing a sea of people—my community—come together to run for freedom was an amazing experience that I will never forget.

After the event, I had a gnawing desire to do more.  I had this sense of urgency that I needed to get my passport just in case any opportunities opened up for me to go on a mission trip.  Just two days after it arrived in the mail, I was given the opportunity to travel to Thailand to help with one of Freedom 4/24’s partners, the Home of New Beginnings’, annual Christmas parties.  How could I say “no” when God clearly had His hand in it once again?

I can honestly say that my life was completely changed on that trip.

Forget about statistics.

To see it firsthand, to hear unimaginable stories about the girls—from the girls, it rocks you to your core.  Thankfully, I was surrounded by other Christian women just like me – wives, mothers, daughters, sisters—all with the love of Jesus and a huge heart for these girls.

During the days we learned more about the Thai culture and prepared for the Christmas events.  On the nights of the Christmas parties, we made our way into the red light district and bartered with the “mama sans “(the managers) of the bars for the girls’ “freedom” for the night so they could attend the parties.  The cost of a girl was between $20 and $30.  Actually bartering to purchase a girl like she is a commodity has left me with images and feelings that that I will never forget.

For the two nights of parties, we had over 200 girls attend where they enjoyed games, crafts, and delicious food, and were presented with the Gospel.  My favorite part during those nights was watching the girls’ faces and seeing the worry and uncertainty of what would happen that night transform into a room full of laughter and tears of joy, not only from the girls, but also from the many volunteers.  Many accepted Christ and left with gifts and a copy of the New Testament.

There was one girl in particular with whom I really connected.  She spoke English very well, so she was able to share with me about her life and her dreams. Because of poverty and her responsibilities for taking care of her family, she is forced to work in the red light district of Bangkok.  As we shared photos of our children and stories about our lives, I wanted nothing more than to take her away from that place.

I’ll admit, I struggled a lot when I came home.  What was I to do with everything that I now know?  The thought was overwhelming, and I began to feel pretty insignificant as a local race director.  I wanted to be on the front lines fighting for these girls!  I felt helpless.  But, as I’ve processed through my experience, I have come to realize that even though I am not on the front lines, I am bringing freedom and doing justice. Through volunteering with Freedom 4/24 and hosting a race, I am a voice for these girls and a support for those who dedicate their lives to them day in and day out.

If I can make a difference, we ALL can make a difference.

I absolutely love being a part of the Freedom 4/24 family, and I am so thankful for the opportunities they continue to give me to serve along beside them.