5 Weeks for Freedom

For the past 5 weeks, a team of 15 ordinary people have been doing an extraordinary thing - cycling 1800 miles of the historic Underground Railroad as part of International Justice Mission’s 5 Weeks for Freedom http://www.5weeksforfreedom.org campaign to raise awareness of modern-day slavery. This symbolic journey began in Mobile, AL, and will conclude when the riders cycle into Buffao this afternoon.

The riders – from students to grandparents – have undertaken this extraordinary journey to bring new life to the historic Underground Railroad, raise awareness of modern-day slavery and to support IJM’s frontline work to end it. Throughout their route, they have been welcomed into major-league baseball stadiums (the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds both hosted FREEDOM NIGHTs featuring the team during their games) and small-town churches alike, as tens of thousands across the country have rallied around their cause of modern-day abolition.

The 5 Weeks for Freedom riding team will be welcomed into Buffalo with a tour finale and Freedom Concert at the Town Ballroom, 681 Main Street, headlined by top-40 recording artists Green River Ordinance (GRO), whose hits “Come On” and “On Your Own” topped radio charts nationwide last year - and are a big hit in Buffalo currently. We’ve seen the people of Buffalo rally around the urgent message we carry with the 5 Weeks for Freedom campaign – we’ve had a great response and expect a crowd to celebrate the end of 5 Weeks for Freedom.

It’s an inspiring story – and the riders are an incredible team, each with a compelling personal story that led them to make this epic ride.

Two of the riders took time out of their schedule to answer some questions about the ride:
Iron Mike Barrow, 57, nurse, from Elizabethtown, KY
Joanne Frank Barrow, 53, nurse, from Elizabethtown, KY

1. Why did you want to get involved in the 5 Weeks for Freedom campaign?

Iron Mike: I got involved because I believe that the cause was worth supporting. I feel like everyone can participate in ending slavery in some fashion or manner. There is a Biblical call to justice, we are called to it. The work of IJM is something that I can get behind and support by riding my bike.

Joanne: I got involved because human trafficking has been in my forefront of my mind for the last two years or more, and I had been trying to figure out how I could do something about it. Being a part of the 5 Weeks for Freedom campaign, I could reach many people. Every time you talk to somebody they don’t seem to grasp the enormity of it. So with this campaign, I got to talk to many, many people. The reception and surprise of some people is amazing. Some people jumped on the band wagon immediately and said, “What else can I do?” It’s been a great encouragement to know that with this campaign we have reached so many more people with this urgent message.

2. What has this experience been like for you?

Iron Mike: It’s been many days of hard riding. It’s been a big sacrifice personally as far as the time and having to actually quit my job; but one thing I do believe is that with great sacrifice comes great reward. I know that by doing a seemingly simple thing like riding a bicycle, I am helping to rescue someone from oppression somewhere in the world, someone I may never meet, someone I may never see – and that feels good. It feels good to know that you are doing something that has a very high level of cause and effect. I see a direct relationship between what I’m doing and helping someone.

Joanne: First, it’s been extremely rewarding getting to know the members of the team and also working with IJM. Getting to know more specifics about the cause, hearing the specific stories of rescue and actual work that is being done by IJM. On the other hand, it’s been very difficult, taking me way outside of my comfort level. Every day has been a challenge to get up and ride my bike again. There have been some days when I really haven’t wanted to, and for me the physical exhaustion has been more than what I expected - but at the same time it’s cool because I have done it, 1800 miles. In the end, the struggle makes it worth it. Yesterday I rode my first century – 100 miles – and went 109 miles and have never done that before in my life. I kept to saying, “Lord, if I ride these 100 miles today, please rescue someone. It was pretty hairy, but it went well. So it was a great day.”

3. How has this ride changed you?

Iron Mike: It has changed me in that I have discovered that when we stand together and join in a cause that is bigger than ourselves, and do something oftentimes difficult, that great personal reward comes from that. The community that has formed within this group of riders is a mirror image of the body of Christ and how Jesus meant the Church to be.

Joanne: It’s changed me because it’s opened me up to the bigger possibility that we serve a God that is a huge God; but he’s bigger than I ever imagined in my mind. I’ve been very surprised and amazed how God has worked through meeting different people, putting people in places that were open to hear the word and were anxious and excited to hear the word. God has orchestrated this whole thing, and it’s increased my faith hugely – just to let God work. We say yes and He does the work through us.

4. What kind of response did you get from the towns you passed through?

Iron Mike: The response has been mixed: when we talk about the issue of modern-day slavery we get a lot of blank looks, a lot of “I didn’t know about that”, a lot of “that’s not really happening here” a lot of general lack of awareness of this issue that this is something that affects the community they live in. It’s an eye-opening experience for many people because oftentimes they don’t recognize this issue by the name that we call it – human trafficking, modern-day slavery. The other part of this is that we have been welcomed with open arms by churches, communities, people at gas stations – the whole entirety of this 1800-mile journey.

Joanne: An interesting question – response was mixed. For some, it was a believable issue and they could embrace it and do something about it. Most people were surprised and I think that they felt some passion toward the issue once they realized what was going on – and they thought it isn’t ok and they were very willing to step up and take the message to other people. The churches have been outstanding as far as taking the message to their body and really wanting to do something about injustice in the world. Sitting in the church and doing nothing isn’t enough anymore – you need to be active. Their call to movement has been increased by the 5 Weeks for Freedom campaign.

5. What happens next? How do we/you stay involved in this issue?

Iron Mike: Once you have become knowledgeable about modern-day slavery, that knowledge requires action. Some of the action I personally intend on taking it to use every opportunity I have to work with IJM to share the knowledge of this scourge of modern-day slavery using social media platforms, and continue to beat the drum and motivate people to join me in this fight and become a modern-day abolitionist.

Joanne: The best thing is to stay in touch with the issue, keep searching out information wherever you can – by reading books, on the internet, with IJM’s website (www.5weeksforfreedom.org). I plan on staying in communication with a lot of the churches we visited, finding out what they’re doing and seeing if there is any other way in which I can help them continue on in their journey for justice. Of course, the bicycle tour group will stay in touch and if we have a big reunion , it could be a big celebration to find out what has been accomplished since we went on this tour – rescues, field operations, how many more people are aware and involved in the issue. And of course, I plan on sleeping for about four days when I get home.

Thanks Mike and Joanne.

How Real is the problem:

  • An estimated 27-40 million children, women and men are held in slavery – more slaves than over 400 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
  • Nearly 2 million children are exploited in the global sex industry.
  • 30% of widows and orphans in sub-Saharan Africa have their homes or property stolen from them when they are most vulnerable.4 billion of the world’s poor aren’t effectively protected by their countries’ laws against violent oppression.
Will you get involved today?


International C.O.P.S. Ministry

Do you know a Law Enforcement Officer? Why not encourage him to sign up for C.O.P.S.? His organization partners LEO's with average citizens who have committed to pray for that officer for 1 year!

Maybe you don't know an officer but you would like to pray for one. You can do that too. Just click on this link: COPS Ministry to sign up!

This is truly an international ministry. With over 500 LEO's being prayed for in 4 different countries why not join today?


When Kids Pay Attention

Well I found out yesterday my daughter pays attention. She would pick this particular time to let us know.

Let me back up a bit. This past week I shared the story of Elijah at church. It was a longer version of my recent post on Elijah and the oil that never runs out! I really tried to focus on how God leads and provides.

We closed with a prayer, had some snacks and left. Now, I will let you in on a little pastoral secret...

Not everyone pays attention in church. Some sleep, some plan their grocery lists and others are waiting for the guy up front to be quiet so everyone can go home.

So it is always encouraging when someone shares how the message touched/challenged/blessed them. Some do this right away and others will filter in through the week to let you know. When a kid mentions your message it is particularly encouraging.

When they remind you of your own sermon...O-U-C-H!

Monday we found out we will be a little shy in the income department and this kind of threw our budget plans awry. Like most of us, it means we have to tighten the belt in some areas.

So when we found out this wonderful news, my wife spoke out loud her concerns and frustration. My daughter chose this moment to so brilliantly let my wife know she was paying attention. "Mom, remember Dad just preached about God's provision!"

NOW she pays attention. She misses the clean her room, let the dog out part but she remembers the sermons! Well ok I can't fault her there.

However it was a good reminder to us to live our faith out and not to just vocalize it. "And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:19) My daughter just taught me that verse all over again. With love she reminded us that God does provide and to not be discouraged.

Thanks for paying attention kiddo!


Leaving a Legacy

I love the story of Enoch in the Bible. Actually, I love the handful of verses about Enoch. That is really all there is. Enoch gets 7 verses in Genesis and one in Hebrews. That's it.

In Genesis those 6 verses set the stage for who Enoch is and why he was so important. In Genesis 5:21 it says Enoch became the father of the oldest living person ever, Methuselah. The next verse says he, Enoch, walked with God 300 years while having other children. Then 2 verses later it says again Enoch walked with God and was no more because God took him. What that looked like I don't know.

Later, Enoch is commended for his faith in Hebrews 11:5. The testimony there is that he "pleased God." Wow! How is that for a legacy? That says a lot. In Genesis he is recorded as walking with God and in Hebrews he is recorded as pleasing Him.

He had kids and he walked with God. When your life is over will the world be able to say, "He/She walked with God" about you? What kind of legacy are you leaving to the world around you? Will your friends and family be able to say that you walked with God?

"He was a hard worker. She was a good mother. He was a successful businessman. She was a super athlete." These are nice things but, I would rather hear he walked with God! I want the Lord to feel as if I have pleased him! To leave this world and know that that is the legacy you are leaving your children would be a powerful witness and a testimony of the LIVING God. I believe the Father would say "Well done my good and faithful servant!"

Let's strive to leave behind a legacy like Enoch! It's never to late.


Lip Service

Have you ever given God lip service?

Let me ask it this way instead. Do you believe in God? Does He know that?

Matthew 15:8 says, "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me."

God doesn't want us to just say we believe, He wants our hearts focused on Him. It takes more than just saying, "I am a Christian." It means acting like one...in public AND in private!

Yet faith without works is dead. (James 2:17) I love my wife...I can tell her that all day long, but if I don't let my actions reflect my words, is that really love? No. In addition, if I do things for her out of obligation or because I feel I should do it to make her happy...she will know that as well. She would know when my heart isn't in it or when I am just giving lip service.

Do we focus on Him daily? Most of us are quick to thank God when things are going our way
but not so much if that continues daily. We start to take the good days and good things for granted.

What about when adversity hits? We actually pray harder when things aren't going our way, but are we seeking Him or relief from our problem?

In good times and in bad we should by all means say what we believe, but then we should act on it. If we say God is good then let us not grumble and complain when things aren't going our way. If we say He is righteous and fair, who are we to disagree when He convicts us of our own mistakes.

No, it's time to step up to the plate and to live what we confess. Imagine what would happen if everyone who confessed Jesus as Lord actually lived like they believe that!

It boggles the mind...


The Truth Isn't Sexy

Over the last couple of years I have become more aware of the issues of human slavery and sex trafficking.

Maybe you aren't aware of these issues and how prevalent they are. The International Justice Mission has 2 fact sheets with the basic info:

Sex Trafficking Fact Sheet
Human Slavery Fact Sheet

The International Justice Mission is fighting even now for those victims of sex trafficking and human slavery. I want to encourage you to check out their site and avail yourselves of their many resources. They have a prayer bulletin that I hope you all sign up for.

In addition, the Salvation Army has a website with a list of resources and links:

The Truth Isn't Sexy

Please, pray about this issue and find out how you can help.


We Are Family!

How do you define family? Some listings I saw included "shared values, ancestry and lineage." This to me would also describe the body of Christ.

What does family mean to you?

For me, I think about words. The words of a family member can hurt even more than words from a stranger or friend.

Whoever said sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never hurt you.....they need to be taken out and beaten with sticks and stones!

Proverbs 18:21 says the tongue has the power of life and death.

If you have ever been on the receiving end of a withering verbal attack or had someone make unkind and cutting remarks...then you'll know that it can feel miserable. You can feel less than human. Like a failure. Worthless.

Family has a way of doing that as well. Yes, even the family of God. The church has a nasty habit of taking it's wounded members out and shooting them!

Many, when they constantly receive a barrage of negativity, they began to embrace the hurtful things people say as part of their identity.

Gal. 2:20 says our identity is in Christ. Eph. 2:10 says we are His workmanship.

If you have been hurt by the words of others know that God loves you and He cares. Your identity is in Him not in the negative comments of others.

Which identity are you embracing?


Growing Pains

If you were like me growing up, you probably experienced "growing pains" as a child. This phenomena strikes children during periods of rapid growth in their body. The pain is primarily in the muscles and can range from mildly irritating to quite severe. However it is usually gone by morning.

I have been experiencing different kind of growing pains lately. I feel like I am going through a rapid period of growth right now and and frankly it hurts. As I seek to draw closer to the Lord, He is allowing me to also see where I am falling short. I see some failures that I am having to make right. Anyone who has experienced this knows it isn't easy.

The Bible talks about growth as well and it cautions us not to grow weary in the fight!

2 Thessalonians 3:13, "As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good."

Galatians 6:9, "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up."

Going deeper with Jesus Christ is a good thing but at times it can be painful too. When we seek Him with our whole heart, we also see where we are missing the mark or blowing it completely. That can be discouraging at times. We can grow weary while growing closer. We can also grow weary though service and helping others. Hey it happens.

However God calls us to not grow weary. He call us to growth in a different way.

"But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen" (2 Peter 3:18)

We are called to grow closer to Him and not to grow weary of doing good. I find that the older I get, the more I want to know Him. I also find the pain of growth can be almost unbearable at times. However, I fully believe it's worth it.

"...weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning." Psalm 30:5b


Happy Dependence Day!

Today it is Independence Day in the US. This is the day, for you history buffs or those without a knowledge of US History, that the US gained independence from England and set a new course.

However, for me it is DEPENDENCE Day. Today is just another day for me. Another day where I cannot do things in my own strength. Another day where I recognize that I need help, the help only God can give. I am fully dependent on Him.

You see I know I am a weak person. James 3:2 says, "For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body."

I stumble in many ways. I have done this literally as well. I used to be a bit of a klutz. The thing about stumbling is that when you start to stumble or fall, you invariably reach out for something secure to steady yourself. I do that to. I grab a hold of the ROCK!

I know I am weak and need help. I fully admit that I am dependent on the King of Kings. I would not have it any other way!

"But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. " (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

If you are not ashamed to admit how weak you are then I say to you as well, "Happy Dependence Day!"


Moonshine Madness

There are places in Tennessee where, if you know the right person, you can still acquire a big ol' jar of corn liquor, known to most people as moonshine. Now these places usually involve back roads, car trunks and late night meetings.

One place you would NOT expect to be able to acquire this illegal brew is a major theme park. It's been a few years ago now, but that was exactly what happened at a park in the hills of TN. During a festival celebrating old time culture a still had been set up for "Educational" purposes. Only water was to be run through the machine to show tourists how it "used to be!" The gentleman they had running the display, well he thought he would make a bit of brew on the side. He was going along fairly well for awhile and then made the "mistake" of letting a few folks sample his wares.

That was when the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) team rolled up and took him and parts of the still away.

"You have sinned against the Lord; and be sure your sin will find you out." Numbers 32:23

How often we try to hide our sins. Not many are brazen enough to conduct their sin in broad daylight for all to see. Oh some are, but most of us like to do our sinning in private.

The thing about sin is it has a way of bubbling to the surface like a festering wound. Eventually it's going to pop and the gunk will ooze out for all to see. Nasty description isn't it? Sin is just as nasty.

I have heard to many storied of people who feel sorry for their sin only AFTER they are caught. I was that way myself.

Proverbs 10:9 says, "Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out."

Are you walking securely or glancing over your shoulder hoping no one sees you sinning?
Do you have peace of mind or fear?
Do you act like a believer in private as well as public?

Only you know the answer to that. Well, you and God!


Grumble, Grumble - Just A Thought #43

"Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches." (2 Corinthians 11:24-28)

So, how was your day?

Paul had some really bad experiences happen to him, wouldn't you say? However, you'll notice he didn't stay there. He acknowledged them, but he didn't stay there. It would have been very easy for Paul to have wrapped himself in the misery of past experiences. I would have been tempted to. Yet Paul looked beyond that. In fact, in Philippians 4:8 he said this:

"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ."

Are we more focused on what has happened in the past or who holds our future?

Too often we wrap ourselves up in our bad experiences and wear them around like a badge of honor. People try to talk to us and we unpack our misery and display it like items at a gift shop. "Hey, look what so and so did to me!" or "Listen to this; you won't believe how this person spoke to me!"

Paul wrote many of the letters we read in the New Testament while sitting in jail!

Can we be content even when things DON'T go our way? (Philippians 4:11-13)

I am not saying we can't talk about our bad experiences. We have to be real. We can be honest about the bad stuff. However, we should be more focused on the LIVING GOD!

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

I want to be honest. I have a hard time not grumbling when things don't go my way. It's not easy. My natural tendency is to mutter and complain when bad stuff happens. I have to literally choose to rejoice. When I do, I find my mind focusing again on Christ and not the circumstances.

What kind of choice are you making?