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.
Two of the riders took time out of their schedule to answer some questions about the ride:
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.