Before General Conference 2015’s official start, approximately 600 people gathered July 10–11 at the Grand Caribe Convention Center in Orlando for powerful messages and music encouraging Freedom Summit participants to join the fight against human trafficking and to embrace the ultimate source of freedom.
“There’s no answer apart from Jesus. He leads us right to those spaces where we have to depend on Him,” said Danielle Strickland, a Salvation Army officer who has led an anti-trafficking organization. “In the end what’s actually going to change the word is when Moses fades and Elijah fades, and all there is left is Jesus.”
The Set Free Movement partnered with other groups to sponsor the summit. Musical acts included Northern Ireland’s Rend Collective, Florida’s Set Free and Oklahoma’s Charlie Hall Band. Pastor and worship leader Charlie Hall took a break from his band’s music to share his reflections on the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32) and the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1–11).
“It’s not good guys and bad guys. It’s like everybody needs Jesus,” Hall said.
Speakers included Free Methodist bishops, One Day’s Wages founder Eugene Cho, International Justice Mission Vice President of Spiritual Formation Jim Martin, Not Our Native Daughters Director Lynnette Greybull, Wesleyan Holiness Consortium Operations Manager Kate Wallace and Stripped Love Chief Executive Officer Kimberly Majeski. Their messages were not always easy to hear.
“One of the most dangerous things for us as followers of Christ is when we cease to be teachable. … Sometimes the most difficult people to lead to Christ are Christians,” said Cho, who also warned the abolitionists not to misrepresent or take advantage of the people for whom they’re advocating. “It’s so seductive to use people to build our own stories and platforms.”
Martin emphasized how we can become so focused on challenges like a bathroom remodel that we fail to pay attention to much more serious issues in our world.
“Small problems can appear big to us, and this comes at a cost. It actually distorts our worldview,” said Martin, who added there are spiritual implications to focusing on our minor problems while ignoring societal issues like human trafficking. “We don’t see the justice issues in the scriptures because we don’t see them around us in the world.”
Tomas Lares, the founder and executive director of the Florida Abolitionist group, opened the summit and noted the presence of Orange County, Florida, Commissioner Pete Clarke in the audience. He emphasized the importance of working with government officials and other groups.
“We’re creating a strategy for the state of Florida, and then in our regions, we’re creating a strategy,” Lares said. “It’s so important we understand in this fight against human trafficking — whether you’re called to go overseas and be an abolitionist or you’re called in your own backyard — that God is calling us to do it in the power of collaboration. … Please leave your logo and your ego at the door.”
In the first evening’s keynote address, Strickland shared the Salvation Army’s heritage of shutting down the brothel system in Japan more than 100 years ago and ways in which others are working to replicate those results today using methods that are relevant to our current situations. When she worked for the Salvation Army in Melbourne, Australia, a convention center booked the Salvation Army for an event at the same time as the Sexpo convention. While other leaders were worried about ensuring separation from the sex convention, she booked a booth there, and the event’s organizer gave her free space, treated her kindly and requested a Bible from her. She said Jesus leads us into the weak spots and the hard situations.
“He invites us into the right now, into the present time, into what He wants to do this time, how He wants to work in this moment, how it’s going to work in this generation,” Strickland said. “We actually have to let go of how we think in our heads that’s it’s going to work.”
Free Methodist missionary Kevin Austin, the Set Free Movement’s national director, told participants not to expect the summit to make them feel guilty or that they aren’t doing enough.
“We really believe that modern slavery is more of a symptom than a problem,” Austin said. “The main problem is brokenness. People are broken, families are broken, communities are broken, systems are broken, governments are broken, finances are broken, and on and on and on, and we know that the only true solution to that brokenness is what Jesus brings.”
The summit included more than 20 different organizations committed to fight human trafficking.
“Let’s come together and focus on being a community and really leaning into the healing and the hope of what God can do, and let’s unify the movement. Then let’s engage,” Austin said. “Then we’ll have effective, sustainable strategies and actions.”