Teens collect change to loosen chains of slavery

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OCEANSIDE, Calif. — Alesia Clark probably won't give you a penny for your thoughts, but she is more than willing to take them—plus quarters, dimes and nickels—to share some of what's on her mind.

But these days, it seems she has a little competition from her junior high school church group.

Clark, a member at North Coast Calvary Chapel, and her students helped to spearhead a communitywide coin drive, which raised nearly $12,000 for an anti-slavery ministry. Six other congregations took part in the coin fundraiser, which ran between four and six weeks.

"It was neat to see how many little kids wanted to set the slaves free," the youth worker said. "Some of them brought in their piggy banks, some brought in loose change in cans."

Clark said she was looking for ways to involve her young teens in outreach when she heard about human trafficking from Zach Hunter, a teenager who founded "Loose Change to Loosen Chains" after becoming inspired by the film Amazing Grace, which chronicled the life of abolitionist William Wilberforce. Hunter wrote a book about the issue called "Be the Change."

"When working with youth, it's important to have a young role model," she said. "It's this generation, I believe, that will end slavery."

She also obtained teaching materials from the International Justice Mission, a human rights agency that assists victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression.

"It was a burden on my heart placed by God when I saw so many of the youth here affected," she said. "Human trafficking and modern-day slavery are huge here."

In addition to raising money, the 22 committed teens have formed an informal speakers bureau where they speak about the issues of slavery to charter schools and private school, churches and youth groups. They hope to eventually expand to public schools.

"We know God will open the door," she said.

In February, the teens hosted "Rock for Change," a rally and fundraiser to benefit Hunter's ministry.

"It was a great platform for awareness," Clark said, adding that Bob Goff, founder and president of Restore International, a Christian-based ministry that rescues women and children from slavery, was the guest speaker at the concert.

Although their first change drive is over, Clark said they plan to make this an ongoing campaign, perhaps several times a year. They are also working on a youth rally in the fall.

"We are looking at different ways we can continue to be a voice for human trafficking awareness," Clark said.


Slave to the streets
The need for awareness, she said, is critical because many Americans believe this is an issue only in far-off countries. In fact, human trafficking is a serious problem in most big cities, including San Diego, where at-risk teens can be swept into slavery as quickly as 48 hours after hitting the street. Migrants and teen runaways are among the most vulnerable.

"There are kids who are as young as 12 who are being tricked into slavery," Clark said.

Adults take advantage of the kids by luring them with big promises of fame and money. Acting and modeling pledges are a common carrot.

"Before she knows it, she is forced into prostitution," she said. "These are our children. It's gut wrenching. It ranges from sometime criminals to gang crimes and they have even detected some mob activity. They are learning that drugs are not reusable, but they can reuse people. They can use these girls over and over again. That's why it's such a fast-growing problem."


Biblical approach
Hoping to break the pattern of reuse and abuse, Clark said her teens participated in a six-week Bible study as a component of the change campaign. Because of the adult themes often associated with human trafficking, Clark said attendance at the study was purely optional and all parents were notified. The sessions were held on a different night from the regular youth program. Discussions of the issue were also adjusted for age suitability, she said.

She praised the young people for their willingness to move beyond a social network of just fun and fellowship to accepting the call for outreach and ministry. Lives, she said, are being changed.

"If it's presented to them, teens respond," Clark said. "Adults need to change their minds toward junior-highers, because if you give them an opportunity to do big God service, they will rise to the occasion. They want to do something bigger than them."

For more information, e-mail alesiaclark@mac.com.