January 5th, 2012
05:39 PM ET

College kids vow to end slavery

For the better part of an hour, 42,000 college students stood in the frigid Atlanta night, patiently waiting for a statue illustrating the fight against human trafficking to be illuminated.

They filled the Georgia International Plaza next to the Georgia Dome stadium and stood in the crisp 40 degree air this week staring up at the 100-foot high hand reaching toward the sky. Just a few minutes after midnight, they lit candles and the lights below the statue came on. The students cheered then started to softly sing. A chant of "FREE-DOM! FREE-DOM!" grew momentum.

The event  was one of the final gatherings during the Passion 2012 conference, an annual meeting of 18 to 25 year olds. The students were encouraged to donate money to causes that battle trafficking.

The statue, covered in items made by slaves like clothes, represents many things said the man responsible for coordinating the outreach efforts with the organizations that will receive portions of the more than $2.6 million raised during the four-day conference.

"Is it a hand of worship? Yes. Is it a hand of justice? Yes. Is it a [helping] hand from this generation? Yes. It is all those things," said Bryson Vogeltanz, the chief steward of Do Something Now, a fundraising arm of the Passion City Church. "We believe in these students so much and we felt like this issue was something they could rally around. Not just for these four days.  We believe they will not only leverage these four days, but ... their lives."

Vogeltanz said the kids were asked in the months leading up to the sold-out event to learn more about human trafficking so many came to Atlanta with some awareness of the immense nature of the problem.

But sometimes people still think of trafficking as something that happens in other countries,  "Melissa," a former sex slave, told CNN.

Melissa was raised in the Atlanta area, but had a bad life at home and says she moved out when she was 18. She and another friend found an apartment that became unaffordable when they both lost their jobs. They were approached by a man who offered quick cash if they would go out with men. $300, no sex, he promised. It was a lie.

He plied the teenagers with drugs and kept them trapped in a town home. They had no car, no way of getting away. They were high all the time so Melissa's family disowned their druggie daughter. Melissa was beaten. After a year in hell, Melissa asked a random man she met to take her to a hospital. She thought she was going to die.

The hospital released her and told her to go home. At 3 a.m., Melissa called her mom for the first time in many months. Thinking her mom wouldn't come, she also called the man who ruled her life. Her mom showed up first. Eventually she ended up the first woman in Wellspring Living, a program for former sex slaves.

Today, Melissa is a stay-at-home married mom with a 2-year-old child. She stays active with Wellspring, which she says saved her life physically and emotionally.

She came to Passion to tell young people her story and thank them for supporting Wellspring, the group that helped her rebuild her life.  She was overwhelmed by the tens of thousands shows of support.

"As I was driving up to the conference this morning, I was watching the kids and I just smiled," she said. "Because they are learning and they are becoming aware of things that happen in the real world - in Atlanta, in California, in Alabama, not just in the movies or in other countries."

Melissa said when she was a slave none of her neighbors ever called the police, never got involved in any way.  They probably were too afraid to get involved, she said.  And she hopes that that will change, that the kids who were so selfless with their money will also speak up when they see something wrong.That they will get involved in other ways too.

Vogeltanz echoed her thoughts.

"Our goal is not to get a bunch of  transactions. It's not about the money," he said. "It's about these students lives being changed and [them] engaging ... This is a shift in your core. Because once you know the facts, you can either go for it or you can ignore it. And for us, indifference is not an option."

Later, after the singing died down and the college kids turned to leave, most cupped their hands around their candles instead of blowing them out. They slowly walked back to their hotels, not wanting the light to die out.

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Topics: How to Help • Solutions

soundoff (559 Responses)
  1. Joel Dahl

    Great cover on the story, but some things have changed since this was released. There were about 45,000 of us, me included. And also we raised 3,660,670 as of 1pm on 1/5/2012. 🙂

    January 5, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Reply
    • Mike

      I was there too!

      January 5, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Reply
    • jon

      silly college hippies

      January 5, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Reply
      • joe

        grow up and show some respect

        January 5, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
      • Derek

        If you witnessed the horror that trafficking is.... your perspective would change.

        January 5, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
      • David

        What if you were enslaved. Yous hould be encouraging them right now.

        January 6, 2012 at 1:25 am |
      • Jackie Riverside California

        Example of America that makes us all proud. The young people are the future and it looks good. Thank you all and bless

        January 6, 2012 at 3:16 am |
      • shrub

        far from hippies.. we are college students united we fight slavery. all for the Glory of God.

        January 6, 2012 at 11:48 am |
      • Alexandra

        Really? Think about you just said. What someone took you, your mother, your daughter, wife friend etc. And forced them into slavery. You inconsiderate jerk, I hope you rot.

        January 6, 2012 at 11:52 am |
      • SeanNJ

        @Alexandra: Lemme get this straight...slavery = bad, rotting = ok. I'm hoping that post somehow missed your internal editing process.

        January 6, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
      • Cedar Rapids

        "we are college students united we fight slavery. all for the Glory of God."
        Shouldnt you be fighting slavery just for the fact its wrong?

        January 6, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
      • dan

        Wanna get some lunch? Or play Ultimate Frisbee?

        January 6, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
      • Jonathan Bay

        Jon, there's a lot more than being a hippie to this movement. This week was all for the love of Christ and compassion for others. That opportunity to reach out to others was just a bonus. Brother if you were there and saw what some people went through I believe you would want to make even the smallest contribution to help the helpless that we are unaware of. They have no voice and that is something I didn't know or care about until Passion partnered with orgs to raise the issue and spark a generation for change. It's here.

        Alexandra that was def not the way to respond to his comment. When others don't understand things and certain other people don't respond properly (people who try to represent Christ and fail to do so properly)... Christians get the hypocritical and judgmental name.

        Do everything in LOVE.

        January 6, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
      • Katy

        @ SeanNJ

        If I could "like" that, I would!

        January 7, 2012 at 9:47 am |
      • david, USN RET (SS)

        These young people care and can relate to the victims, we all should be thankful for their work.

        January 7, 2012 at 10:15 am |
      • sam

        there's something wrong when you exploit slavery to promote your christian beliefs. end slavery because slavery is wrong, not so you can advertise your god.

        makes me scared to think of all the problems of the world you would ignore because you don't think it would promote your god well enough.

        January 7, 2012 at 10:25 am |
      • Brock

        Didn't see a single hippy there.

        January 7, 2012 at 11:43 am |
      • Samantha

        Thats extremely rude.Why would u say tht?

        January 9, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Mary Moriarity

      I saw a bunch of your demonstrators sittin in Dunkin' Donuts early in the morning–doing nothing but drinking coffee and eating donuts! rough conference

      January 5, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Reply
      • BobRoss

        I didn't know conferences were supposed to be out in the wild living on berries and pine needle tea and sleeping under the stars.

        January 5, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
      • Timothy

        Demonstrators? Where do you see demonstrators? I think youre confused.

        January 6, 2012 at 1:19 am |
      • Mackenzie

        Really? It was a conference....we're allowed to eat breakfast.

        January 6, 2012 at 3:02 am |
      • Lisa

        They were just getting energized to get back at the true work they were doing. Everyone's gotta eat. They helped raise over a million dollars for a good cause. What did you do that day other that eat? Just sayin'.

        January 6, 2012 at 10:03 am |
      • Claire

        Mary, I reply to your statement with understanding and no animosity. I am not sure if anyone was able to talk to you about what the students were doing at the Passion 2012 conference, that is ok. They were not demonstrators. I am sorry if you had an unpleasant encounter with someone from that conference. I wish I could have met you and honestly had a chance to talk and learn more about you.
        My friend and I work 50-70 hours per week as medical professionals. She is a nurse and I am a doctor. We chose to be Volunteers for this conference and glad we did.
        I see how you may have thought the college students appeared to be "doing nothing" within the time span of their meal at Dunkin Donuts and maybe they appeared lazy and not going anywhere with their time. For most of them it was their Vacation time and the only free time until they start back to classes next week.
        We all pace ourselves differently and make choices to give our time and life to what we believe is important. Our lives our short and we see it in our families and friends who have passed before us. Reality is we all wake up any morning of the week with our hair a mess, a little sleepy, moving a little slower, use the bathroom, or need a shower. Their not perfect but are growing, in maturity and in character. I have much respect for this "young" generation that chose to wake up another day of giving their breath to what matters in life.

        There is an old song that I love. I post it for me, others and Mary who read this post.

        "Why you holdin' grudges in old jars?
        Why you wanna show off all your scars?
        What's it gonna take to lay a few burdens down?
        It's a beautiful sound

        When they all fall
        Like a million raindrops
        Falling from a blue sky
        Kissing your cares goodbye
        They all fall
        Like a million pieces
        A ticker tape parade high
        And now you're free to fly"

        by the Newsboys

        January 6, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
      • SteveT

        Ok, so let me get this straight. Young people who went to this conference should've be there 24-7 without eating or drinking ANYTHING ANYWHERE. Your statement doesn't make sense. What's your point?

        January 6, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
      • Patrick

        @ Brock
        You’ll forgive me I stopped reading at the point you posted scripture. It’s circler logic and if there were only one interpretation we wouldn’t have some many translations and sects. Besides I’ve read it all before.
        To your other point, I said short of god himself answering.
        Why are we dancing around the issue here? If you have proof (which is needed to for the conversation to even be credible)then please give it to the world. I’m not sure if proving god was real is such a great thing considering all the evil and violence he as commented. But at least we’d know.

        When you come down to it, all you have is Faith. And that is a horrible position to be debating from.


        World English Dictionary
        faith (feɪθ)

        — n
        1. strong or unshakeable belief in something, esp without proof or evidence
        2. a specific system of religious beliefs: the Jewish faith
        3. Christianity trust in God and in his actions and promises
        4. a conviction of the truth of certain doctrines of religion, esp when this is not based on reason
        5. complete confidence or trust in a person, remedy, etc

        January 6, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
      • KatyaKatya

        Mary, what do you expect people to do at Donkin Donuts???? Humans need sustenance occasionally.

        January 6, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
      • Jordan

        Who said Passion was a rough conference. It was a LIFE CHANGING conference and we were all there to Glorify God and Praise Him for what He has given us, and yes since we are humans we need to eat and breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

        January 6, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
      • Landon Harris

        They weren't just demonstrating, they gave 3+ million dollars of their own money AND THEN went to get breakfast. Quit trying to make yourself feel better for doing nothing.

        January 6, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
      • Katy

        @ Patrick

        Everyone has faith in something. Many even hold faith only in themselves. What is it you look to? What is it you have faith in?

        January 7, 2012 at 9:46 am |
      • Bobby Bryant

        Just want you to know you made yourself look like a fool in front of the whole nation...people are not Gunna starve themselves over this...it is not a hunger strike! What makes it so bad that people are having a conference to stop this...and surround the topic with the power of god?

        January 12, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • CherryBerry

      I was there as well and man what and experience!!!!!

      January 6, 2012 at 12:18 am | Reply
      • Alicia

        This is me liking your comment 🙂

        January 7, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • Rebekah Chaplin

      Praise God for putting this compassion inside of our hearts! 😀 So amazing, and I'm still fired up to give more!
      (Missing my brothers and sisters from Passion already)

      January 6, 2012 at 1:55 am | Reply
      • Patrick

        Now if only ‘god’ would free those slaves. Yes yes.. I know.. he has a plan. I’m sure filling our hearts with compassion for these poor slaves is more important than their freedom.

        January 6, 2012 at 8:47 am |
      • JS

        Patrick...Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, famine, and injustice in the world, when He could do something about it...but I'm afraid He might ask me the same question.

        January 6, 2012 at 9:42 am |
      • Patrick

        When I am all powerful and all knowing, he is welcome to ask. Nice try though.

        January 6, 2012 at 12:21 pm |