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Church focuses on freedoms
Lenten services at The Highlands aim to shed light on human trafficking
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The Highlands Pastor Jeff Coleman will start a new series on human trafficking on Sunday, in conjunction with Lent and the international Web site www.notforsalecampaign.org. - photo by SARA GUEVARA
Freedom Sunday
When: 9:15 and 11:15 a.m. Sunday
Where: The Highlands, 3678 Cleveland Highway, Gainesville
More info: 770-535-0843

In the United States, a country that is the standard for freedom worldwide, it doesn’t seem possible that human trafficking and slavery could occur.

But it does. Every day.

According to the Not For Sale Campaign, which and raises awareness and fights for human trafficking, there are at least 27 million slaves worldwide, most being women and children.

The local church The Highlands has joined that cause, and will kick off that focus Sunday as part of Freedom Sunday, which is also part of the church’s observance of Lent.

“It’s an open-ended opportunity for churches from various backgrounds,” said the Rev. Jeff Coleman, pastor at the United Methodist congregation. “We were just planning, praying and strategizing one day, and we were doing some sermon planning and discovered that this was coming up ... there’s actually a connection here (to Lent) to this issue of human trafficking.”

This Sunday is the first Sunday of the Lenten season, which ends on Easter Sunday, and also will be Freedom Sunday, a movement created by the Not For Sale Campaign. Freedom Sunday stands for a worldwide day of reflection by preaching about the freedom Jesus brings, singing songs of redemption and prayerfully considering taking an offering to support the global projects of the Not For Sale Campaign, according to www.notforsalecampaign.org.

“By the end of this week there will be 500 registered churches in 20 different countries,” said the Rev. Kevin Austin, director of Abolitionist Faith Community, in conjunction with Not for Sale. He also is a pastor at Lakeside Community Fellowship in Lake Stevens, Wash. “I think next year we will have thousands and thousands of churches involved.”

Tying Lent in with a series on human trafficking may at first sound like a stretch, but supporting and fighting for freedom has a clear connection to Lent.

Coleman explained the true meaning of Lent is prayer, fasting and giving. True fasting is explained in Isaiah 58:6-7 as “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke.”

The verse continues: “To set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (New International Version).

“Three primary Lenten disciplines throughout history has been prayer, fasting and alms giving,” Coleman said. “That’s what we have put together, is opportunities to pray, opportunities to fast as a family, and we are urging families to fast and the chance to give.”

The Highlands also will include education and awareness of fair trade foods and other materials during the Lent season.

“We’ve got 40 days of devotions that just kind of teach on poverty and hunger and trafficking and slavery,” said Elizabeth Jones, director of children and family ministries at the church. “Not a lot of people realize that the food that we eat, the clothes that we wear, are made by slaves and two of the big ones that we are kind of hitting on are chocolate and coffee.”

So starting Sunday, members will be making a difference even with a cup of coffee.

The church will be “switching the coffee beans that we use on Sunday mornings to make sure that it is fair trade,” she said. “So the people we are buying coffee beans from are being paid fairly for their labor.”

The church also will collect change in rice bowls that will be donated to Haiti.

Purchasing products like coffee and chocolate is one way to fight human trafficking is just a small cost, church members say.

Helping the thousands enslaved around the world is priceless.

“There’s 27 million people worldwide, there’s 200,000 in the U.S. and in Atlanta alone ... there’s 200 women a month trafficked as sex slaves through the city,” said Carl Lubbe, worship minister at The Highlands. “I do believe that this issue will be the issue that defines not only anybody of faith but anybody of moral character.”

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