Slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865, but did you know that, according to a story released by KLTV on August 24, 2013, that a form of slavery called human trafficking is a growing problem – not in Africa or Asia or New York, but in East Texas. Human trafficking is defined as “the illegal movement of people, typically for the purposes of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation.” Traffickers often target at risk young people, sometimes twelve-years-old and younger, in order to sell their bodies for cash. A Tyler expert was quoted by KLTV as saying that, in Smith County, 33% of girls and 17% of boys will be sexually abused, some of them at the hand of traffickers, before the age of eighteen.
For the Silent is a non-profit organization based in Tyler and dedicated to bringing “hope to teens silenced by sex trafficking and exploitation in the United States through prevention, intervention and community mobilization programs.” Their second annual Nightwalk for Hope was scheduled for April 24, but due to stormy weather, it was rescheduled for May 8. The event featured a two-mile walk through Rose Rudman Park with music and other activities planned at the finish line. During the walk, each participant would carry a lantern to symbolize hope and freedom for those silenced by human trafficking.
Friday night, ten members of Believers’ Baptist Church, along with many others, congregated at the park. We were excited, both about the fellowship and also about helping to raise awareness and funds for a cause that touched us all deeply. We met at the pre-arranged spot near the sign-in tables where those who had pre-registered on-line and given the recommended donation of $10 each picked up their t-shirts. David and I had not pre-registered, so I filled out the required forms while he pulled out his wallet and looked around for the donation box.
Before he found the box, the sky was illuminated by a huge bolt of lightning followed by deafening clap of thunder, and the rain that had threatened all the way from Emory began to fall. Our small group scattered with the guys heading for the truck and the gals opting for the covered pavilion that was a short jog away. We avoided getting too wet, and our spirits weren’t dampened. We used our phones to take pictures of each other and to check the progress of the huge green, yellow, and red blob that was fast approaching Tyler from the southwest.
The lightning continued to flash, and the rain fell harder. About thirty minutes before the sunset walk was scheduled to begin, we saw people walking toward their cars, and we heard several of them say that the walk had been cancelled. One couple braved the rain to check on the rumor, and when they returned with confirmation, our small band said goodnight and split up. David and I had carpooled with another couple, so she and I waited under the pavilion while the guys navigated the traffic to get as close to us as possible. Once we were in the truck, we made one more stop so David could make a mad dash back to the donation box to drop in the money that had been crumpled in his pocket all evening. Then, we headed back to Emory.
On the way, we stopped in Lindale for ice cream and chit chat. When we returned to the vehicle to make our way home, we laughed at our mature version of a Texas double date – a pick-up truck at the Dairy Queen with guys in front seat and gals in back. It was funny, but I couldn’t help but wonder about those kids in Tyler and other small towns across America who find nothing to laugh about in a world where there seems to be nothing but despair.
Still, there will be another Nightwalk next year, and as long as there are organizations like For the Silent, there is still hope. If you would like to learn more about For the Silent and how you can donate or get involved, go to www.ForTheSilent.org or call 903-747-8128.