60K College Students Rally at Passion 2013 for the World’s 27 Million Slaves
What happens when you gather 60,000 college students together in one place during their holiday break to talk about the injustices of the world? Some might call it a revolution. Or perhaps it’s simply a divine intervention. Last week, the annual Passion conference took place inside Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. Over 2,000 university campuses from 54 different countries were represented as students flooded the arena for four days of music, speakers, and hard truth.
Following Monday night’s Chick-fil-A Bowl, AstroTurf® was quickly replaced with hard flooring and an elaborate in-the-round stage that became the centerpiece for the four-day conference focused on worship and justice, two things Passion founder/speaker/pastor Louie Giglio claim go hand-in-hand. “The local church is God’s way of changing the world,” said Giglio at the conference’s opening session on January 1. “Collectively, we become a force for justice.”
Giglio was only one of several speakers on the bill to challenge attendees to live for something bigger than themselves over the course of the event. Beth Moore, Francis Chan, Judah Smith, John Piper, and Gary Haugen also shared the platform, speaking on topics pertinent to the host of 18- to 25-year-olds present in the Dome. Passion has long been known as a key player in the modern worship movement, and music was also a defining force with the crème de la crème leading worship, including Chris Tomlin, Kristian Stanfill, Christy Nockels, Matt Redman, Charlie Hall, and David Crowder. Fan favorites Lecrae and Jesus Culture also offered their unique talents to the event, while Kari Jobe and Colton Dixon both lent their vocals as special guests.
More than music and message, Passion raised a battle-cry to stand for the injustices of the world by uniting students around a central cause — modern-day slavery and human trafficking. Not only did attendees leave the Georgia Dome deeply moved and challenged, but they left with a zeal to take action fueled by the stories they heard, the songs they sang, and the images they saw of the 27 million men, women, and children still enslaved around the world today. In fact, there are more slaves today than at any other time in history. And it’s those 27 million that captured the hearts and souls of the 60,000 students worshipping in the Georgia Dome.
“I feel like I have known there was slavery. It would be naive to think it doesn’t exist still in our world today. Hearing and seeing the stories opened my eyes and broke my heart for all the people [in slavery],” says Andrew Temple, a student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who attended Passion this year for the first time.
Passion partnered with a variety of organizations already engaged in the fight to end slavery. Messages, videos, and even a compelling panel discussion in one of the afternoon sessions allowed students a glimpse into the $32 billion human trafficking industry. A real former slave rescued by International Justice Mission was introduced at the conference following a moving video telling her story. Students were then asked to go out to “freedom stations” to donate money that would then be divided among the various organizations. The result was more than $3.1 million raised in four days.
On the last evening of the conference, students literally shone a light on slavery by gathering in the frigid January air for a candlelight vigil in honor of the 27 million victims of modern-day slavery. For abolitionists like Giglio and International Justice Mission President Gary Haugen, awareness is key. “Awareness is doing the work,” Haugen explains.
For many students, the knowledge gleamed at Passion provokes direct action. “Ignorance is bliss, but after you hear about this issue, you can’t ignore it anymore,” says Esther McCartney, a 23-year-old Passion attendee from nearby McDonough, Ga. “Since becoming aware, I’m trying to find stores that don’t use slave labor, and I’ve looked into internships at anti-slavery organizations.”
Giglio, Haugen, and the other abolitionists from various organizations represented at this year’s Passion conference, including Not For Sale, the Polaris Project, Love146, Slavery Footprint, and the CNN Freedom Project, among others, whole-heartedly believe this could be the generation that ends slavery once and for all.
“There is an awesome God of justice who is ready to move in power if you are ready to move in obedience,” Haugen told the students in the Dome. “You may be the generation that manifests God’s heart for justice to the world.”
As evidenced by the more than $3.1 million dollars raised by these so-called “poor” college-age students, these young people agree they could be the generation to bring this injustice to light. “I think we are a generation who cares and has the greatest ability to reach those in need,” says Temple. He attributes this in part to technology. “In our parents’ time it was almost impossible to know what was going on on the other side of the world, but now many of us may even have social [connections in] other parts of the world, and that connects us all,” he continues.
Indeed, technology does make awareness easier. But it takes the passion and man-power of people spreading the word to spark a movement. With the commencement of Passion 2013, the “In It to END IT” movement was birthed. The END IT campaign is a movement to end modern-day slavery, but the true power lies in the numbers. Sixty thousand students willing to take a stand for the 27 million slaves worldwide is a good place to start.
“When Christians stand together, we are a powerful force that can’t be ignored. Christians argue about so much that it reduces our impact on the world,” McCartney comments. “At Passion, it’s not about the Baptists, the Methodists, the Presbyterians, or any other denomination. It’s about standing together in the name of Jesus, and that has the power to change the world.”
To join the END IT movement and help shine a light on slavery, visit www.enditmovement.com.
Lindsay Williams is a freelance writer and graduate of Samford University who’s passionate about seeing college students and young adults change the world for God’s glory.