While attending the University of Kansas, I became great friends with Hannah Roark, an artistic and incredibly passionate young woman. As our friendship developed she became increasingly consumed by the injustice of human trafficking.
One day she told me she was selling t-shirts and giving the profits to a local organization that was on the front lines of the fight against human trafficking. What began as a simple idea has turned into a fully functioning freedom organization, Trade61. I sat down with Hannah recently to talk about what it took to start an organization that exposes injustice and supports the work of restoration in our local communities.
What is Trade61?
When I asked her how she started the organization, the answer I got surprised me. “I didn’t start Trade61” she stated candidly. “I simply decided one day to design a shirt and wear it for a month straight to raise awareness for the issue of trafficking.”
Hannah sketched a design in her notebook that was inspired by Isaiah 61, which talks about God bringing freedom to the captives. “I thought it spoke to the truth that Christ didn’t just save us from something, but into a whole new reality” she said.
30 days of wearing the same shirt turned into a total of 83 days and during that time word spread across the KU campus. A local news station shared the story which in turn got linked on CNN’s website. The next day Hannah started receiving orders for shirts from all over the world and Trade61 began to form.So many times we disqualify ourselves when #God is simply asking us to just take a step Click To Tweet
“There is a need to look at things realistically. No, things like Trade61 don’t magically happen without hard work, but so many times we disqualify ourselves when God is simply asking us to just take a step and plant a seed.” Hannah says.
“God gave us each gifts to put to work in impacting change in our culture. God gave me the idea for Trade61 and I was filled by enthusiasm from the Holy Spirit, and while the process of developing Trade61 was still a lot of work, I can honestly say that it boiled down to a daily decision to choose Him and take another step forward. He did the rest.”
Hannah says one of the great things God revealed to her, is that He will always provide. God asked her to do something simple; invest $28 in a shirt and He was faithful to make it so much bigger than she could have ever made herself.
Human Trafficking and Changing of Hearts
Hannah has since passed Trade61 onto a faithful team of KU grads and current students.
Ryan Schlesener, Brogan Britt, and Michael Lavanier now jointly oversee the operation of Trade61. I spoke with Ryan about the current affairs of Trade61 and he said that ever since the recent sexual assault scandal on KU’s campus, Trade61 has been given many opportunities to address the issue of sexual violence.
“While many people think more education is the solution to this problem, which certainly has value, we believe that this issue is actually rooted in the heart of mankind and therefore the problem can only be resolved by a transformation of the heart.”
In order to address this, Trade61 started hosting an annual “Let’s talk about Porn” forum where a former porn film star who left the industry and now spends her time teaching people about the horrors of porn, tells her story and then answers questions from those in attendance.The #problem can only be resolved by a #transformation of the #heart Click To Tweet
In order to personally engage students, Trade61 volunteers spend time on the campus with surveys in hand, asking students about various topics related to human trafficking.
“It’s an effective way of educating the public because the surveys are designed to start conversations. Most people aren’t aware that anyone can be enslaved and anyone can be a trafficker. People don’t understand just how much domestic violence, poverty, and even watching porn fuels this evil industry.”
Along with the “Let’s Talk About Porn” event and facilitating surveys, Trade61 hosts a fundraising dodgeball tournament every year to raise funds for local restoration houses. They also host screenings of informative documentaries (like Nefarious: Merchant of Souls) to raise awareness on the issue.
“God has been showing me so many neat things about His heart for justice”, Ryan says. “Isaiah 61 is important because God desperately wants that kind of freedom for His people, and not only that, but if you read Luke chapter 4, Jesus stands up and proclaims the fulfillment of that very prophecy. That means that it has been done and is being done everyday as we live our lives to come into alignment with that kind of freedom.”
In order to have a wider and more effective reach in the work of making people aware, Trade61 is also in the process of developing an educational curriculum. The goal of this curriculum is to address the “why” of human trafficking.
“The root problem lies in the hearts of mankind,” Ryan says. “That is a difficult thing for people to hear, but we want to show how domestic violence, homelessness, pornography, poverty, unhealthy understandings of masculinity and femininity, and so many other things are inherently tied to sex trafficking. It’s indisputable.”
If you want to buy a t-shirt or learn more about the important work that Trade61 is doing, be sure to check out their website.
I love the way God pursues His hurting and broken people through the lives of ordinary, willing individuals like Hannah, Ryan, you, and me. That is what being a child of God is all about, being aware of what He is doing around you and within you, and planting the seed He gives you, even if it seems really small – like mustard seed sized. He will be faithful, and He desperately wants to use you and me in the work of restoring people.