I am accustomed to hearing criticism of college students here in Oneonta, but I want to take this chance to applaud them.
On Thursday, Nov. 6, a group of students from both our local colleges and from a number of churches hosted at State University College at Oneonta's Hunt Union a concert and art auction to benefit the work of Love 146. This event was a wonderful example of compassion. It was faith in action. It held up hope for those trapped in slavery. And it was an act of love that challenges each of us to join in their efforts.
It may be news to many of us that slavery still exists in the world today. Didn't we fight a civil war to end it? But throughout the world, it does "" especially involving children, most of whom are enslaved for prostitution.
How big is this problem? The United Nations Children's Fund, or UNICEF, estimates that 1.2 million children are trafficked annually. Even ignoring the obvious horror and degradation of this situation, it also results in psychological trauma, HIV and other serious illnesses, loss of family, community, and educational opportunities, and makes those children vulnerable to further abuse.
This trade in human beings is a $12 billion-a-year business. It exploits local poverty, the low status of children in general and girls in particular. It panders to the most perverse of predatory sexual appetites. In many places, this slave traffic and prostitution may be financing the purchase of arms for terrorist movements.
Why is the organization called "Love 146"? In 2002, the co-founders of Love 146 traveled to Southeast Asia on an exploratory trip to determine how they could serve in the fight against child sex trafficking. They were taken undercover with investigators to a brothel, where they witnessed children being sold for sex.
Displayed for sale, those children were labeled with numbers "" as though their names had been taken away from them along with all the dignity of being human. One girl, whose eyes were not yet empty from the abuse and horror, wore a patch with the number 146. She could not be rescued.
By now, she is certainly dead. But she has become the image of all the children this ministry seeks to save. Their mission is to love 146, and all those whom she represents.
Love 146 works toward the abolition of child sex trafficking and exploitation through prevention and aftercare. Love 146 trains aftercare workers, multiplies safe homes, aids socioeconomic development programs in high-risk communities and provides a voice for these victims of modern-day slavery.
The Nov. 6 event was one of many supporting this work. My wife and I were certainly among the oldest people attending. Most were college-aged. The music was great. The arts and crafts auctioned were great.
But the greatest thing was seeing the passion of young people whose love and faith inspired them to commit to a cause beyond themselves, their comfort and security.
Their compassion, expressed in tears and music and poetry and generosity, stretched out to the most helpless of their brothers and sisters. It went beyond national borders or the boundaries of cultures and languages. It spoke the universal language of love. And that, as I hope we all know, is the language God speaks.
Their devotion should be an inspiration to us all. It is time for abolition to be completed. It is time to give that little girl, No. 146, back her name. May we show it by supporting this ministry.
You can find more information at www.love146.org.
The Rev. Kenneth Hunter is pastor of St. James Episcopal Church of Oneonta.