Oct 27, 2009

Run For Their Lives

by Mallory Barks

More than 800 runners persevered through five or 10 rainy kilometers for one thing — the name of a Thai girl trapped in sex slavery stamped on their arm. The first annual Run For Their Lives (RFTL) race at Heritage High School, sponsored by Freedom 4/24, raised almost $20,000 to help free girls in bondage and put an end to sex trafficking worldwide.

RFTL was not just another race. This race was for everyone — the young and the old, competitive runners and determined walkers. Even the drizzling rain could not dampen the spirit of the event. Moms walked strollers, teenagers listened to iPods and adults chatted with friends. Spectators joined in the excitement by holding signs and cheering for the runners.

“Every stride you take, you will help set girls free,” Brentwood Church pastor Jon Dupin told the runners. “That’s worth a rainy Saturday.”

According to the Freedom 4/24 Web site, more than 300,000 women are forced to sacrifice their dignity and self-worth to support their families, and approximately two children are sold into slavery every minute. A customer pays a “bar fee” of just $24 to purchase a girl for 24 hours. The women sell their bodies as their only means of survival.

“(Representatives from 4/24 pay for 24 hours for the women, during which they) build a trust relationship with them and then introduce these dear women to Jesus Christ, who alone can fully restore what was stolen from them and rescue these dear souls for all eternity,” Brentwood Church pastor and RFTL organizer Steve Pettit said.

Each participant’s race entry fee of $24 will purchase one night of freedom for one woman. Because of RFTL, 803 sexually exploited women will now have a chance of freedom.

According to Pettit, Freedom 4/24 hopes to unite the citizens of Lynchburg to fight slavery by creating awareness through events like RFTL.

Before the race, runners lined up to have a name written on their arm – the name of the girl they were running for.

Justin Danaher and Rebekah Ricksecker, both Liberty students, finished first in the men’s and women’s 5K races, respectively, and Donnie Cowart and Rebekah Morris won for the 10K races.

Although everyone came together for the same purpose, each participant connected with the cause in a different way.

“I heard about sex trafficking last year and I had been waiting to be able to do something to help,” junior Elaina Destefano said. “This was a first step for me.”

Spectators Russ and Sue Carr came to cheer on their two children and support the cause because of their work in Africa with the Sports Outreach Institute.

“(The cause) is very close to our heart (because) a lot of these problems happen where we work in Africa,” Sue Carr said.
Senior Sara Hoffmann was able to relate to the girls through the race itself.

“It’s pretty painful for me to run,” Hoffmann said. “You can picture what they’re going through when you want to stop.”

After the race Christine Pettit, founder of Freedom 4/24, thanked all the runners for participating in the first RFTL event that she hopes will spread throughout the country. According to Pettit, Freedom 4/24 is only beginning to accomplish its mission.

Contact Mallory Barks at mjbarks@liberty.edu.

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