As an awkward fifth-grader, I felt that all the kids at school had so much more than I did, in every way. With more than the usual ups and downs, our contentious, dysfunctional family struggled from day to day. My parents used strict discipline to keep four children in line and to try to maintain some order in our home.
Other than my dad occasionally dropping us kids off for Sunday school at the closest Methodist church, the only way I heard God’s name used was in vain. The prevailing philosophy around our house was that religion was fine as long as people didn’t get “carried away” with it being more important than work or daily life.
I remember, though, my mother’s excitement when she heard that the Billy Graham was coming to our town. It was the only time I ever remember anyone insisting we go to a Christian event. I hadn’t heard of Billy Graham, but because of my mother’s anticipation, I knew he must be special.
As the station wagon carrying our stressed little family rambled its way to the meeting, even the night chill couldn’t subdue my mom’s joyful expectation. We got inside the arena and moved nervously to our seats. My childlike eyes watched quietly with awe, in anticipation of what was to come. I had never attended an event with this many people, and all of them exhibited that same expectancy I could see in my mom. I perched on the edge of my seat, looking down on the right side of the stage.
The lights dimmed and beautiful music filled the room. I watched as people on the platform told stories about how God had changed their lives. My heart swelled with so much love I thought it would burst. Could it really be true? Could God really touch my life like He had touched theirs? My young, confused heart wanted all they were speaking of—but how?
When Mr. Graham began to speak, I was in awe of his gentle strength. He seemed like he knew God personally, which made me want to know God that same way.
The moment arrived. I heard the voices of the choir as the song began: “Just as I am, though tossed about, with many a conflict, many a doubt, fightings within and fears without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.” As people filed past me to go to the front, I looked up at the faces of my parents and my older siblings. They stood like statues in front of their chairs, emotionless.
I prayed silently, telling God I was sorry for my sins and that I wanted the new life with Christ that I had heard Mr. Graham and others testify of earlier in the evening. My heart danced inside my little chest with joy that I know now was the Holy Spirit. I wanted to celebrate my heart’s joy by walking forward with others seeking my newfound faith. Yet I feared my parents’ punishment if I allowed myself to get separated from my family, and their criticism that I’d become carried away with religion.
On the way home, I sat in the back seat of the station wagon, staring out the window. I smiled in my heart at the new relationship God and I now shared. I somehow felt empowered to handle the many conflicts at home and the ridicule of the more popular kids at school. Already my relationship with God was giving me value I had never known. I was special to God.
The years went by, and with no nurturing of my decision that night, my faith dwindled to evening prayers as I fell asleep and the occasional reassurance that God was with me always. Twice during my high school years I went forward at Christian events to which I had been invited. That early decision at the Billy Graham Crusade caused my heart to be tender to the beckoning of God, but I had become too cool to be constricted to a Christian life.
At age 21, during a rare Easter Sunday attendance at a friend’s church, I finally gave God full rein of my life. Since that day, I have endured many of life’s surprises, both good and bad, yet God has been my constant companion and guide.
I’ve seen that God was serious about keeping the heart of that troubled little girl at the Billy Graham Crusade, and walking near her all the days of her life. Mark 10:14 says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (NIV). I can attest that not only did I receive eternal life that evening, but also a call on my life that is every bit as real today as it was at the moment I wanted to go forward.
Today that call manifests itself in my fight against human trafficking, which the United States government defines as modern-day slavery. As an author and speaker I also work with organizations that promote public awareness, provide training, coordinate victim resources and assist with investigations to combat this growing crime.
I believe that we can stop the horrific sale of human beings, which is more prevalent in the United States now than at any time in history, and also that God is calling Christians to take part in this battle. The opportunities are all around us, not just in big cities, but in rural areas and every part of America. We can be eyes and ears to help. One-third of all victims who are rescued are freed because an informed citizen saw something and reported it.
God calls us to unleash His love—the same love that filled me as a little girl—to free those trapped in modern-day slavery. From the Underground Railroad to the abolitionist groups of today, Christians have ushered God’s mighty love and healing for those whose lives have been injured by the pain inflicted on them by the sins of others.
While God calls some believers to full-time ministry in this area, He may call others simply to become informed. Either way, it is my privilege to join in what God is doing. Acts 7:34 says, “I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free” (NIV). I believe God is still about freeing slaves today.
If God can use a little girl—who didn’t even have the courage to come forward at a Billy Graham Crusade—to eventually fight modern-day slavery, God can use anyone. I pray that we’ll all join in reaching out to those who need the empowering love and the saving grace that frees. ©2012 Nita Belles