January 6th, 2013
07:28 AM ET
By Jordan Hultine, CNN
Atlanta (CNN)–More than 60,000 young Christians packed the Georgia Dome in Atlanta for worship and inspiration at the Passion 2013 conference that wrapped up on Friday. They came together from 56 countries and 2,300 universities, according to organizers, “to shine a light on modern-day slavery.”
“We believe when you fill a dome full of people who say they follow Jesus, there should be some tangible action,” said Bryson Vogeltanz, chief steward of Passion’s freedom initiative. That tangible action came in the form of tens of thousands of towels and socks donated by conference-goers to be handed out at local homeless shelters in the weeks following the conference.
Vogeltanz and his team also wanted a global initiative. They focused on four key goals, which they called awake, prevent, rescue and restore. They identified 19 nonprofit organizations working around the world to eradicate modern-day slavery and human trafficking. The organizations were showcased during the conference and students and volunteers had the opportunity to donate money to the cause.
The United Nations estimates 27 million people are entrapped in modern-day slavery at any given time around the world in a market valued at $32 billion.
Last year, Hagar International was one of the recipients of those donations. Hagar helps women and children recovering from horrific abuse and human trafficking in Cambodia, Afghanistan and Vietnam.
“We have been able to serve children who have been released from egregious abuse of being trafficked for sex, both boys and girls, in Cambodia,” said Jane Tafel of Hagar. “Those children have a new life now because of Passion 2012.” Tafel returned to the conference this year for the organization and was anxiously waiting to hear final donation numbers.
Wellspring Living, an organization that provides restorative services for girls who have been trafficked or suffered sexual abuse, said it was able to open a new transition facility as a result of the gifts that conference-goers gave last year, according to president and CEO Mary Frances Bowley.
“This generation has the potential not just to end slavery, they have the potential to do anything,” Vogeltanz said. “Jesus was the original abolitionist. We’re just following what he’s already done in our lives for us," he said, referring to the Christian belief that Jesus saved all mankind from slavery and sin.
Students spent each day of the four-day conference participating in “community group” learning sessions and praise and worship led by well-known Christian musicians like Chris Tomlin.
An Atlanta-based pastor, Louie Giglio, started Passion in 1997. The goal, he said, was to see college students around the world “awaken to the reality of an omnipotent and glorious Creator.” Since then, organizers said, millions of students have joined the movement at Passion events around the world.
Sarah Stone is a college student from Atlanta who came to Passion with her church group. She said she came looking for a way to live her faith more fully. “Christianity is not just about saying a prayer and going to church on Sunday, it’s about living for Christ with every single thing you do,” Stone said.
Belmont University student William Dodd said it’s inspiring to be surrounded by so many other college students who are gathered for the same purpose, and he is leaving with a desire to “get in the fight to end (slavery). God made us powerful creatures with a really big voice.”
“It’s inspiring to see a generation so engaged and looking out of themselves and looking at things like slavery and actually committing to making people aware of it – and it’s only the beginning,” said Jolie, who declined to give her last name, a conference volunteer who traveled from Australia to be a part of the Passion.
Passion organizers said the students gave $3,170,639 in support of their freedom initiative. Beyond fund-raising, organizers said, the goal was to shine a light on a worldwide problem and to inspire action.
Ramses Prashad, a college student from Orlando, Florida, said he has no other choice but to make a change when he gets home. “I can’t say that I didn’t know and say I wasn’t aware, so I have no other choice but to raise awareness and to do as much as I can for the cause and for the people.”
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.