By Jonathan Soder, Faith Co-Editor
Earlier this semester – Feb. 23 to be exact – several students came together to form a new group on campus: Voice for the Voiceless. As indicated by its name, this new group aims to bring awareness to the plight of those of whom society is ignorant, specifically those trapped in slavery of various kinds.
The group formed as a result of a lesson assistant professor of English, Dr. Lindsey Panxhi gave during an 8 a.m. Civ session. The lesson, which Panxhi related back to Frederick Douglas’ abolitionist work, was about the reality of modern-day slavery including forced labor, sex trafficking and slavery due to financial indebtedness.
“We talked about [modern slavery] in class and watched a video of some boys who were enslaved on Volta in Ghana – it was a video of them getting freed – and I just told students afterward that, if they were interested in starting a student organization to fight against trafficking and slavery all over the world, that I would be happy to be sponsor,” Panxhi said.
Panxhi said she wasn’t sure what kind of response to expect, but that directly after class, four students came up to her and expressed interest in beginning an organization like Panxhi suggested. After that, another 15 or so expressed interest via email or after classes later in the day.
“So that’s kind of how it got started,” Panxhi said. “And we’ve met for about a month now. We’ve been meeting Monday mornings [during the] 10 a.m. hour and planning.”
Although Voice for the Voiceless won’t be officially recognized as a student organization until Fall 2018, club leadership was elected the week of April 9. Junior biology major Jonathan Ball –who recently put in a bid for student body president – was elected the group’s president, and rising junior Hannah West was chosen as vice president. All other positions were filled on a volunteer basis.
Soon after, members organized and hosted the group’s first fundraising event – the “Freedom Fast” – in Stubblefield Chapel Tuesday, April 10.
“Everyone that participated in this event fasted for one meal and gave the money that they would have spent on food towards the fight against slavery,” Ball said. “Also, everyone that was available met up around lunchtime, when we would have been eating, and spent some time in prayer.”
Though no more events are pinned down for this semester yet, Panxhi said that another Freedom Fast is in the works for next semester. The group’s plan for each fast is to send the collected funds to another, more established organization that fulfills one of several roles including liberation, rehabilitation or even therapy for victims. The specific goal of Voice for the Voiceless will center more around functioning as a mouthpiece through which information about modern slavery issues will be shared.
“In the future, Voice for the Voiceless plans to raise awareness on our campus of what modern-day slavery looks like and help equip students to do their part in the fight against [it],” Ball said.
“We hope to connect students who are passionate about this subject with ministries that will equip them to do hands-on ministry with the victims of human trafficking/slavery.”
Ball’s personal goal is to use the presidency platform as a means to push the group’s larger mission of raising awareness and involving others forward by encouraging others to use their passions to help those enslaved get out of slavery. It is this very goal which first attracted Ball to join Voice for the Voiceless.
“I was initially drawn to this group because it is an organization that is centered completely around Christ and his redeeming work,” Ball said.
“As I learned more and more about the reality of modern-day slavery, my heart was broken for the men, women and children who are trapped. The people in Voice for the Voiceless are passionate about helping all of these people out of the place in which they are trapped, and [about] letting the Gospel bring new life.”
One individual who is using his passion for people to further the cause of Voice for the Voiceless is the group’s chaplain, sophomore children’s ministry major David Bryant. Bryant was one of the initial four students who approached Panxhi after class on Feb. 23.
“Throughout those videos I felt the Lord tugging on my heart and saying, ‘These are my children who are in bondage – in the same way with our sin – ‘You were in bondage and I set you free,’” Bryant said. “In the same way, these people are in bondage and we can help set them free.”
Bryant said that the bondage which Voice for the Voiceless is fighting against isn’t simply physical but also spiritual. The role of chaplain gives him the specific opportunity to remind the group of this reality, he said, and to be the voice that points members back to the idea that this organization was founded for the sake of others liberation and God’s glory, not the benefit of the students involved.
Bryant said his position also offers the opportunity to encourage his fellow students.
“I love to encourage people. I love to pray for people,” Bryant said. “So really, that’s what I’m here for. I’m here to encourage people, to pray for people, to read Scriptures over people and to point people back to Christ because it’s all about him and his mission.”
For students who want to be involved but won’t be able to meet in Shawnee 213 at 10 a.m. on Mondays, Bryant said that students can do three things: give, seek out information about slavery and Voice for the Voiceless and finally, pray.
Now that the organization is unofficially underway, Panxhi is taking a step back from her faciliatory role.
She plans to continue attending and participating in the meetings and said she extends an invitation to all other faculty or staff who wish to join her.
If students have any questions about involvement or general information about Voice for the Voiceless, they may contact Panxhi at firstname.lastname@example.org or Ball at email@example.com.