Turning Hate into Love

Opal was a victim of hate.  

In 1939, white supremacists set fire to her family’s home in Fort Worth, Texas and burned it to the ground. Opal Lee, age 12, and her family were forced to flee. The event forever shaped her life.

In 2016, at age 91, Opal led a symbolic walk from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C. to advocate for Juneteenth as a national holiday. She walked 2 ½ miles in several cities to represent the 2 ½ years between President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the day in 1865 when Union Soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas with the news that enslaved people had been set free.     


As Lee tells it, “July 4th freed the land, but Juneteenth freed the people.”

In 2021, President Joe Biden, with Lee at his side, signed a bill declaring Juneteenth a national holiday.

This week I was pleased to discover my Alma Mater, Southern Methodist University, recognized Opal Lee, now 97, with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree during SMU’s graduation ceremony on May 11, 2024.

You can see a two-minute clip from the day here.

Teach Love

When asked about her legacy, Opal, known as “the grandmother of Juneteenth” said, “If people have been taught to hate, they can be taught to love. And that’s your responsibility.”

For decades, Juneteenth has been celebrated by African Americans as a day of freedom. It symbolized the end of the heinous scar of slavery in America and the beginning of liberty and justice for all – a journey we are still making today.

New Slavery

But tragically, a new form of slavery has arisen in our world, human sex trafficking. The statistics are mind-numbing.

  • 40 million people are estimated to be trafficked globally each year.
  • $150 Billion in profits each year – second only to drug trafficking, according to the International Labor Organization.
  • The largest number of trafficking victims are from Southeast Asia, India and Africa.
  • At least 80% are women. 50% are minors.

Stunningly, there are more people enslaved in the world today than at any other time in history, including under legalized slavery.

In the United States, an estimated 150,000 people are trafficked annually. In Chicagoland alone an estimated 16,000 to 25,000 women and girls are trafficked each year. The average age of teens entering the trafficking industry is 12-14 years old.

Fast Growing

Frankly, it’s hard to comprehend. Human trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the world and may soon overtake the illegal drug trade. To satisfy demand, young children are often taken off the streets, out of marketplaces or malls, even out of the arms of their mothers and sold to the highest bidder.

Why the sudden increase? In a word, greed. As some have noted, a bag of cocaine can only be sold once. A child can be sold for sex 5 to 10 times a day for 10 years. The destructive toll trafficking takes on its victims and their families is beyond measure.

Hound of Heaven

For at least three years, God has been nudging me to do something about this horrid evil. To my shame, I’ve often allowed busyness to push it out of my consciousness. Like many, I just wanted it to go away, but the Hound of Heaven would not let me drown out desperate cries with distractions.

As a result, I began reading about the problem on a global, national and local scale. Soon after moving to Bloomington, I discovered Catalyst Ministries, a local group that helps victims of trafficking. Earlier this week, I attended a volunteer training at Catalyst to discern how I can help in specific ways.

Out of the Shadows

In the meantime, I know there is one thing I and others can do – create awareness. This evil has flourished, in part, because it hides in the shadows. No one wants to talk about it in the break room or at a dinner party.

Most of us can’t imagine how someone could buy and sell people, including children, for sex. But it is happening every day in America in your city or township and mine.

Our Responsibility

And once someone has been sold, they lose their voice. That’s when they become our responsibility. Scripture says,

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of those who are destitute.

Proverbs 31:8 (NIV)

God gave us voices, networks, and platforms for this very reason. As Edmond Burke said many years ago,

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing.”

I can’t do nothing anymore. The cruel hate that spawns slavery must be overcome with Christ’s love that takes action.

Regardless of the era, God’s children are not for sale.

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Roger Ross

A native of Cambridge, Illinois, Roger has served as a pastor in Texas, the British Channel Island of Guernsey, and Illinois. While in Illinois, he led teams that planted two new churches and served for 10 years as the lead pastor of one of the largest United Methodist Churches in the Midwest. It was his privilege to serve as the Director of Congregational Excellence in the Missouri Conference before coming into his current role with Spiritual Leadership, Inc (SLI).

Roger now comes alongside pastors, non-profit leaders and their leadership teams as an executive coach, specializing in leadership that inspires change. As a side gig, he loves teaching evangelism and church planting as an adjunct professor at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas.

Other passions of his include SCUBA diving in warm blue water, Krispy Kremes, and board games with family and friends. He also has a weakness for golf.

Roger is the author of three books, Meet The Goodpeople: Wesley’s 7 Ways to Share Faith, Come Back: Returning to the Life You Were Made For, and Come Back Participant Guide, all through Abingdon Press.

Now for the best part. Roger is married to Leanne Klein Ross, and they live Bloomington, Illinois. God has blessed them with two adult children, a son-in-law, several tropical fish, and one adorable granddog.

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