Two years ago, I was beginning my first year at ACU. My potluck roommate, Brittany Partridge, junior political science major from Annandale, Minn., and I were looking to get involved somewhere and began volunteering two days a week at the Eternal Threads warehouse downtown.
What started with hours of burning DVDs and importing data into a computer turned into discussions about a new product we wanted to start trying to sell to college kids: a red bracelet from Nepal that would help raise funds to rescue girls out of sexual slavery. From these meetings, the Red Thread Movement began, and Partridge and I were handed an opportunity to run with.
Two years later, Partridge and I are now juggling a global organization that has vastly outgrown us. Our initial expectation was to raise a modest amount of revenue to support Eternal Thread’s projects in Nepal, and we now are considering our capacity for expansion into new areas of relief, rehabilitation and awareness.
We took a trip to Nepal in January of this year and were able to survey the great work being accomplished there by our partners. We were blessed with a chance to spend some time with the girls in the safe house, teaching them to play UNO and painting their nails with purple polish as we heard bits and pieces about their lives and their struggles. We were moved by their stories and strength and it spurred on our work with the movement to an even greater capacity.
In June, I loaded my car full of merchandise and set out on a two-month nationwide tour to expand and cultivate the music section of Red Thread. Kelcie Silva, a junior psychology major at Texas Tech, accompanied me for the first half of the tour and my older brother, Andrew Sutherland, took a train up to Illinois to join me for the second half.
In 8,200 miles, we hit four major Christian music festivals, hopped on and off of Warped Tour, spoke at a couple of Red Thread benefit shows and added on some smaller fests and supporting bands’ shows to fill the gaps in between.
My seemingly far-fetched goal for the summer was to sell all of the merchandise in my car, and we almost succeeded, returning home with only a few hundred bracelets out of the 5,000 I began with and selling out of many other items.
Red Thread Music started the summer with 60 supporting bands and ended with 120. Our Facebook “likes” doubled in three months and we developed relationships with hundreds of Red Thread’s incredible supporters. Excitement among current and new members was stirring considerably and opportunities were opening up left and right for growth and expansion in our reach.
Everything involved in the startup of Red Thread happened so quickly that much of what God had done through it hadn’t really sunk in. One thing I did realize in January, though, was how much the coming together of people could strengthen the victims of trafficking and abuse. I made a scrapbook of what the Red Thread supporting members were doing here to show the girls in the safe house. Their faces brightened as they realized that so many people back in the U.S. cared about them.
However, the most impactful thing I encountered was not on my trip to Nepal. It was the faces I saw in my own society that were deeply moved by this project that really made me begin to realize just how much God was doing with this Movement.
People who were stopping by the booth related to Red Thread in a way that ran even deeper than their genuine compassion for the girls being rescued in Nepal. It struck the hearts of victims of sexual abuse in the U.S. too.
I first realized this when members of two new bands joined the Movement about mid-way through the tour. I could see an intense passion behind the guys’ desire to join. I later found out that members in both bands had experienced sexual abuse in their childhood. They planned on using the Movement as a means of sharing their testimony alongside the testimonies of the girls in Nepal. At other festivals, I met two other first-hand victims of trafficking here in the U.S.
The Movement, wasn’t only spreading awareness about issues abroad, it was opening people’s eyes to what was going on in the bars and massage parlors in their own cities. I was surprised at the number of people that took the time to stop and talk about what they had learned about trafficking all over the world. A wealth of knowledge was surfacing and spreading.
People I crossed paths with on the road only reaffirmed my part in the Movement. It was not just about raising money anymore, it became largely about the stories: stories of girls in Nepal and of sexual abuse and trafficking worldwide. It was these stories that linked together a very passionate group of people through Red Thread who had taken the Movement and made it their own.
The Movement was expanding its outreach, festival by festival, person by person, and impacting lives of an entire group of people here in my own country that Partridge and I had not planned for or expected.
The whole Movement is an incredible example of how one message can appeal to such a variety of people from a skate shop in Chicago that gave out Red Thread stickers to kids to put on their skateboards, to a conservative church in Columbus that used a Red Thread benefit concert as a step toward breaking down walls of silence surrounding an issue that extended past their comfort zones.
God took a seemingly simple symbol – a red bracelet – and put it on the wrists of tens of thousands of individuals across the world that, whether they were aware of it or not, contributed to a Movement that unveiled stories, brought healing, offered encouragement and raised support. The stories about the injustices of slavery and abuse are breaking through the silence and becoming known.