By Carl Stagner
Meet Merissa Milnickel. A senior now at Anderson University, she found the Church of God institution through a Google search, and the rest is history. Rich history. Three years so far of discovering her weaknesses and strengths, discerning her passions from among the mundane, and exploring her faith. She’s long felt a burden for the fight against human trafficking, but after deep involvement in the cause through Anderson University and Church of God Ministries, she experienced personally the heart of God for the enslaved, the hopeless, and the lost. While she was busy leading the AU student group Bound and supporting the advocacy efforts of TraffickLight, God was revealing his heart for her, too. God was changing Merissa one tweet at a time.
Merissa Milnickel has poured her soul into providing months of social media support for TraffickLight, the Church of God initiative to join Christ’s work to fulfil Isaiah 61. Through Twitter and Facebook, she has kept you in-the-know with all the latest developments in the fight against human trafficking. But her work has encompassed more than a tablet and a WiFi signal. She’s also the president of Bound, a ministry started five years ago by Audrey Weiger, champion of the cause for freedom through Global Strategy. In spite of her busy college-life, Merissa ultimately carved out time in her Freshman-year schedule for human trafficking awareness.
“Changing my major, and learning how to manage self-care, a social life, and homework kept me quite busy,” she reflects. “At the end of the year, I was exhausted and looking for an opportunity to take my mind off of my own problems for a while. I decided to attend “Stand for Freedom,” a twenty-four-hour prayer and worship event hosted annually by Bound. Statistics about the number of victims and pimps, information about trafficking, and ways to pray lined the walls. I found myself in a pew, staring at the evidence of brokenness around me, and began to feel overwhelmed. How could God allow this atrocity to happen? What compels people to do this? How do people overcome trauma?” Conviction hit Merissa hard that day. Searching the scriptures, especially Isaiah 58, compelled her to realize her role in God’s redemptive story for all the hurting and broken.
Reflecting on her experience tweeting and posting for TraffickLight, Merissa notes the disconnect that sometimes appears between what’s really important, and what ultimately just doesn’t matter. Culture, even church culture, often confuses the two. “When topics begin to ‘trend’ or ‘go viral’ on social media, they achieve a level of popularity, which gives them worth and an inherent sense of relevance,” Merissa explains. “In my opinion, there is no cause more worthy than the freedom of men, women, and children all over the world!”
Though God’s hand on TraffickLight has touched victims of trafficking and organizations that promote trafficking prevention, it has also touched Merissa’s heart. Confronting these and other social issues has, in her words, “forever altered [her] perception of the world.” She explains, “I cannot drive down Scatterfield Road, see a homeless person, and look the other way as if that person is not a part of my world. Meeting people from different backgrounds and cultures, and learning to love them, has taught me the value of living collectively.”
Merissa also can’t help but see the correlation between her choice to step up and serve, and God’s restorative hand on her own life. “I had been struggling with anxiety, depression, and regrets from the past for years, never sharing them with anyone,” she recounts. “God was asking me to help others around me who were worse off than I was, and when I answered his call to love others, he would bring me healing.”
The darkness may abound, but because of Christ’s love and Merissa’s experience with TraffickLight, she has come to the following conclusion: “In such a broken world, I do not despair or wallow in disbelief; rather, I have realized that Jesus is the only way out of a truly deviant and broken situation. The Lord calls us into the darkness. He wants us to face it head-on with a full heart, and will equip us to go forth into places we may never have believed we would find ourselves—like street corners filled with drug addicts, and filling gift bags for women who work in strip clubs. Our lives are not our own. We were bought at a price, so that no one would ever have to experience shame, captivity, or oppression. Until our race is finished, we must press on and proclaim freedom to everyone!”
You can get involved in the fight for freedom, too. Visit www.CHOGTraffickLight.org. to learn more!