Katie McTavish was 14 years old when her Newday church held a fundraiser for International Justice Mission, a global organization that protects the poor from violence in the developing world. Moved by statistics shared by Pastor David Kennedy that the average age of a sex-trafficked girl was 14, she was struck by the thought, “It could be me!” Then she says she “heard the voice of God saying, ‘Katie, this is what you were made for.’”
As a senior at Valor Christian High School, Katie, along with six other students and a teacher, began to wrestle with what they could do to raise awareness of human trafficking. “What if you put on a conference?” their teacher asked.
Recognizing the difference between hearing about an issue and making the shift to doing something about it, they named their group SHIFT, Empower to Prevent. SHIFTing into action, they recruited people from six organizations to speak at their conference. Represented, among others, were Hope Academy, a school created for girls coming out of human trafficking in the Denver area and Face of Justice Ministries, serving to defend, shelter, empower and love survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Expecting around 100 people to attend the conference, the students were surprised to see almost 300 participants. Afterward, students from other high schools asked how they could do something similar.
Now in their second year, SHIFT has grown to 40 students from three high schools meeting weekly and planning their annual conference. Their line-up of speakers and break-out sessions for the March 2017 event included some well-known organizations: A21, Dalit Freedom Network, Hope Academy, Joy International, Girl Above, Free Indeed, Tall Truth, Scarlet Cord, FBI and more.
Pastor Lisa Engelkemier, associate pastor at Newday where Katie attends, explains the church culture by saying, “Relieving human suffering in every way within our ability matters at Newday. Several thousand dollars of our Christmas offering went to organizations that are on the ground to end human trafficking. Katie’s work to create awareness of and bring an end to sex trafficking brings purpose and passion to her life.”
Engelkemeier says Newday celebrates young people like Katie who follow Jesus’ example of serving the least of these. She believes it is important to have young people involved in these types of issues because “Young people are full of energy, passion and creativity. It’s an absolute gift to God, to the church and to the world when young people invest themselves in areas of desperate need.”
Now a freshman at Colorado Christian University, Katie is majoring in communication and minoring in business. With a heavy schedule, her involvement with SHIFT was not as hands-on as last year, but she attended the conference on March 11.
Laura McTavish, Katie’s younger sister who is currently a sophomore at Valor Christian High School, has also become involved with SHIFT. She works with SHIFT conference planners, and helped plan the March 11 conference.
Katie’s life goal is to work for an organization that fights human trafficking. “I would love to work for International Justice Mission,” Katie says. She appreciates their effective approach toward working on several important strands at once—preventing human trafficking, rescuing victims, restoring survivors and strengthening justice systems.
“Freedom,” Katie says, “is a fundamental, God-given right. Sex trafficking is completely against who God is. If we say we love God, then we have to love His people. We are called to justice, to be a voice for justice.”
Katie recognizes that full freedom comes only in Christ, that someone could be rescued from the sex-trade industry and still not be completely free. “If we come in and rescue them and say, ‘You are loved, valued and unique because Jesus does this,’ then we can give them ultimate freedom,” Katie explains.
Learn more at facebook.com/shiftjusticeconference.