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Christian Living

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Not Today: A Voice in Human Trafficking Fight

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

The statistics on human trafficking world wide are nothing short of staggering.  In a recent report, the U.S. State Department estimates that 27 million people around the world are victims of such horrific enslavement.  Even more sobering is the fact that the average victim’s age is just 12 years old.

Nowhere is this more evident than in India.  Crippled by a caste system which fosters order and rank humanity by innate spiritual purity, children who are not born into wealth or prosperity often find themselves a highly viable commodity in India’s booming sex trade.

Yet, for all the atrocities being committed globally, many people seem indifferent about human trafficking.  But it is also a problem on the home front.  According to Shared Hope International, a human rights advocacy group, 41 states received a "D" grade or lower in adopting laws and penalties to lower modern day slavery and sex trade domestically.

“It seems like each generation becomes a little bit more narcissistic, a little bit more concerned about themselves and how they can better themselves,” says Brent Martz, a creative communications pastor at Friends Church in Yorba Linda, California. “They forget about their brother and sister around the world, around the corner, that are hurting. I think our media helps us, sometimes, focus on ourselves more than other with how to better yourself and how to be all you can be, instead of saying how you can help the others and how you can be a voice for the voiceless.”

Friends Church is not willing to remain idle as human trafficking continues to proliferate.  Working in partnership with the Dalit Freedom Network, Friends has committed more than $20 million dollars to build 200 schools in India for Dalit children.  Complementing that effort has been the decision to make a movie called Not Today to hopefully be a voice for the voiceless.

“Even with global media and Internet, people are still unaware, and if they don’t see it, if they don’t feel it, then it doesn’t affect them,” explains Martz, who also serves as a producer on Not Today.  “But, if you can get them to step outside of themselves for a moment, if you can get them to broaden their worldview past themselves and their family, then you have a good chance of connecting with them and helping them to want to get involved with people who are less fortunate, with people who really have not hope. So, that was really the motivation behind this film and why we’ve made it, was to raise awareness and to give people an opportunity to get involved.

In recent years, a church banding its members together to make a major motion picture has become more common.  Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, has experienced great box office success with movies such as Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous.  However, there is one significant difference between Sherwood and Friends.  Rather than shooting Not Today on native soil, the overwhelming majority of principal filming was done in India.

Says Martz, “We had a lot of obstacles and bumps along the way, communicating, our budget doubled.  But it’s really changed our church. It has completely changed our focus. We still live and work in the same area we lived in before, but it’s changed, I think, in our thinking process and where we spend our money.”

Not Today is the story of a young man, Caden Welles (played by Cody Longo), who seems to be in complete control of his future.  The son of a wealthy father, Caden has the resources to romance the world through wine, women, and song.

On a whim, Caden and a group of friends pack their bags for India in search of a never ending party.  Never in his wildest dreams does he think he will have an encounter that will alter the rest of his life – his refusal to help a starving man and his daughter.  When his conscious gets the best of him Caden seeks out the destitute pair only to find that the man has been forced to sell his daughter into slavery.  Thus, the sordid reality of human trafficking sets in.

“I play a spoiled rich kid who has lost his faith, he’s lost his way,” says Longo, who is a regular on the TV series Hollywood Heights.  “He’s starting to rebel in life and God has placed him where He wanted to place him, and taught him about what’s going on outside of his bubble. Something touched Caden to where he dropped everything materialistically and really found where his heart was, and really got involved in something that was so outside of his box.”

Like the character he plays, Longo’s eyes were opened to the dehumanization of so many innocent victims, creating a culture of indifference that is truly permeating the western world.

“This trip to India completely changed my life,” recounts Longo.  “I went there in anticipation to shoot this incredible movie. My heart has always been my heart but I was just losing just my sense of faith, which is easy in Los Angeles and in my business. I saw this culture, and I saw the people living how they live but with a smile on their face, and I just realized how incredibly blessed I was. I stopped living for myself, and just really started caring about something, and it made me that much better of a person.”

“For us, this totally changed our lives when we realized not only did Jesus say to take care of the widow and any orphan and the poor, but it’s mandate for us,” Martz adds.  “So, I think that becomes more of a “We don’t have a choice. This isn’t for somebody else, this is for us.”

Friends Church’s greatest hope for Not Today is that will be a conversation tool for anti-trafficking organizations to truly explain the issue, why it’s so important, and how people can get involved.  But most importantly, that the movie will become a starting place for people to reshape their world view in regard to human trafficking.

“That’s my deep hope,” says Martz.  “I truly believe that what’s happening in India with the Dalit people is the world’s worst form of discrimination that exists today. Two hundred and fifty million Dalits, roughly the population of the U.S., live in manual and daily slavery. If we can be a part of the eradication of that happening in this generation, that’s our biggest hope. It’s a huge hope. We know the true hope is in Jesus, but if we can meet their felt needs. If we can take care of them where they live today, then they’re open to the Gospel.”

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