There is no way I could tell all of the stories from Gasparilla in one post. So I will start with the Pasta Party… the running stories will come later in the week!
The dinner was held at the Marriott Waterside in Tampa, just steps from the Convention Center, which made packet pick up and parking easy! Tori was my date and chauffuer for the evening. She drove in downtown traffic! My confidence in her driving skills has increased for sure. When she gets her license in May, I feel confident that she will be ok!
The room was set with our green theme for dinner. In years past they had utilized pink as the color, however with the increase of gentlemen that are apart of Team Freedom, they decided to go with a bolder gender neutral color! Of course adding the black and white stripes for the pirate theme of Gasparilla. It was beautifully decorated!
The night started with some delicious food! There was plenty of pasta and carbs to go around. All of the food was delicious! Despite having a room of 400 people, the food lines were well run by the hotel staff to get us all fed in a timely manner.
After food came the best part of the night, Hope for Justice was presented a check that had to be altered at the last minute from $121,515 to $127,515! What an amazing display of how working TOGETHER can make a difference. There were moments that I felt inferior in the amount I had raised, however seeing this check and knowing that I had a part in it (no matter how small) made my heart smile. Team Freedom is 4 years old and over the last 4 years they have raise over $373,000 for abolishing human trafficking!
And what does trafficking look like? Trafficking has many faces, but the one I would like to introduce you to is Kathy. I’m not sure even where to begin but I will try and do her story justice. Kathy was repeatedly molested as a young girl and was hooked on drugs and alcohol at a VERY young age to mask the pain that she was enduring. She left home after having her second child as a teenager. She was picked up by a biker gang. She was literally chained, beaten, and raped daily. To free herself from this situation, she had to kill her captor. She then spent the next several decades in and out of jail. This vicious cycle of drugs, human trafficking and so much more has left Kathy with several illnesses that will likely cause her to leave this earth in the near future. Thanks to a ministry in Lakeland, called Zoe’s Journey, Kathy is now a “Princess of the King”. She has been made whole in Jesus and has been rescued from a life that I can’t even imagine. This was the toughest part of the night. It is one thing to imagine that this happens in “those” places overseas…. but to hear that it happens here in America and right in our backyard. There are no words for all that God has rescued Kathy from, but to hear her say “These girls need you” and “These girls need the love of Jesus” is enough to break your heart.
*** Watch for Blog Part # 2 – Kathy did something amazing at the Gasparilla 15K race!
After hearing Kathy’s story, there was not much to do but praise God for all He had done in her life – so that’s what we did. Natalie Grant sang several familiar songs that allowed us to have a moment of worship for all that God has allowed him to do not only in Kathy’s life, but for all that He is doing and will do through Hope for Justice. About a decade ago, Natalie’s heart was broken for Human Trafficking when she saw a little girl overseas literally in a cage. Her heart was broken again when she toured a brothel overseas and asked why there was a rope tied to one of the beds… it was for the women’s little girl. She didn’t have childcare for her child while she was forced to work, so she would literally tie her 18 month old child to the bed while she serviced “clients”. The stories that she told would make you weak at the knees and want to cry – there is so much injustice in this world, but the injustice done to little children is overwhelming in the world of human trafficking.
She then invited Josh Wilson to the stage to share a song – “Pushing Back the Dark”. Josh was at the event because his wife, Cebe, has run with Team Freedom in years past, but this year they both ran! As Natalie shared the stage with Josh, it was clear that he had intended just to play alone on the guitar, but before singing shared with her acoustic band members what key and time signature he would be playing in. They, unrehearsed and unprepared, joined him in playing along and singing the harmonies with him. It was an impromptu jam session that we got to see and be apart of! Check out the words to the chorus of his song:
Whatever you do, just don’t look back.
Oh somebody needs the light you have.
Whatever you do, just don’t lose heart.
Keep on pushing back the dark!
How perfect these words were for this moment. But in all moments – whatever you do, don’t look back, someone needs the light you have!
As the night came to a close, Bill from the Morning Cruise and the Joy FM called all runners to the front of the room for a special gift. It was a wrist band that hand the word “KNOWN” written on it. In a movement that can be overwhelming with the number of victims, every name can not be known to us, however they are known by God. He prayed over us and for the victims.
Here is a photo of every hand raised with our arms bands to remind us of those that are KNOWN as we ran on Saturday and Sunday! They didn’t have a wide enough angle to get everyone in the photo. I’m over to the left out of the shot! Please note the red shirt in the front row – that is KATHY! Representing and ready to ‘run’ for those not free to run… YET! *** Seriously, part 2 is going to knock your socks off!
The Team Freedom Family!
Again, I’m over on the right hand side… not a wide enough lens to get us all in there!