ARTHUR, Illinois (BP) – Fourteen-year-old Lindsey Yoder walked 15 miles a day along the dusty back roads of southern Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee in a quest to raise awareness about human trafficking.
She departed from Arthur Southern Baptist Church, where she and her family are members, on May 28 and arrived at Nashville's Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park on June 24.
Her mother Regina provided support throughout the entire 300-mile journey. She shared how attending a women's ministry conference in 2015 for teen girls played a role in Yoder's passion for fighting human trafficking.
"Human trafficking was the focus and that fueled her interest in the issue," Regina said. What Yoder learned at conference remained with her and she was ready to make a difference.
Carmen Halsey, director of Illinois Baptist State Association's Women's Missions, shared, "What Lindsey's doing now is she's learning. God has her attention, she sees the people through His eyes. She's put feet to the vision. She learned something and she did something. Lindsey's not just sitting in a pew."
Halsey's said it's encouraging to see how Lindsey's mother Regina is behind her. "When her daughter got the vision, her mom gathered the other kids and packed the trailer to follow along."
According to the Shared Hope International, a nonprofit that fights human trafficking, "the common age a child enters sex trafficking is 14-16, when they're too young and naïve to realize what's happening." Most victims are girls, but boys are trafficked and sold to pimps as well.
Yoder was also impacted by the movie 'Priceless,' which addressed human trafficking and was produced by Hope for Justice. Yoder shared, "[my] heart was broken at the thought of all the girls who are in this horrible situation and I asked God specifically to tell me how I can help."
"When He gave me the idea to walk," Yoder said in an email interview. "I knew He would provide everything I needed to make it happen."
Yoder walked to Nashville because it is the home of Hope for Justice, an organization that works internationally to stop human trafficking with additional offices in Cambodia, England and Norway.
When asked why she chose to walk rather than do another type of fundraiser Yoder answered, "Because God asked me to walk, so I'm doing it out of obedience. It wasn't my idea. My faith was the main reason I decided to do step out and do this event that is bigger than me."
Yoder is homeschooled and leads a missional lifestyle. Last year she went to Honduras on what she called a "class field trip" with her grandfather, and she's also traveled to Haiti with her mother and sister to work in an orphanage. When asked what she wants to do in the future she said, she'd like to be a teacher in India, working as a full-time missionary.
"My church has been incredibly supportive ... even more than I expected," Yoder said. My youth group sold candy bars in the Walmart parking lot to help cover expenses for lodging and gas as we travel. Our church also gave me funds to cover more of our expenses."
She started her walk from the church on a Sunday morning when several in the congregation gathered to lay hands on her and pray at the end of the service.
When it was time for Yoder to start her walk she said, "about 80 people joined me for the first two miles of the walk. It was so fun to be supported and surrounded by the people in my church."
Yoder said she couldn't have done the walk without the support of her family.
"My three older brothers each drove all the way from Ohio to walk the first two miles with me," she said. "My Mom planned all the routes and we took two pilot trips to make sure all the roads are safe for walking. My dad is at home working hard at his job and is super supportive of my walk. My younger siblings are along for the ride even though they'd rather be home."
At the end of her journey in Nashville, Yoder said she hoped to "have learned that no matter how hard it is, God is always there for me and that I can lean on Him no matter what." Once the walk was completed, Yoder had said she would be looking forward to "sleep and ice cream."
As she neared the finish line at Bicentennial Park in Nashville, Yoder had a surprise waiting for her -- Natalie Grant, Hope for Justice co-founder and Christian recording artist. Grant had heard about Yoder's effort and was waiting to walk the last mile with her.
"A lot of times we're moved by an issue, we're kind of upset and it kind of bothers us, but then we just go back to living our lives," Grant told a local news station. "But this 14-year-old girl said, 'No, I'm going to do something.’”