When Stephen Matjasko first heard about the plight of children bought and sold for sex or forced labor, there was one thing he knew he could do: run.
On Sept. 17, Matjasko will join hundreds of runners in Augusta’s first 5K walk and run for Stop Child Trafficking Now, a national nonprofit that investigates child trafficking. The event is sponsored by In Focus Church in Evans.
Matjasko’s church hopes to raise $10,000 for the organization. He hopes to do his part by not only completing the 5K, but running for the 24 hours prior to the event.
“The issue of child trafficking got to me. I wasn’t going to be satisfied with a 5K,” said Matjasko, of North Augusta.
Matjasko will run 80 miles from Elberton, Ga., to Augusta before joining crowds in Augusta at the 9th Street fountain, where the 5K begins. Members of the community have signed up to sponsor Matjasko for every mile he runs. Others will pay to run a portion of the distance with him.
“I can not wait for this day,” said Matjasko, who started attending In Focus earlier this year.
“The thing about In Focus Church is they’re not carrying on with business as usual,” he said. “They’re not afraid to take on scary topics. They’re getting involved.”
More than 400 turned out when In Focus decided to show the film Stop the Candy Shop during a Sunday morning service. The 30-minute film about child sex trafficking was produced with the help of Street GRACE, an Atlanta-based alliance of churches and community organizations working to end trafficking.
“That to me was the catalyst,” said the Rev. Brent Garrard, pastor of In Focus since 2005. “It was a little bit out of the box, but it worked and it caught people’s attention.”
The race has been in the works since March, when the church applied to become one of SCTNow’s “community ambassadors.”
“The reason we got involved with this is because we realized it was a problem in Georgia, a big problem in Georgia,” Garrard said. “It’s not something people are aware of at all. They go, ‘Really? Here?’ We can play a part in not only going, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s happening here,’ but by going out and doing something about it.”
Human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the world, according to the U.S. State Department. It’s also the world’s second largest criminal enterprise, after drug trafficking.
“We don’t have good statistics here in Augusta, but either way, the number is not zero,” said Regan Boudreaux, the 5K organizer at the church. “It’s happening in Atlanta and Georgia and everywhere.”
The church, Garrard said, has made a conscious decision not to stick its head in the sand.
“There are girls being used, abandoned,” he said. “They’re taken advantage of. They need homes. God has put this in the hearts of his people. Biblically speaking, orphans are our job.”
Ultimately, he added, this is an issue anyone should be able to get behind.
“Though we are a church and people in the church started this, you don’t have to be a person of faith to get behind this,” he said. “It’s a social issue. Everyone should be against the trafficking of children. End of story.”