Pedal power publicizes human trafficking problem

Photo By Jim Brewer Recently graduated LHS senior Mitch Weber, Hillsdale sophomore Clay Sloan and New Hope Community Church youth pastor Tom Roepke rest a bit during a training run through downtown Loudonville last week while preparing for an awareness-raising ride against human trafficking.

(Note: the following story originally appeared on page 1 of the Ashland Times Gazette, 6.6.12.)

Trio’s bicycle trip from Ohio to D.C. promotes awareness

LOUDONVILLE — Last spring, Tom Roepke went on a six-state bicycle ride across tornado-ravaged portions of the southeast to raise awareness of victims’ plight.

Next month, the bike-riding youth pastor of New Hope Community Church in Loudonville will be off on another awareness-raising trip for human trafficking from Cincinnati to Washington, D.C.

This time, he is taking two members of the New Hope youth group with him. He will be joined by Mitch Weber, who graduated from Loudonville High on Sunday, and Clay Sloan, who will be a sophomore at Hillsdale High School in the fall.

Roepke decided to take his second awareness tour after being stunned with how human trafficking has proliferated in America and worldwide.

“We have heard that up to 27 million people are enslaved in worldwide today, either in the much-publicized sex-trafficking field or in other forced labor areas,” Roepke said.

“That is more people enslaved today than there were back before the Civil War, when slavery was legal. We have also learned that a major pathway for trafficking passes right through Ohio, down the I-75 corridor from Detroit through Toledo, Dayton and Cincinnati.”

Roepke, Weber and Sloan will leave with a team of about 25 bicyclists as part of the IJM Freedom Tour,  from Cincinnati’s Underground Railroad Museum on July 12 and arrive July 22 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

While he didn’t know the entire route of the journey, he said a large portion will involve the C&O Bike Trail, paralleling an old railroad track along the Potomac River.

He said the trio will strive to raise $9,000 before leaving on the trip.

Roepke said his involvement in the human trafficking mission was inspired after watching a series of videos titled “Passion 2012 — The Freedom Project,” which outlined the fearful growth of human trafficking and slavery.

“This included a tragic story of a girl from Thailand signing on to become a waitress  only to find herself placed in a brothel,” Roepke said. “That story, and ones like it, have happened across the country hundreds of times.”

He added that based on some of these stories, Ohio Gov. John Kasich launched a major statewide law enforcement initiative to halt trafficking in this state.

Weber, who has done a good bit of road cycling with Roepke over the past year or so, said he decided to go on the trip as soon as he was told about it. Sloan said he heard about it while watching a video at the student ministry group at New Hope, “and decided it was the kind of thing I thought I could do.”

The three will solicit pledges from area churches and community groups. “This money will be contributed to the International Justice Mission, a 15-year-old non-government group that has carried on a fight against human trafficking for all of its existence,” Roepke said.