After being told by his doctor two years ago that he would not be able to run again, Pastor Matthew Barnett of the Los Angeles Dream Center will run a full marathon Sunday to raise support and awareness for women exploited through human trafficking.
"It's very emotional for me because two years ago, I had a pulmonary embolism that almost took my life. I've lived in fear of this changing my lifestyle forever. The marathon is a way for me to face these fears once and for all in the ultimate test," Barnett told The Christian Post. "I'm a pastor and I probably need more faith but this has tested my breathing and my confidence. I believe running for a greater cause will push me over the top."
Over 100 Dream Center staff along with several human trafficking survivors will also participate in the 5K charity relay and marathon and are urging the Christian Community to help sponsor them. Their goal is to raise $50,000 and as of Thursday morning, over $43,000 had been donated by supporting individuals and churches throughout the country, as shown on Barnett's fundraising page.
Their efforts will benefit two shelters located in Southern California, a 72-hour rescue center, and another long-term rehabilitation and restoration program that provides intense counseling, medical and legal needs of victims, as well as GED and job search assistance.
Barnett, whose illness included blood clots in his lungs, told CP that his organization's participating volunteers work closely with victims. Supporting the marathon will give them a chance to help restore, rebuild, and give hope.
"Many are running simply for that cause. Everyone is running with fire in their eyes because the girls at our shelter need our help. When people see the faces of the girls we minister to, it's really meaningful," said Barnett.
Aside from financial donations, he says there are other important ways individuals can support him and his team participation in the ASICS LA Marathon. "They can also pray for every trafficked girl in the country. This is a supernatural attack that requires supernatural answers. Prayer is essential," said Barnett.
For several years, The Dream Center has been an official charity of the marathon with all proceeds going toward Project Hope ministry. In 2013, the ministry raised approximately $120,000 for human trafficking and helped 85 women. So far in 2014, the organization has rescued 18 women.
According to statistics gathered by The Dream Center, human trafficking is quickly becoming one of the world's most profitable criminal industries. It is estimated that there are over 27 million victims in the world, with an average age of entry into the commercial sex industry as young as 12 to 14 years old. Currently, 99 percent of victims are never rescued and if they are or if they escape on their own, their recovery period can take up to seven years.
In addition to rescuing women, The Dream Center currently serves over 80,000 people each month. Services and programs offered include a residential rehabilitation program for adults, a transitional shelter for homeless families and mobile medical and hunger relief programs.
The organization also works closely with Los Angeles County's Department of Children and Family Services to support families by delivering the required furnishings, clothing and food to assure that their homes meet DCFS standards.
The Dream Center also has over 100 independent national and international locations.
For more information, visit Barnett's fundraising page.