Unshackled Festival 2013: CHANGE

Now that the Unshackled festival is over, I’m planning two showings of the documentary “Nefarious” (June 15 & June 22) and an art show in November. For now, I thought I’d fill you in on the awesome and long planned for event: the Unshackled festival.

HOPE61 display at the Unshackled festival!

HOPE61 display at the Unshackled festival!


May 13 – Change Your SHELF
Musical guest: Levi McGrath
Speakers: Sam Grimshaw (World Vision), Scott Higgins (Baptist World Aid), director of Jasper Coffee.

Unshackled festival: Levi McGrath, director of Jasper Coffee, Scott Higgins of Baptist World Aid, Sam Grimshaw of World Vision Australia.

Unshackled festival: Levi McGrath, director of Jasper Coffee,                                                                                             Scott Higgins of Baptist World Aid, Sam Grimshaw of World Vision Australia.

This evening discussed fair-trade, ethical consumerism, and the point of it all. What difference does it really make? It was a great introduction night, especially for those unfamiliar with human trafficking. Labor trafficking and poverty were key elements.

Levi McGrath is a personable, sincere singer-songwriter from Melbourne. He and his wife have been opening their eyes to the effects of war and poverty since they were dating. Their experiences in Uganda are the foundation for the songs Levi played at Unshackled. Levi’s smooth voice is the perfect accompaniment to his modern ballads that make former child soldiers and those living in poverty seem more than a statistic. Levi reminds his audiences of the sadness, joy, and life of each of those people.

Sam and Scott urged the audience to more than awareness but to passion, Sam saying that 27 million is nothing. Our fight against slavery should be inspired by even one. Scott caused us all to realize our complicity in trafficking by pointing out that every cell phone (“mobile” if you’re Australian) is made with coltan, a mineral mined from the Democratic Republic of Congo. This mining trade is rampant with slavery. Finally, Jasper Coffee’s director shared how “fair trade” has meant “friendship,” and been a significant factor in providing educational resources to the areas where Jasper’s beans are sourced.


May 14 – Change Our CULTURE
Musical guest: Vita Adam & band
Speakers: Project Respect, Melinda Tankard Reist (Collective Shout)

Unshackled festival: Project Respect, Melinda Tankard Reist, Vita Adam

Unshackled festival: Project Respect, Melinda Tankard Reist, Vita Adam

This evening focused on the over sexualization of western culture and how it not only harms children and adults alike, but also contributes to fuel that keeps the fires of human trafficking going.

Vita Adam‘s energy on stage instantly draws the audience in. Even when using her powerful and lovely voice in a more subdued song, her desire for music to mean more than entertainment is clear. Vita writes and covers songs that ask for life – real life – compelling listeners to embrace their own quirks as a way to change the world. Her consistent message at Unshackled was to cast off the barriers that prevent us from making a difference. It’s time to rise up.

Project Respect is a Melbourne exit program for women in the sex industry. Their representative made it clear that their ultimate goal, their dream, is for a world where the sex industry is no more. Soft spoken but determined, Project Respect’s representative shows a compassion for these exploited women that is only surpassed by a commitment to see things made right. Melinda Tankard Reist of Collective Shout can only be described as extraordinary. Her power is not in her influence or in her knowledge, but is rooted in her passion to fight until justice is done. Melinda does not merely speak out against the over sexualization of Australian culture (or really any culture), she rails against it. She presented a powerpoint and video that generated outrage even in those present who have been fighting trafficking and these related issues for years. Both speakers dealt an immense but needed blow to the comfortable lives of many present.


May 15 – Change Your HOLIDAY
Musical guest: Amy K (Ruby Road Project)
Speakers: Alezandra Russell (UrbanLight), Amber Hawks (International Justice Mission)

Jenny, Unshackled team member, with Alex (founder of UrbanLight)

Jenny, Unshackled team member, with Alex (founder of UrbanLight) (photo by Jenny Campbell)

Unfortunately I missed this event to attend the Bongers’s commissioning dinner.  I do know that the evening focused on how common holiday activities (i.e. sex shows & services) are a cover for something less sexy and more sinister – slavery. One statistic shared was that 70% of men who travel to Thailand are sex tourists.

I CAN tell you that Alezandra, or “Alex,” is an incredible woman. She is the founder and center mom of UrbanLight and splits her time between Thailand and the US. Alex stayed with us all week, so the Unshackled team had the privilege to get to know her. Here’s the thing that stays with me.
A few years ago, after visiting Thailand and seeing boys being prostituted on the streets, Alex  returned home to the States. As she lay on the couch, weeping, her husband asked her, “What, you’re going to lay on the couch crying? What are you going to do about it?” With his support and challenge, Alex got up and began UrbanLight to tell the world that “BOYS CANNOT BE BAHT.”


May 16 – Change Your HEART
Musical guest: Tom Tuena & band
Speakers: Noddy Sharma (OM Australia)


Noddy Sharma of OM Australia, Tom Tuena
(photo by Becky Little)

This evening centered on compassion. Why should our hearts change? What place does the heart have in this mess of slavery?

Tom Tuena is singer songwriter with a sound not quite folk, not quite blues, but altogether honest. Tom’s songs speak to living and loving in the experiences of every day. Often using his own life as an example, Tom sings the hope and joy of the journey, the Holy Spirit’s presence, and how much one person needs and impacts another. It’s also impossible to listen to a set without dancing at least a little.

(*Personal note: Tom Tuena certainly joins Johnny Flynn, Iron & Wine, Bon Iver, & The Strokes in my “favorite music” category. I’m a sucker for a good voice, beautiful tunes, & some lyrical prose. To avoid becoming a fan girl, I’ll stop here…but take a moment to check out his music & you will thank me. Find his album “The River” on iTunes! I was pretty psyched when he played THIS song at the Unshackled festival which, along with THIS song, is my favorite.)

Noddy Sharma of Operation Mobilisation Australia shared the gut twisting fate of the Dalits, considered the most “untouchable” of all of India’s people. Noddy described the heart break of knowing a Dalit girl is considered lower than dirt on the street, yet men of other castes would willingly take advantage of her body. He shared that Dalits have asked for help for their children from Christians, because they know Jesus has instructed us to view every person as equal. Dalits see education through this love as the freedom for their children, and their future. Following Noddy, the abridged version of “Not My Life” was shown.


May 17 – Change Your TUNE

Levi McGrath back on the stage for the final night of Unshackled festival. (Photo by Andre Rodrigues)

Levi McGrath back on the stage for the final night of Unshackled festival. (Photo by Andre Rodrigues)

This was a great finale to a full-on week. New Empire, based in Sydney, flew down for the evening. Vita Adam and Levi McGrath joined us for the second time on this evening. Compliments of Gus, another much loved Australian group, also took the stage. Cam Semmens, poet of humor and truth, was the perfect MC for the evening. Every musician came on the stage with energy and good humor, each one a stunning compliment to the others.


The Unshackled team + Alex of UrbanLight! Back row, L to R: Jess T., Paul, Alex, Becky, Andre. Front, L to R: me, Jess S., Chris, Sam.

The Unshackled team + Alex of UrbanLight!
Back row, L to R: Jess T., Paul, Alex, Becky, Andre.
Front, L to R: me, Jess S., Chris, Sam…photo’s Becky’s!

Unshackled festival 2013 was a powerful week. The Unshackled team prays it made a CHANGE in the lives of hundreds of Melbournians. I am so grateful for the part I could play. Please pray that those who attended will not ignore the twinges of conviction God placed on their hearts. Please pray that they will CHANGE as they remember it’s not about us, the comfortable and privileged, attending a week-long reality check.

This is about each girl, boy, man and woman in slavery as you read this sentence.
It’s about them – the thundering love God has for them – and how He wants US to show it.

6 thoughts on “Unshackled Festival 2013: CHANGE

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