As Pat Sheppard and her husband, Fred, watched the news one evening, they were troubled by a report on human trafficking. Pat lay awake that night, confronted with the stark reality of children being sold into slavery. She wanted to do something to help.

The next morning, Pat and Fred decided to raise awareness and funds for trafficking victims by walking from their home in Bayfield, Ont., to Parliament Hill in Ottawa—a distance of 655 kilometres. They expected it to take about a month, walking 30 kilometres a day. It was a big challenge, but they knew they could do it.

In 2014, after celebrating her 70th birthday, Pat had the idea to support The Salvation Army’s work with orphans and vulnerable children in Africa by walking around Lake Huron. Pat and Fred completed the 1,200-kilometre walk during the summer of 2015, raising $3,000 for the world missions department. “I firmly believe God called me to do it, so I did!” she says.

For this walk, they started a Facebook page, explaining, “This is a walk for freedom—freedom for thousands of children, sometimes as young as six years old, who have been kidnapped and sold into the sex trade. Our journey will take us to the end of June, and we pledge to give all monies donated to freeing the ones who cannot speak for themselves.”

Pat and Fred set out on May 29, 2017. A typical day on the road began around 5:30 a.m. “We’d have breakfast, get dressed and then head on our way,” Fred explains. “I would drop Pat off at the starting point for the day, drive a few kilometres up the road, park the car and start walking. Pat would pick up the car, drive another few kilometres, park the car and continue walking. By leap-frogging each other, we were able to accomplish 30 kilometres a day.”

When asked about the highlights of the walk, they both spoke of the kindness of everyone they encountered. One day, as they were heading north, they passed Anishinawbe Water Walkers—a group of Indigenous women who carry water great distances, to raise awareness about environmental concerns—going south. “It was nice to meet fellow walkers,” Pat says. “We paused, exchanged stories about our reasons for walking, and wished each other well as we continued on our way.” They recalled other occasions on their trek around Lake Huron when people stopped to offer water.

Pat also spoke about the walk as a form of prayer, especially during difficult stretches of road. “It seemed like I got all of the steep hills,” she recalls. “On one particular hill, I remember telling the Lord, ‘If I’m going to make it, I’m going to need a push!’ ” Each time, the end of her prayer brought the end of the hill.

About a week into their journey, after walking 186 kilometres, Fred started to experience knee pain. While he tried to forge on, Pat realized they needed to seek medical attention. A doctor ordered him to rest. In her final post on the Freedom Walk Facebook page, Pat challenged their supporters to continue the mission.

“This will in no way stop our quest to free the victims of the sex trade,” she wrote. “We will simply have to find another way. We hope many others will take up the torch to be the voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. Please call your local church or police to find out what you can do to aid the cause. Someone else’s life depends on you.”

While they didn’t make it to Parliament Hill, Pat and Fred were happy with the opportunities they had to advocate on behalf of victims of human trafficking. They plan to host a sticky bun fundraiser to boost the funds raised by the walk. The money will be donated to Deborah’s Gate, a national Salvation Army program in Vancouver that cares for women who have been trafficked into sexual or labour exploitation.

Reflecting on her motivation, Pat shares, “I am incredibly undeserving and yet I have been tremendously blessed in life. In gratitude for all God has done for me, I feel it is only right to pay it forward.”

Lieutenant Laura Hickman is the corps officer at Suncoast Citadel in Goderich, Ont.

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