You wouldn’t know there’s a world-changing ministry tucked into the ground floor of a nondescript building along Wade Hampton Boulevard in Greenville, but it’s there.
Set Free, which began as Water of Life in 2004 by Upstate entrepreneur Roland Bergeron, exists to bring clean water to Sierra Leone, Liberia and India, provide medical missions in all three countries and, specific to India, rescue children out of slavery, says CEO Sarah Kelley.
“Overarching everything that Set Free does is with the goal of providing freedom through Christ,” she says. “Sharing the Gospel, planting churches … we also realize that, in doing that, one of the best ways was to put skin on faith and meeting human needs.”
It’s the child slavery effort that has taken on new dimensions, she says. On the glass board on the wall next to her office door, the hand-written numbers reflect the scope: “April Results … Children rescued – 176 … Children reunited – 454 … Children prevented from slavery – 368 … “
“The average age is around 12 and they’re primarily taken as payments for loans,” she says. “Loan agents might come into a village, offer a family a loan, and when the family can’t afford it … the kids are sold [into slavery] and never heard from again.”
Kelley says the children form human assembly lines in brick factories and slate mines in the remote parts of India where slavery rings operate in the shadows. Children rescued need medical attention and nutrition, she says, and the ministry must assume a type of legal guardianship over them while they care for and work to reunite them with their families.
“We’ve rescued 40,000 children out of slavery and right now are caring for 8,600,” she says. “The price adds up quickly.”
But the investment is life-changing. “I can’t even describe it,” she says. “Just the sheer joy of having your child come back to you — there aren’t words.”
Now, Set Free is interceding for Indian families by paying off predatory loans — which average $68 — before the children can be taken, a program that has been honored as a finalist of the Fast Company 2021 World Changing Ideas Awards.
In the end, Set Free’s mission is rooted in the word ‘yes,’ Kelley says, whether on the part of those who help fund the programs to those who partner with them in the countries they serve.
“There are a lot of ‘yeses’ on the way,” she says. “There was a ‘yes’ on Roland [Bergeron’s] part to go to Africa and later, India. Those were not countries on his radar. There’s saying ‘yes’ when we saw the problem of child slavery. It was one of those reckoning moments — once you see something like that, you can’t go back. We didn’t feel like we could go into these villages and tell them how much God loved them and then, leave them in slavery. So, that was a ‘yes.'”
For more information: visit setfreealliance.org.