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Free at Last
Seven years ago, Sandy Shepherd got an unexpected phone call as she headed to her daughter's high school musical rehearsal. A mother of three, living in affluent Colleyville near Fort Worth, she was already beginning to imagine life as an empty nester. She wasn't thinking about changing the world.
On the line was Deacon Neel Choate from her church, First Baptist. He told her that the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) had just picked up seven Zambian boysall part of a touring choir they both knew. First Baptist had hosted the choir previously. Choate said the boys needed a place to stay or they would spend the night in jail.
Could she house all seven overnight?
Shepherd took a deep breath. For two years, Shepherd had passionately supported this choir, utterly unaware that she and her church were being duped.
A Baptist missionary, Keith Grimes, had recruited the boys to tour America with his ministry, TTT: Partners in Education. Grimes had made big promises to the boys and their families. He had inspired them with talk of salaries, an American education, and stipends for families back in Zambia. Grimes had also claimed the tour would raise money for Kalingalinga, the grindingly poor shantytown that provided its fresh-faced sons for these tours 6,000 miles from their homes.
It was a brilliant scam. The ministry never paid these Zambian boys a dime or built new schools. It pocketed all the sponsorship money.
When the fraud was discovered, Shepherd and others had done everything they could to stop it, but had failed. Not even Grimes's 1999 death had ended the boys' enslavement. His kin took over and kept the captive choir out on the road. The boys spoke little English. Their mother tongue had no word for slave.
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