Recent Controversy

Below are statements from the Freedom Church Alliance and from Elijah Rising about an email that originated from Julie Waters, founder and director of Free the Captives. We are reprinting the original email and our responses here because we know the email went out to a wide, unspecified audience and we must act responsibly and with integrity by responding to the parts that deal specifically with Elijah Rising.

Below please read,
#1 Julie’s original email to an undisclosed wide audience;
#2 The official response from the Freedom Church Alliance; and
#3 The official response from Elijah Rising.

Julie Waters’ original email

June 5, 2014

It has come to my attention that Free the Captives may have been represented as endorsing anti-human trafficking efforts through the Freedom Church Alliance that we do not support in any manner. Therefore, we have withdrawn from the alliance.

Reasons for leaving the alliance:
* Interferes with trafficking investigations by law enforcement

* Involves volunteers in dangerous “rescue” activities

* Differs on theologically issues

Free the Captives has officially withdrawn from the Freedom Church Alliance as one of its three ministry partners. The three ministry partners included Redeemed Ministries, Free the Captives, and Elijah Rising. Currently, the following churches are a part of the alliance at a level 3 partnership, which entails giving the alliance an annual investment of $3 per church member: Houston’s First Baptist Church, Bayou City Fellowship, City of Refuge, Christ Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Sugar Creek Baptist Church, and Vineyard Church.

Free the Captives has not received any funding from the Freedom Church Alliance since its inception and will not accept any future funds. Free the Captives does not endorse or promote any activities sponsored by the alliance or activities of its other ministry partners. We ask that Free the Captives’ name and logo be removed from all alliance materials and to not be used in association with the alliance.

As an anti-human trafficking nonprofit that specifically works with teenaged trafficking victims in Houston, Free the Captives is withdrawing from the alliance based on the following principles:

1. Working with law enforcement is essential in fighting human trafficking.

Human trafficking is criminal industry. The most horrific things are happening to trafficking victims, and while the average citizen has great intentions and wants to help, we must respect the role of law enforcement. Free the Captives heavily relies on law enforcement to rescue teenaged trafficking victims because often times, due to extreme manipulation and trauma, these girls do not want help. Therefore, volunteers or public citizens have no way to rescue a teen trafficking victim that does not want help. Only law enforcement is equipped, legally and professionally, to rescue such a victim.

Free the Captives would not be able to do our current work of restoration and rehabilitation with teenaged trafficking victims without law enforcement rescuing these girls from strip clubs, seedy motels, and off the street.

Additionally, there is no way for the average citizen to arrest or hold the traffickers accountable. Only law enforcement can build a case and arrest and prosecute the traffickers. When average citizens take it upon themselves to investigate or rescue victims, they cross the line and interfere with the work of law enforcement. This greatly impedes year long investigations of law enforcement and could result with that citizen being arrested.

The actions of the alliance do not demonstrate cooperation with law enforcement.

2. Law Enforcement does NOT endorse the alliance’s rescue hotline or Elijah Rising’s van tours.

Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance (HTRA) includes every major law enforcement agency in Houston working on human trafficking, including the Department of Justice, FBI, Harris County Sheriff’s Office, and Houston Police Department. Officially, HTRA is not in favor of the alliance’s rescue hotline. As the leading law enforcement task force spearheading all human trafficking investigations in Houston, they have unanimously and unequivocally opposed the creation of such a hotline. A national human trafficking hotline already exists that funnels all of Houston’s trafficking calls to local law enforcement in HTRA. According to HTRA, this newly created hotline by the Freedom Church Alliance does not have the approval to work with any law enforcement agency in Houston, including the Houston Police Department. Instead, the hotline relies on volunteers from the public to act as “rescue teams” to go and rescue the woman. This hotline originated under the Freedom Church Alliance and is now housed under Elijah Rising.

Secondly, HTRA also does not approve of the van tours of Elijah Rising. These van tours nearly cost law enforcement an ongoing anti-human trafficking investigation of multiple Houston cantinas. Fortunately, law enforcement was still able to shut down the cantinas in October 2013 and rescue 12 women and girls, 5 of which were under the age of 15, but law enforcement had to overcome major problems caused by the van tours. The goal of the alliance and anti-trafficking ministries should be to work with law enforcement and make their job easier; not interfere with ongoing investigations that are working to get major traffickers off the streets. Had this investigation fail due to the van tours, it is highly likely that these 12 women and girls would still be trafficked today.

3. There are ways for volunteers to get involved that are productive and meaningful, while not placing themselves in danger.

At Free the Captives, we believe that it is important for members of the community to volunteer and get involved. Thus, we have safe and meaningful ways for people to volunteer (http://www.freethecaptiveshouston.com/get-involved.php). It is against our procedures and policies to promote activities that would place people in danger.

Human trafficking is a serious, deadly crime. During the summer of 2013, a young woman, who had been trafficked in Houston since she was 13, was found dead in ditch. She had been raped, shot in the head, and left naked by the side of the road. Her family believes that she was killed by her trafficker. I went to her funeral last summer. Halfway through her funeral, attendees became concerned that her trafficker was there, and the service was disrupted. Even her funeral was not safe to attend. Human trafficking is extremely dangerous, not only for the victims, but for their families and anyone else trying to help.

I always warn people to NOT act as a vigilantes. Traffickers, individually, make hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, if not more. They will not hesitate to hurt or kill anyone interfering with their business. This is why cooperating with law enforcement is so important. Law enforcement is equipped to deal with these criminals; non-profits and churches are NOT. Rescuing the girls using the new hotline number is not an appropriate or safe activity for public citizens.

Many people seemed to be attracted only to the glamorous or exciting part of anti-trafficking work – the “rescue.” This mentality does an incredible disservice to the anti-human trafficking field as a whole. There is so much work that needs to be done on the prevention and aftercare parts, and this work is tedious, draining, and hard. “Rescue” is a very small portion of anti-trafficking work, and truly is best left to law enforcement. I spend countless hours working with teenaged victims on the mundane – getting IDs, finding jobs, applying for college/scholarships, providing transportation to appointments, and helping them to rebuild family relationships. These are the less exciting parts of human trafficking, but nevertheless they are highly needed.

4. Free the Captives does not endorse charismatic or Pentecostal beliefs.

Lastly, Free the Captives is withdrawing from the Freedom Church Alliance because of theological differences. Free the Captives, while not affiliated with any specific denomination, is conservative in our Christian beliefs. We do not support or endorse any charismatic or Pentecostal beliefs; thus differing from the alliance in this aspect.

In summary, Free the Captives has left the Freedom Church Alliance due to their interfering with law enforcement’s investigations, involving volunteers in dangerous and inappropriate “rescues,” and differing over theological beliefs. These issues have been addressed with the leadership of the alliance, and my concerns were not shared. Thus, in order to continue effectively serving teenaged victims of trafficking in Houston and to uphold our policies regarding safety and theology, Free the Captives has withdrawn from the Freedom Church Alliance.

Thank you,

Julie Waters
Attorney at Law
Executive Director and Founder

Free the Captives
PO Box 940187
Houston, TX 77094
Email: julie@freethecaptiveshouston.com
Web: www.freethecaptiveshouston.com

Response from the Freedom Church Alliance

June 6, 2014

Dear Church Partners and Advocates,

I know that many of you have been awaiting a response from the Freedom Church Alliance board upon receiving the email sent out yesterday by Julie Waters announcing Free the Captives withdrawing from the Freedom Church Alliance. Thank you for your patience and prayers. As a board we felt it was important to take time to prayerfully consider Julie’s concerns and to follow God’s command to be “quick to listen and slow to respond” (James 1:19).

I want to begin by restating the mission of the Freedom Church Alliance. We exist to unite churches with trusted partners to bring hope and healing, through Jesus Christ, to women, children and men enslaved in sex trafficking. It is our desire to see the church aware and engaged because scripture calls us to proclaim the gospel in all the world and we believe that means in the darkest places. We do not believe it is our role to govern our partners in their methods or in their doctrinal differences. We do have a vetting system in place because we take seriously the responsibility to steward well the resources churches are entrusting to us – whether that be volunteers, funds or other resources. It is also our aim to be a blessing to our city officials and authorities, not to detract from their efforts. We were surprised and troubled to hear from Julie, very recently, that the entire HTRA and the police force of Houston are opposed to the hotline. Allison Meier and her associate director, who has had previous experience with the local hotline in Los Angeles, have been working diligently in the last year to meet with authorities for this expressed purpose. We have been moving forward in support of the hotline under the assumption that we do have support from authorities. After hearing Julie’s concerns, one of our other partners, who works with law-enforcement on a regular basis, has arranged a meeting with HTRA so that we can all sit down together (the Alliance board, hotline/Rescue Houston, Elijah Rising, Redeemed) to discuss the matter further and gain clarity as to the city’s position and concerns. We suspect that much of the confusion that has surfaced is a result of miscommunication. We want to be clear that the Freedom Church Alliance absolutely believes that cooperation with law-enforcement is necessary.

I would like to clarify that the Polaris national trafficking hotline is different than the local hotline (Rescue Houston). Several cities considered hubs for trafficking have implemented local trafficking lines – LA, Atlanta, Phoenix – and Chicago is planning to launch one this summer. Most or all of these local hotlines work in conjunction with the national hotline. The national hotline receives tips, opens cases and always refers calls back to local authorities or agencies with the capacity to help when a victim needs rescue. This local hotline has been modeled after the Atlanta hotline (for more info. google Out of Darkness). I spoke to the director this morning and he said that they have been able to rescue 200 girls since November 2011. He explained that the national hotline routes calls to the police authorities in Atlanta and also routes calls to them, depending on the type of call received. The national hotline receives and refers calls out, while the local hotline responds by rescuing the girl immediately and taking her to a safe place. The director went on to explain that there is safety protocol in place, and they have never had a security problem with their volunteers – if a situation seems dangerous, they involve police. Rescue Houston also has safety protocol in place for volunteers (modeled after Out of Darkness). Police relationships have evolved, he said, and now there are police and FBI workers who contact Out of Darkness when they have a girl who needs help. That is exactly the kind of partnership we are looking to have with police, and that is why Allison has spent so much time reaching out to authorities. As an Alliance, we are excited about the women who will be reached through the hotline. Of course we anticipate and do our best to be prepared for obstacles along the way, but it is our desire to support the hotline in their efforts in our city. The hotline is not meant to encourage or facilitate vigilante behavior, it’s meant to be a help to the city and to create another pathway for rescue for girls who may fear calling police but want to cry for help.

In regards to one of our partners, Elijah Rising, having a bent towards “charismatic/Pentecostal” beliefs, we could not be more saddened that that would be a reason for leaving the Alliance. Our board and advisory council come from a variety of denominational backgrounds. We believe that the beauty of the Alliance is found in different churches and denominations coming together under the banner of Jesus Christ to do great exploits for His name as we follow the leading of the Spirit. If one of our partners swings more to one side of the pendulum on their views of the gifts of the Spirit than another, we do not consider that grounds for breaking the bond of unity. This is also one of the benefits of the Alliance – to allow Alliance members to give input and receive feedback and as a result provide opportunity for sharpening and encouraging each other. That said, the churches within our Alliance agree on the essentials: We believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son Our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into Hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into Heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting (apostle’s creed).

I was touched today by the words I read written by a friend and woman of God I admire so much. She said, “This is D-Day. The day that Allied forces took the beach at Normandy at great loss so that the Nazi stronghold in Europe would be broken. They fought together, died together valiantly in huge numbers, and were victorious together. It happens together. None of our factions are big enough on our own. We must have allied forces in the kingdom of God working together.”

Regarding safety of volunteers, we do not believe in recklessness. It is our aim to be shrewd as snakes but innocent as doves (Matt. 10:16). Even with safety protocols in place no one can ever guarantee someone’s safety. Churches send mission teams and missionaries all over the world knowing there are risks. In our own city, our church sends teams to minister in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in town. We understand that there is always a cost to our comfort and security when we answer God’s call to take light into dark places. We will do everything on our part to encourage safe practices among our partners, but we will respect those who are willing to take risks when God’s call for their lives demands it – this is nothing less than scriptural. We are walking forward in faith and do not want to be a movement motivated by fear.

If you have further concerns and questions, please feel free to contact us. We love, support and admire the work of Julie Waters and Free the Captives. We are grateful to her for expressing her concerns, and we believe that because of them we will grow and be strengthened as an Alliance. We bless her in every way, and respect her decision to withdraw. We feel compelled to move forward in faith knowing that any good we achieve as the body of Christ in our city will be not because of us but because of God’s Spirit at work among us and through us. We are grateful for the support and space to grow that you have given us in the last year. Never have I been more thankful for the body of Christ in all my life – we need one another. As an Alliance, we know that as we take strides towards fruitful collaboration and true unity there will be road bumps along the way. We, as the board, want you to know we will take every concern into prayerful consideration and seek the wisdom and expertise of those who can help guide us. It is our earnest desire to love and serve the church and our city with integrity so that the name of Jesus Christ would be glorified.


Leigh Kohler,
On behalf of the Board of Directors
Freedom Church Alliance
P.O. Box 572107
Houston, TX 77257

Response from Elijah Rising

June 16, 2014

We are so sad to hear that Julie has withdrawn from the Freedom Church Alliance – but we always welcome opportunities like this to bring clarity and more transparency to the landscape of abolitionist efforts in our city.

We offer the following remarks not to defend ourselves, but to bring clarity to the issues raised in Julie’s original email.

We are publishing the entire controversy here because Julie’s original email went out to an undisclosed wide audience and we feel that, in order to walk in integrity, we must respond publicly, especially to the parts that pertain specifically to Elijah Rising.

Julie says, “Working with law enforcement is essential in fighting human trafficking.”

We affirm that the hotline is designed to bring to safety women who self-identify, who can get themselves safely out of their situation and who do not need to be processed through the legal system in order to be helped.

Julie says, “Additionally, there is no way for the average citizen to arrest or hold the traffickers accountable.”

We affirm that we have no desire or intention to build cases on traffickers. We do however hope to increase the likelihood that cases will be built. An important first step in ultimately arresting a trafficker is getting their victims to safety and in a sufficient state of restoration so that statements can be taken and evidence gathered. We cannot help but wonder how many more traffickers will be arrested if we can get their victims to safety!

Julie says, “Law enforcement does not endorse the hotline or van tours.”

When Julie mentions the ongoing investigation of multiple cantinas that she alleges was jeopardized by the Elijah Rising van tour, I believe she may be referring to an incident early in our history of van tours. This incident was reviewed and determined to be a simple misunderstanding in which a van tour participant took a photo of a cantina that was under investigation. Even though the participant did this with innocent intentions, from a public vantage point some distance away, it was perceived by a member of the county task force as endangering a seven-year investigation of the cantina.

The Lord has entrusted us with 6,000 people on van tours in the past three years without any incidents and we continue to operate with safety as our top priority.

We affirm the role of law enforcement in their important work of bringing traffickers to justice. We respect the law enforcement community in not deterring or interfering with any investigations by always staying on public property a good distance from the site we are pointing out on our van tours.

We affirm that we are moving forward in good faith that we are on track for building quality relationships with law enforcement.

Julie says, “There are ways for volunteers to get involved that are productive and meaningful, while not placing themselves in danger.”

We joyfully affirm the response of the Freedom Church Alliance: we do not approach our work with cavalier recklessness, but if we refuse to send people into potentially dangerous situations then we must give up on foreign missions!

Jesus Himself took his young disciples on a mission trip to Caesarea Philippi, the location of a place known to the ancient world as The Mouth of Hell, where the demon god Pan was worshipped in heinous rituals. Jesus did not say, “Go and be safe.” He just said “Go!”

The abolitionists we admire throughout history have taken radical and extreme measures to bring about much needed change. Time and space fail me to tell of Donaldina Cameron, Katherine Bushnell, Josephine Butler, WT Stead, and William and Catherine Booth, just to name a few, who defied convention and became luminaries on the horizon of righteousness and justice in their generation!

None of the cities operating hotlines have reported even the slightest security incident – but even if they had, we know we are called, anointed and sent to proclaim freedom to captives regardless of the risk or inconvenience to our lifestyles.

Julie says, “Many people seemed to be attracted only to the glamorous or exciting part of anti-trafficking work – the “rescue,”” and points out that the “tedious, draining, and hard” parts of prevention and aftercare are underrepresented by a rescue hotline.

We affirm Julie’s heart of concern for the unglamorous side of rescue and restoration. We could not agree with her more! Having just enrolled a survivor in her first semester at HCC, and taking others to recovery meetings and counseling certainly bears this out!

We affirm that we are fully engaged in the mundane as well as the more dramatic intervention activities, and we make no dichotomy between the two. The Body of Christ in Houston can – and should – do both.

Julie’s concerns are very reasonable and valid and we affirm her concern for due process, for safety and, most importantly, for victims.

We answer these questions many times a week on van tours and over coffee with friends. That is why we have no qualms about reprinting them here. We feel many can benefit from the issues she raises and from our answers!

Julie says, “Free the Captives does not endorse charismatic or Pentecostal beliefs.”

We affirm that we are laboring together with so many believers we admire and respect in Houston from a wide spectrum of denominational backgrounds. The subject of the gifts of the Holy Spirit comes up only rarely as a topic of conversation … and NEVER as a reason to break our bond of unity!

We affirm our need for a deep friendship with the Holy Spirit in order to engage this battle! We do not forbid outward manifestations of the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

We do not force our beliefs on anyone – and we most definitely do not use them to fracture the precious unity among all our colleagues who fight alongside us. We are so sad when the Holy Spirit gets blamed for our fleshly tendency to withdraw from each other through fear or control.

In conclusion, we affirm our love for Julie Waters. We continue to invite her to represent Free the Captives at our annual Justice Summit.

We are so sad that she has chosen this course of action – and especially that she did so without reaching out to us first!

Although her recent actions have not been admirable, we affirm our respect for her decision and our highest regard for Julie.

In conclusion, we affirm our commitment to Philippians 2:1-11
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any [a]affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude [e]in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Cat French
Founder and Director


  1. Ann McCulloch says

    Thank you, Cat, for your kind & well-reasoned response. Of highest priority for us is law enforcement’s understanding & endorsement of all our activities to free the captives. We so appreciate your recognition of the need to be holy before the LORD as we engage in spiritual warfare. Rom. 13:1-5
    praying in HIS love, Ann & Bill McCulloch

  2. Annette says

    I would have to say from personal experience that I have found Elijah Rising to be filled with dedicated, God fearing people. I’ve attend theology classes whose purpose was to bring unity amongst volunteers and to lay a biblically sound foundation to everything that they do. I can’t help but feeling that the difference in beliefs in the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives must have played quite a role in Julie’s decision to leave the Alliance; if not, why mention it? As far as implying that volunteers for Elijah Rising are only seeking the “glamorous or exciting part of anti-trafficking work” was probably the most shocking indictment I’ve ever heard! First of all, can you really say there is a glamorous side to evil itself…I think not. And I’ve spent almost all of my “volunteer” time at one of their 3 weekly prayer hours! Bringing the plight of these victims to God’s throne room behind closed doors doesn’t constitute lime light, reckless, vigilante behavior to me!! And I must confess, had it not been for a van tour I attended, I would not be as dedicated to ending human trafficking as I am. Sincerely, Annette D

  3. Marjorie Tabango says

    Greetings in Christ!! Oh how I love you guys!!! This is just a bump in the road. The enemy will try to use anything, anyone to discourage us! But GOD!!! I will be praying for you guys but there is nothing too big or possible for our God!!! He is our El Shaddai, our Prince of Peace, King of Kings, Jehovah Jirah!!!! Let us continue seeking His face and doing the work He has persuaded amd guided us to do!!! To LOVE!!! To reach out!!! He never called us to be comfortable!! I thank God for you and your partners and I look forward to coming home and continuing to join you for Tues and Thurs. prayer and worship… Let His will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10)

    P.S… I am the young lady who came out on a van tour in Dec. with both my parents and Perla…i work offshore so I come around when Im home to lend a hand anyway i can… Love you guys!! I have witnessed and KNOW that because of Jesus, when you are weak, He is strong … Hope you find scriptures fulfilling as Im sure you guys will!

    **Be still and rest in the Lord; wait for Him and patiently lean yourself upon Him; fret not yourself because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who brings wicked devices to pass. Psalm 37: 7

    **Therefore encourage (admonish, exhort) one another and edify (strengthen and build up) one another, just as you are doing.
    1 Thessalonians 5:11

    Blessings in Christ,
    Marjorie Tabango

  4. Lizette says

    I am so sad that we as believers put our “religion” before our beliefs. I am sorry that this has happened to you guys (division) , but realize God is still in control. Darkness comes to light and we keep pressing forward. I still continue to support Elijah Rising, the van tours and all the great things you do to raise awareness! I actually would like to take my husband on a van tour soon and hope to hear back from you. The time is coming soon when Jesus returns for His people, these tedious things need to be laid down at the cross so we do not forget to reach the souls that do not realize how much our Savior loves them all!

  5. Lizette says

    I would also like to point out that the relationship we have with God is for no one to judge if correct or not. If one speaks in different languages, prays in the Spirit, dances with joy, rejoices with tambourines or hymns . It’s not our kingdom , God doesn’t need our help to judge, He has written the gospel for us to spread , not to decide whom does it right and who doesn’t.

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