The 42,000 cheering college students who packed the Georgia Dome on Tuesday morning made history, pastor and speaker Louie Giglio declared as he kicked off the first full day of Passion, an annual worship conference for young adults.
"This is a new generation saying 'it will be my joy to say, your will and your way, Jesus,'" Giglio said. "That's powerful."
Students came from 1,700 campuses across the U.S. and 30 countries to participate in the 4-day event that includes a slate of popular Christian speakers and musicians.
Standing in a place that in 1994 hosted record-breaking revivals led by Billy Graham, Giglio called for a new generation to surrender to God's call and stand for freedom, this year's conference theme.
Through the "Do Something Now" initiative, passion speakers encouraged students to rise up against the plague of modern-day slavery.
According to statistics referenced by the Passion team, 27 million people around the world live in some form of slavery, mostly through sex trafficking and forced labor. Followers of Jesus cannot stand by and let that continue, said Christine Caine, teacher and co-founder of The A21 Campaign, an anti-slavery, non-profit organization.
The church cannot claim it has compassion if it walks past hurting people, she said, referencing the parable of the Good Samaritan.
"Compassion is never compassion until you actively get involved, until you allow yourself to get involved," she said. "You have an opportunity to cross the street and be involved."
Between teaching sessions, students watched video clips that told the stories of just a few people suffering from slavery, a way to put faces and names on the statistics. Passion organizers hope to raise $1 million during the conference for six organizations that work to prevent slavery, rescue the enslaved and promote restoration.
Students who make donations toward the effort also can help build a sculpture representing the despair of slavery and the hope offered by people fighting against it. The sculpture, to be revealed at midnight on Wednesday, will be made in part of items commonly manufactured by slave labor, on which students have written prayers, scriptures and messages of hope.
Taking on an issue like slavery will not be easy, said Giglio, who founded Passion in 1997 as an outreach ministry to college students. But if any generation can do it successfully, this one can, he said.
"If this were an adult conference, my expectations would be much lower," he said. "The reason we're reaching for what we're reaching for is because we're in a dome filled with a people who are saying with their hearts they will not stand by and do nothing. We will step up and raise our voice and be a part of seeing history changed."