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Church Takes a New Twist on Escape Room to Raise Awareness and Funds to Battle Human Trafficking

Aberdeen First Assembly of God created a unique Rescue Escape Room that brought the church and community together while raising thousands of dollars for Project Rescue's Village Project.

As the searchers in India enter the city’s marketplace, the sights and sounds could easily be a distraction to a less focused group, but this one is on a vital mission. The group, composed of roughly 10 individuals — some who have only met for the first time just moments before they entered the marketplace — have come together to rescue a girl. Cryptic clues are seemingly everywhere, but time is short. In an hour, the marketplace closes and the young girl, if not found before then, could be lost forever to human traffickers . . .

Welcome to the Rescue Escape Room, hosted by Aberdeen First Assembly of God in Aberdeen, South Dakota, where they’ve created an authentic-looking marketplace which doubles as a surprisingly intricate puzzle room to raise funds for Speed the Light and Boys and Girls Missionary Challenge (BGMC).

Escape rooms are a type of interactive game where players solve a series of puzzles within a certain amount of time to accomplish a goal.

“Specifically, funds we raise will go to Project Rescue — an AG ministry that rescues, helps, and supports victims of human trafficking,” says Ben Snyder, pastor of Aberdeen First AG, which averages about 250 on Sundays. “But it’s Project Rescue’s Village Project that we’re targeting as that is literally breaking the cycle of girls being trafficked.”

The idea for an escape-room-type event has been one that Snyder has been considering for years — first as the youth pastor at First AG, and then, the last two years, as lead pastor.

“I wanted to do something that would get the community involved with our Speed the Light and BGMC efforts,” he explains. “And the escape room combined with bringing awareness to human trafficking seemed like the ideal combination.”

The room and puzzles took months to create and perfect, with reservations for the hour-long experience offered Friday evenings, Saturday afternoons and evenings, and Sunday afternoons throughout October. Snyder credits volunteers for the excellence of the experience.

Mia Dougherty, 19, who has attended Aberdeen First AG her entire life, says she wasn’t surprised that Snyder had this idea.

“When he was youth pastor, he was always doing these fun types of puzzles and activities that made you think,” she says. “But this was done so well — I didn’t even recognize the room they used. The props were all very good, they had a lot of different clues, and it was a bigger challenge than I thought it would be.”

The first thing searchers have to discover when they begin their quest is the name of the girl they are seeking.

“They have to complete six different puzzles to learn her name,” Snyder says, “which opens a cabinet in the flower shop in the market. There you have to spin different wheels to help match up her flower, which takes you to a house. We have hidden doors and with hidden clues on the walls, along with keys on the wall, the have to fit into five different locks, and it just goes on!”

“If someone asked me to give it a rating from 1 to 10, I would say a 20,” says Debbie Wherry, a 42-year-old mother of three kids ages 10, 13, and 15. ”It was really that good -- I was really impressed.”

Wherry, who drove 100 miles from Herreid, South Dakota, to experience the Rescue Escape Room, says she ended up going twice; the first time with her sister-in-law and a group of others she did not know; the second time, she and her sister-in-law reserved the entire hour for their families and children to attend.

“Human trafficking isn’t something I’ve really ever talked to my kids about,” she says. “So, I was leery about taking them. But when we realized how good it was, that our kids would have so much fun doing it, and that it all was presented in such a wonderful way that was also easy to relate to them, we made sure to sign up . . . in fact, I shared about it on Facebook several times because I wanted as many people as possible to experience it.”

Snyder says that the room is monitored by video so that if a search team gets stuck in solving a puzzle, additional clues could be supplied.

One of the “drive-the-point” home experiences of the Rescue Escape Room is that following solving the final puzzle, searchers get to read a letter and see a short video about the real-life girl they were searching for, explaining her need to be helped and how Project Rescue transformed her life.

“It makes your efforts for Speed the Light more real — it brings you into the real-life scenario,” Dougherty says about the experience. “It also helps you realize the impact Project Rescue has on the lives of children and women being trafficked. And honestly, it was a great way to bring people in the community together — people who didn’t all know each other before — working together, getting to know each other, and all for a common purpose.”

Snyder says that the room more than accomplished it purpose as it brought hundreds of people from the church as well as the community together, raised awareness of human trafficking, and also raised a little over $10,000 for the Village Project. Initially intended only to run through October, Snyder says they’ve decided to keep the Rescue Escape Room open through November for groups by appointment.

“A lot of people from community attended and most everyone is surprised at the quality of the room,” Snyder says. “One testimony came from a lady who doesn’t attend our church. She said, ‘You know, I felt like I was really losing hope for myself and for humanity, but seeing the story of this room and all the work you’ve all done, it’s really changed me.’

“I believe God used the room to spark some hope in her life," Snyder adds, "somewhat like Project Rescue is providing sparks of hope for so many women and children otherwise facing a future with no hope and no way out.”

Dan Van Veen

Dan Van Veen is news editor of AG News. Prior to transitioning to AG News in 2001, Van Veen served as managing editor of AG U.S. Missions American Horizon magazine for five years. He attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, where he and his wife, Lori, teach preschool Sunday School and 4- and 5-year-old Rainbows boys and girls on Wednesdays.