If you've been following my blog since 2010, then you may remember a post I wrote last December about the global slave trade. It's a problem that's not going away anytime soon, but there is a groundswell of discontent over this issue -- women and men who are not only concerned, but courageous enough to do something about it. When the church that we've been visiting announced their plan to conspire together to spend less and give more this Christmas, and that 90% of the Advent offering would go to International Justice Mission, we knew we were ready to make this church our home. We attended an IJM film screening in December where we learned more about the work that IJM is doing to free slaves around the world. As the speaker reminded us, a video doesn't free slaves, but it does make us aware of the extent of the problem.
In the darkest and most secluded corners of our cities, 27 million people are still being held against their will. A full 80% of them are women and girls. They are forced to work for little or no pay. Most of what they are made to do would turn your stomach. It turns mine. And they can't escape . . . unless someone from the outside breaks into their world to rescue them.
Kinda like what Jesus did for us.
10,000 slaves are being held in the greater Chicago area. Most of them have been trafficked here from other countries. They don't speak our language, don't know where they are, and wouldn't know where to turn for help even if they could escape. The only Americans they've ever met are . . . shall we say . . . not very safe. Some of these precious women are locked up right here in Wheaton, Illinois, a town some say is the heart and soul of Evangelical Christianity, with a church on every street corner and one of the foremost Christian liberal arts institutions in the world. What can be done?
International Justice Mission is working around the clock and around the world to break into the dark corners of the world and rescue slaves. Rescue operations are risky and expensive. They require careful planning and strong relationships with law enforcement and legal personnel. Once men and women are freed the job is not over. They need trauma counseling, job training, a safe place to live where they can learn to trust again.
IJM provides this after-care for rescued slaves. And they work to bring perpetrators to justice. All the while they pray. They pray that the kingdom of God would be established, that hidden things would come to light, that the lost would be found, and that the people of God would rise up and take action.
A blog post doesn't free slaves, but perhaps it raises awareness. Knowing about the problem is the first step to doing something about it. You might be interested to know that IJM has an outstanding reputation in the way that they handle funds. Ministry Watch includes IJM on their top 30 ministries for 2011, calling them a "shining light" for financial accountability.
We learned two very exciting things at the IJM film screening in December. Both offer hope in the face of a global epidemic that can quickly seem overwhelming. (1) College students around the country are helping to end slavery in their own cities by helping police identify businesses where "employees" may be at risk. A bit of surveillance can indicate whether women who work at a massage parlor go home at night, or if employees are foreigners who never seem to stay very long. There are relatively easy ways to get involved and make a difference in your own community. (2) IJM is learning that they do not need to prosecute every perpetrator in order to achieve dramatic results. In Cebu, Philippines, they have worked together with law enforcement to end child prostitution. The high-profile arrest and prosecution of just a few slave owners has led to something like an 86% reduction in the availability of children for sex. Slave owners do what they do because they can get away with it. When they begin to realize that there is great risk involved in exploiting people, they quickly find other ways to make money.
How many slaves will be freed in 2012? That depends very much on what you and I decide to do about it.