Finding Freedom in Christ: A Journey Fighting for the Freedom of Slaves
Our culture is obsessed with freedom to choose — whatever you think will make you happy, do it. International Justice Mission (where I work) is the world’s largest anti-slavery organization today. For those without it, freedom is everything. What drew me to IJM is the focus on the abuser — on holding people accountable, by seeking justice on behalf of those enslaved. We’ve found that it’s the only way to stop the cycle. Without it, you just spend years freeing one person only to see another replace her, with little net result. In contrast, putting one brothel owner in jail for 20 years sends a message to the others. They’re not usually brave men; they’re opportunistic business owners. And they discovered that not paying their employees improves their bottom line.
The number of people enslaved is actually higher that the number historically — in total, about 40 million people worldwide. That’s ten times the number of people enslaved in Africa and brought to the Americas. But there’s hope: Slavery is also more stoppable today than at any other point in human history. It’s illegal in every country, for the first time ever. We’re the first generation that can say that. And it’s also concentrated in a few heavy areas. It’s still a problem in places outside those heaviest areas, not to diminish it, but being a concentrated problem means we can concentrate our efforts. Around 40% of those enslaved today are in just one country; the worst 10 countries account for the significant majority of the problem. We see it concentrated it areas where the laws against slavery aren’t enforced, and in places where there’s poverty or nearby poverty.
You can measure the success of efforts like this. Four to six years after putting a few brothel owners in jail in a particular region in the Philippines, we measured a reduction of over 75% of those forced into sex work. The Philippines is a very Catholic nation. How does it happen for sex work to be so prevalent there? In brief, the supply comes from within the country and the demand comes from outside. For many years, it was well known among those visiting the Philippines that you could find massage parlors and brothels that sold services that weren’t available in other countries.
Slavery continues to be as brutal as it ever has been. We’re not being metaphorical when we talk about people being “enslaved”. There doesn’t need to be physical restraint to keep someone held in bondage. There’s a web of deception. Being poor means you don’t have a safety net to fall back on. Not speaking the local language isolates you from help. There’s no way to leave after you get pulled in. Poor families are more at risk of deception. They’re more willing to take an opportunity — like sending their 12 year old daughter to another island to attend school — because they never thought it would be possible for her to get an education. And when it turns out that she isn’t attending school, but was forced into prostitution, they aren’t in a position to help her.
Economic pressure for trade. Walmart told the government in Thailand, you have to enforce your antislavery laws because our customers demand it of the products they buy from us. They don’t want to buy seafood that was caught by a boat crewed by slaves. If you don’t, we’ll have to do business elsewhere. Here’s the contact information for IJM — they know how to make this work. Talk to them.
Scripture. God could stop all abuse in the world Himself, but chooses us to do that work on His behalf. He allows us into that work — think of kids’ dignity from stepping into adult work. Cooking with my daughter is by no means more efficient, but there’s such joy in her eyes as she does it with me. We don’t own this work, but Got invites us to help Him in it.
Before I started working at IJM, I worked at a tech job. Switching jobs — and the corresponding cut in pay — wasn’t easy. It took a lot of introspection to tease out that when I said I was worried about losing financial stability, the thing that really bothered me was the lifestyle change. My husband and I had to make our peace with knowing that we’d live in a small place and that we’d drive old beat-up cars, while watching our family and friends have nicer things. And that kind of sucks, you know?
Best version of yourself. Look at the gap between where you are today and where you want to be. What’s the roadblock between them? Fear. Shame. Doubt. Will God really provide if we step out of the safe space where we have (at least an illusion) of control? The world tells us to stay in a narrow controlled place, but being rooted in the will of God is the deeper freedom we are invited into. Jesus was totally free, not because he did what he wanted, but because he offered himself freely and totally to the will of God. The Holy Spirit — the same power that rose Jesus from the dead — is alive within you. God gave you access to it! But why don’t we?
So often, we’re believers who don’t really believe. We profess our faith and we know it in our minds backwards and forward, but we don’t really act out the same level of faith and belief from the heart. In Luke, Jesus told the man who came to him, “Follow me.” The man answered, “Yes Lord, but first…” How often do we say this? I believe that busy-ness and distraction is one of the most powerful weapons that the spiritual adversary has against us. “Let the dead bury the dead.” Harsh, but this is the kind of urgency that preaching the Gospel has.
I have the privilege to talk to a lot of people about their faith. I hear the same thing a lot — we sense that this deeper freedom is there, but we don’t fully feel like we have access to it. “For freedom Christ set us free.” Your freedom isn’t just about you — your freedom changes relationships and friendships and workplaces. I don’t know why God chose for me to be born into this life of physical freedom, but I do know that He is begging me to live that freedom fully.