On Sunday, September 23, thousands of churches worldwide will be part of the global movement of Freedom Sunday. Started by International Justice Mission (IJM), the world’s largest international anti-slavery organization, Freedom Sunday is a call to churches to join the fight to end slavery by dedicating their service to learning about, praying for, and partnering with IJM.
I recently talked with Richard Lee, IJM’s director of church mobilization. Lee frequently speaks about issues of injustice and slavery, as a preacher at churches across the nation, as a guest on radio and podcast interviews, and as a TEDx speaker.
How is it possible that slavery still exists?
Quite simply, slavery still exists around the world because laws are not enforced. At IJM, we find that when you have people in power next to people in poverty, it creates an atmosphere where exploitation and enslavement can occur. Slavery affects those that are the most vulnerable in society: those who are outside the protection of law enforcement.
The United Nations estimates that 4 billion people currently live outside of the rule of law. Too often a country’s law enforcement, courts, and government officials are (at worst) not motivated or (at best) not trained and equipped to protect its most vulnerable citizens.
If you can imagine a world where a person threatened with violence has no place to turn for protection, then you are able to imagine what life is like for millions of people throughout the world.
How pervasive is this problem, and what is IJM doing to combat slavery?
There are currently more than 40 million people currently enslaved throughout the world. Put this way, it is the equivalent of the combined population of America’s 32 largest cites from New York to Albuquerque. The type of slavery endured ranges from boys in a boat in Ghana to girls in a bar in the Dominican Republic to families in a factory in India. Slavery exists in every country in the world—but it doesn’t have to, and we have the power to make a difference.
IJM learned early on that for slavery to end, it’s not enough to just rescue the slaves. For slavery to end, you must arrest the slave owner. But in order to do that, you must work with the local police to arrest them, and work with the prosecutors to convict them and work with the justice system to sentence them to a long prison term. The only way for IJM to have the authority to act and the resources to scale the solution for the long run is by working with the local governments in the countries that we work to enforce the existing laws.
But that’s not all that we do, because ending slavery means more than just putting the “bad guys” in jail—it means breathing new life into survivors. So, our IJM aftercare workers partner with government social services and other NGOs to help restore the victims who have been freed to ensure that long-term needs are met and survivors’ vulnerability to future abuse is reduced through services like long-term homes for girls rescued from commercial sexual exploitation who are unable to return to their families, micro-enterprise opportunities for victims of illegal land seizure or illegal detention so they can start a new business, and medical care for clients who are HIV-positive or have other medical needs.
When pastors talk biblically about slavery in their churches, they shine a light on the global problem while most of society is still unaware of its existence. The hope is that members of the congregation will continue to seek additional information about the problem and ways to get involved.
At IJM, we know that God is the embodiment of justice (Isa 61:8), so the work of justice is the work of God. We know that we can’t end slavery in our lifetime without God’s help, so we ask people to join us in praying for the work of justice around the world.
Finally, our investigators, lawyers and social workers wouldn’t be able to do the work of justice—rescuing slaves, putting slave owners in jail and transforming the justice system—without the support of generous donors and churches to make that work possible financially. When your church asks your people to give, it is one the most practical steps that you can take to fight slavery to make a direct impact.
Throughout history, when a group of people are faced with oppression, God has raised up his prophets to speak out against injustice. Moses, William Wilberforce, and Harriet Tubman all used their influence to fight slavery. And now, we must remember that God is calling the local church to speak out against the evils of slavery today. To raise the voice of the church for the over 40 million enslaved people who have no opportunity to raise theirs.