The following article was originally posted by Dharma Deepika: A South Asian Journal of Missiological Research, 2013. While it is long – due to the nature of the research journal in which it was originally written for – I do hope you learn something new and feel encouraged reading it through.
Close to Home
Shyima was 12 years old when authorities found her working as a domestic slave for an affluent Egyptian family in Irvine, California. Irvine has been rated one of America’s safest cities to live in for the past several years running. Shyima was only nine years old when, in her home country of Egypt, her parents sold her. Shyima was to work in domestic servitude for this family as they relocated to Irvine, California, USA.
Shyima was not allowed to learn English, or go to school, and was denied all medical treatment. She lived in a tiny area in the garage, on a thin mat upon the hard concrete floor. Other than a lamp placed next to her mat, her only companion was a spider. Shyima rose before dawn every morning and got the children in the house up and ready for school while their parents often slept in. After sending the children off to school, she worked until after midnight cleaning and doing chores around the house.
One morning, as Shyima walked to the curb in front of the house to take out the trash, a neighbor noticed her and wondered why this young girl was not in school like the other children who lived there. Not long after, an anonymous call was made to the local police authorities who quickly arrived at the house to investigate. Fortunately it did not take long for the police to see that they had a case of domestic slavery on their hands. They took the appropriate action to remove Shyima from the home and take her captors into custody. After over three years in captivity, deprived of nourishment, love and affection as well as basic medical care, Shyima was at last free.
At twelve years old Shyima was uneducated and unable to understand or speak English. Slowly she began to understand that she was a victim, and now a survivor, of modern day slavery. Shyima quickly learned English, got caught up in her school studies and was able to testify in English against her captors before a judge in southern California. Her captors were sentenced to prison, and after their sentences were served, they were immediately deported back to Egypt.
Shyima is now a beautiful, smart and courageous young woman who is training to become a police officer so that she will have the skills to help rescue other young victims of modern day slavery and give them the freedom she has today.
Two years ago I had the privilege and joy of meeting Shyima. She is a dynamic young woman with a bright future ahead of her. For Shyima, one of the safest cities in all of America was not safe at all.
A Journey Begins
In the spring of 2008, I watched a documentary called Call+Response.7 At the conclusion of the film, as the end credits rolled and the lights were turned on, I was stunned by what I had seen and heard in the film.
This was the first time I had heard that there are 27 million people enslaved in the world today. The magnitude of that figure is nothing short of overwhelming. There are more people enslaved today than in the entire span of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
When I heard the term slavery for the first time in the film, I immediately thought of America’s own dark history involving the trans-Atlantic slave trade throughout the 18th century and into the early 19th century. President Abraham Lincoln had, in 1863, signed the Emancipation Proclamation, ending slavery in America once and for all and setting thousands of individuals free. At least, this is what many Americans are taught in history lessons. What is often forgotten is that it was several years after 1863 when word finally reached many slaves that they were free to go. Slave masters had purposely kept their government mandated freedom from the slaves, in order to continue to reap the benefits of using slave labour to harvest their fields.
Unfortunately, this deceit continues today. Not one country in the entire world allows slavery to exist by law and yet, not one country in the world today is slave free.
Fredrick Douglas, a runaway slave and survivor, abolitionist and author, and a man of unstoppable courage, foretold the future of slavery when he said, “They would not call it slavery, but some other name. Slavery has been fruitful in giving herself names…and it will call itself by yet another name; and you and I and all of us had better wait and see what new form this old monster will assume, in what new skin this old snake will come forth.”
Slavery exists and operates oblivious to boundaries. No place is free from this monster, as Douglas called it, and in some way, we, as members of society, are all affected by it. Slavery at its core is the exploitation of the most vulnerable. Slavery disregards culture, skin color, nationality, gender, economic status and religion. Slavery is what happens when justice is not upheld, not defended and not protected.
Gary Haugen, founder and president of the Washington, D.C.-based human rights organization, International Justice Mission, defines this injustice as follows: “Injustice occurs when power is misused to take from others what God has given them, namely, their life, dignity, liberty or the fruits of their love and labour.”3
In other words, injustice is a grotesque abuse of power that seeks to oppress people in order that others might gain a financial profit, while stealing from the oppressed the very nature in which God created everyone.
The Many Forms of the Monster that is Slavery Today
Of the 27 million people enslaved today, an estimated 1 million are in the richest nation in the world, the United States. According to the U.S. Department of State, more than 1 million children are trafficked each year and 80% of trafficking victims are women and girls. Fifty percent of all trafficking victims are minors. Lastly, human trafficking is the second largest criminal enterprise behind drugs, and it is the fastest growing in the world. Trafficking of persons generates in excess 32 billion U.S. dollars per year.
What does slavery look like today?
Kevin Bales, president of Free the Slaves, the world’s oldest human rights organization and considered to be the leading expert on contemporary slavery, describes modern day slavery as “… a booming business, and the number of slaves is increasing. People get rich by using slaves. And when they’ve finished with their slaves, they just throw these people away. This is the new slavery, which focuses on big profits and cheap lives. It is not about owning people in the traditional sense of the old slavery, but about controlling them completely. People become completely disposable tools for making money.”1
Unlike drug trafficking today, in which drugs are used only once, humans can be bought and sold over and over and over again, making the buying and selling of people a much more lucrative investment for those traffickers who have made a career out of exploiting others. From country to country and from city to city, this corruption can take a variety of shapes.
Before we identify specific types of slavery today, let’s review the key differences between old slavery from the 18th and 19th centuries and new slavery that we find around the world today.
Old Slavery New Slavery
Legal ownership asserted Legal ownership avoided
High purchase cost Very low purchase cost
Low profits Very high profits
Shortage of potential slaves Glut of potential
Long-term relationship Short-term relationship
Slaves maintained Slaves disposable
Ethnic differences important Ethnic differences not important1
As you can see, there are vast differences between the old slavery and the new slavery in our world today. What remains the same is the means in which someone becomes enslaved. In all cases, force, fraud or coercion are used to enslave others.
Today, in Cambodia, for example, sex tourism is a leading economic industry that drives thousands of young girls into brothels and nightclubs. These defenseless young girls are purchased for sex multiple times a night, often by foreign travelers on a sex tourist trip. Sexual enslavement is none other than rape for profit.
David Batstone, founder of the anti-human trafficking organization Not For Sale wrote, “In June 2006, Cambodia was ranked as one of the worst countries in the world for human trafficking.”2To further his point, Batstone refers to the 2006 Trafficking in Persons Report issued by the U.S. State Department, which speaks to Cambodia’s human trafficking situation: “Cambodia is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labour.”5
Another type of slavery plaguing numerous parts of the world today is bonded labour, also known as debt bondage slavery. Unfortunately bonded labour is spreading unabated in many countries in Southeast Asia. Bonded labour occurs when a loan is borrowed and labour is the method used for repayment. The lender issues a high rate of interest on the loan, making it impossible to ever fully work off the debt and repay the loan. As a result, it is not uncommon for entire families to be found working to pay off the loan generation after generation.
In India, for example, brick kilns are a common place to find entire families making bricks from sunrise to sunset and without the possibility of ever paying off the debt in full. It is because of this unjust system of debt repayment that allows for a life of slavery to be passed onto the next generation.
In addition to sexual slavery and bonded labour, we must also identify a type of slavery found in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. Sadly, child soldiers are stripped of their childhood and family life in many parts of central Africa due to rebel militia groups moving through villages seeking to gain control of certain areas rich in natural resources. Human rights groups estimate that as many as 40 thousand children have been taken captive.2 These children, who are essentially kidnapped from the care of their families, are forced to serve a militia army by acting as soldiers, sex slaves, and baggage porters. Some of these children are as young as seven years old.
When Jan Egeland, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, visited northern Uganda he had this to say about the situation: “It’s a moral outrage, frankly, to see thousands of children that have been abducted, that have been maltreated, that are going through the most horrendous torture by the rebel movement… I cannot find any other part of the world having an emergency on the scale of Uganda with so little international attention.”
A former child slave in Uganda, Grace Grall Akallo, courageously shared these words before government officials in the United States, “Unfortunately, my story … has become so common that abduction is now a fear that daily defines the lives of children who live in the war-affected areas.”
A future of enslavement is far too close a reality for far too many of today’s youth and the most vulnerable individuals in society.
Yet, as followers of Jesus Christ, we know and we believe that this cycle of corruption, violence, enslavement and evil does not need to reach future generations. Evil will not prevail. In the end justice will prevail!
When God’s Children Pray
Gary Haugen founded the International Justice Mission (IJM) in 1997 to rescue victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression. The staff at IJM is comprised of lawyers, investigators and social workers working through what they call field offices in order to combat modern day slavery in varying parts of the world. International Justice Mission operates out of 16 of these field offices in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Before founding International Justice Mission, Gary Haugen worked in the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice and was the director of the United Nations genocide investigation in Rwanda. What Haugen saw in the wake of that horrific genocide, in which nearly 1million people were brutally slaughtered over the course of a mere eight days, proved to be incredibly life changing for him. It was a tipping point in which he knew something must be done to prevent such an unbelievable atrocity from ever happening again. After much prayer, the International Justice Mission was born.
In each region they serve, IJM employees work closely together as they seek to secure tight knit partnerships with the national professionals to achieve the following four-fold mission they have adopted:
• Rescue the enslaved and provide immediate care for the victim.
• Ensure justice is upheld through prosecution of the perpetrator, slave master, and trafficker essentially holding them accountable before the law.
• Partner often with local aftercare facilities to provide a safe place for the victim to receive the necessary care and attention needed to rebuild their lives as a survivor of slavery.
• To work towards preventing human trafficking and continual slavery through structural transformation of entire communities.
One of the many reasons IJM is the success that it has been for the past 15 years is the importance of prayer throughout the organization. Staff members at the Washington, D.C. headquarters begin each morning with 30 minutes of silence to still their hearts and minds and begin the day seeking God. About two hours into the workday, the entire office stops what they are working on and gathers together to pray about the work God has set before them.
The staff members know and believe that the work they do requires utter and complete dependence on God for wisdom, discernment and encouragement in order to press on. They desire to work by the words found in Hebrews 13:3, “remember those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”
As part of this emphasis and dependence upon prayer, International Justice Mission hosts what they call the Global Prayer Gathering. This event is held each April in Washington, D.C. and draws in directors and staff members from their 16 field offices around the world. During last year’s Global Prayer Gathering on April 8-10, 2011, God pressed upon the hearts of many to spend time crying out for the men, women and children trapped in slavery in India specifically.
They did just that. The room filled with prayer as individuals gathered together in small groups and called out to God to rescue, restore and redeem India from the bondage of slavery that is so heavily woven and imbedded into many societies and cultures throughout that country.
For those who prayed at the Global Prayer Gathering for India, they believed God heard their prayers on behalf of those enslaved in India, yet, they had no way to foresee how God would respond to their cries for freedom of his people in India in the mighty way he did and as quickly as he did.
A young man enslaved in a brick kiln in Chennai, India managed to escape momentarily and was able to contact his brother to ask for help. The government officials of Chennai would later report that in this particular brick kiln, labourers worked in a burning chamber from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m. every day, while the rest of the time they formed bricks and dried them before placing them in the chamber to burn.
The man’s brother made a complaint to a local government office and an official there quickly reached out to a nearby IJM field office for help. Staff members investigated and found evidence there were in fact bonded labourers inside the facility. What they did not know was just how many.
When both national officials and International Justice Mission investigators entered the facility to free the young man who bravely asked for help, they were shocked by what they saw — there were more than 500 enslaved individuals desperate to be set free.
The rescue took place on April 27, 2011, just two weeks after the Global Prayer Gathering. God made known that day that not only did he hear the prayers of his faithful servants, he declared victoriously that he is the God of justice and he does desire to bring freedom to his children in a mighty and powerful way.
In a press release following this largest rescue in International Justice Mission’s history, Gary Haugen said, “Due to excellent collaboration with local law enforcement in India, justice has been delivered to more than five hundred people who are now in freedom. This extraordinary rescue proves that with political will and excellent execution, public justice systems can work to support the poor and violently oppressed – in India and around the world. This is yet another powerful example of that.”
Consider also the story of Kumar.
Orphaned at age five, Kumar became a slave in a brick kiln at age seven. He was forced to carry heavy loads of bricks on his head and work through illness and injury. While his peers were in school, he struggled daily with the physical stress of hard labour.
After several years at the kiln, Kumar was released from slavery through an IJM intervention in collaboration with local authorities. Kumar is now free to pursue his dream for the future: “I want to become a police officer so I can help and protect the good people of our village,” he told International Justice Mission staff. He has excelled in school and has recently begun an internship with one of International Justice Mission’s India field offices.6
A Biblical Foundation for Justice
“Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”
These verses from Isaiah 58 are not only counter-cultural in today’s societies they are completely radical in every sense of the word. God’s words to his people through his prophet Isaiah above describe a hard, scary and extremely challenging way of life. Yet, this is the type of fasting, or worship, that God desires from his children.
There are more than 130 verses on justice alone throughout the scriptures. In fact, Psalm 89:14 says, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you.”
At the very core of God’s heart is justice. Justice is the quality of being just or fair. It is the principle of moral rightness. Injustice is a perversion of God’s justice for his people. To recognize injustice, we must draw close to the heart of God and allow his justice to become part of our DNA. It is then that we are able to recognize the injustice we see in our communities, in our cities, in our countries and across the globe. With eyes to recognize injustice, and the scriptures to guide us as we live lives of justice and of service to others, injustice will cease and freedom will come to the oppressed.
Dr. Mark Labberton director of the Lloyd John Ogilvie Institute of Preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary so boldly declares, “We should not fool ourselves into thinking that it’s enough to feel drawn to the heart of God without our lives showing the heart of God.” He goes on further to say, “God intends that from true worship will flow lives that are the evidence of his just and righteous character in the world.”4
In other words, when we draw near to God in worship unto him, we will inevitably reflect lives that serve others.
Dr. Labberton gives us another angle to consider this truth that worship manifests itself in care of the poor and oppressed here as he says, “If relinquishing control to God is what truly happens as we gather in worship, then it ought to be producing lives that are being transformed to look like Gods life. Then, the more that our worship services lead us into lives of worship, the more we would demonstrate this by attending to the neglected, loving our enemies and remembering those in prison.”
It is clear throughout the scriptures that God cares deeply about justice. So when we consider the atrocities of modern day slavery running rampant in our towns and communities across the globe, what do we make of God’s plan to rescue, restore, redeem and set free those enslaved and oppressed?
God does have a plan for his children, for those trapped in brothels across Southeast Asian countries, for the defenseless children forced into battle in central Africa, for those endlessly working in India’s brick kilns, for the hurting teenage girls of America who are victims of sexual exploitation on the boulevards of our cities, and for those who are tricked into leaving their homes for what they think will be a better life somewhere else.
So what is God’s plan for these people?
You are God’s plan for justice. I am God’s plan for justice. All of whom have been redeemed by the saving blood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross are God’s plan to speak up for the voiceless and to fight for justice on behalf of those trampled by injustice. It is God’s plan that his children take seriously his mandate for justice and live lives that reflect the worship he so deserves and desires. When we do this, the world will know that he is a good and just God and the injustices of this world will have no room to take root in our communities.
Gary Haugen has said, “The most difficult thing to convince people is that God is good. When so many people are in such pain and suffering around the world, how are they supposed to believe that God is good? God has a plan to bring justice to the world – and his plan is us. We’re the plan – Jesus said that we are the light of the world. It’s our job to make ‘God is good’ believable.”
One of God’s defining characteristics is justice. God so strongly desires justice that he blatantly rejects our attempts at worship and praise if they are done with selfish motives, as was the case with the Israelites in Isaiah 58: 1-5. Hear their grumbles, “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out: they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed.’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?”
The Israelites were essentially offering God empty hallelujahs. They were frustrated with God. They complained before him because when they prayed, their prayers fell on deaf ears. When they fasted, they did not experience closeness with God. When they obeyed the laws, God was not impressed. Translate that into today and it might look like going to church every Sunday but not experiencing God, praying and not hearing from God, or attending a community bible study but feeling lonely. Or, like reading the Bible and feeling empty and unsatisfied. All of these acts quickly become empty hallelujahs if God’s mandate for justice is not obeyed as well.
Another example of empty hallelujahs can be read in Amos 5:21-24 “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring me choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.”
God’s words here through the prophets Isaiah and Amos are clear. God is just not interested in attempts to worship him if worshiping him is done only to receive a blessing in return and to win his favor. Then it is no longer worship but poor and selfish attempts to manipulate God into giving us undeserved favor. Going to church, tithing and singing songs are completely meaningless to God if we are not spending ourselves on behalf of the poor. God is most concerned with his children living their lives in service to others.
In order to fully understand what true fasting or true worship is, we must take a look at the first time fasting and worship are introduced to the Israelites in the book of Leviticus. Worship is vital in the work of justice.
Leviticus 16:29-31 describes the Day of Atonement or the day of cleansing. It is here where God establishes the day of rest, the Sabbath, under the law. It takes discipline today to slow down and rest, even when that means simply being with our Creator in stillness and in silence. Read what Moses writes in Leviticus. “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work – whether native-born or alien living among you – because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins. It is a Sabbath of rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance.”
“You must deny yourselves.”
Denying yourself is the scary part. It is difficult to deny ourselves comfort, security, and safety. Yet God describes worship unto himself as doing exactly that. Doing the work of justice is scary because it reveals the unknown and removes us from the stability, security and comfort we have worked hard to establish in our lives. It calls us to be brave and courageous.
Look what God promises for those who do choose to loosen the chains of injustice. “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” Isaiah 58:8-14.
This passage is full of awe filled promises for those who live to loosen the chains of injustice.
Last year I attended a conference where Gary Haugen took questions from audience members and was asked what his plans are for the near future with International Justice Mission. He said he planned to do less. Here is a man who spends his time drenched in the difficult, chaotic and messy reality of slavery on a daily basis, and he is going to do less, regardless of the increasing need that envelops him. When we slow down and do less, God can then build us up in his likeness, restore us, sanctify us and ultimately use us to do more for him than we could ever attempt to do on our own. We are more in tune with our surroundings and what is taking place in our own communities when we stop and seek the God of Justice by drawing near to him in worship. God will mold and shape our hearts to look like his heart for justice and our fears in doing the difficult work of justice will be replaced by courage and boldness to tackle injustices that exists around us.
Doing justice is messy, uncomfortable and counter-cultural. Dr. Labberton says, “Doing justice, unfortunately seldom feels comfortable. Yet that is the comfort God longs for the oppressed to know through the lives of those who worship in spirit and in truth.”4
People will know that God is good when his followers show up in the dark places and shine their light. Worship and justice cannot be separated. We see justice coupled with worship throughout the scriptures. Luke 11:42 is one example of this coupling. “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.”
It is absolutely imperative that followers of Jesus understand the biblical foundation of justice that God desires from his church in order to be effective agents of his truth to a lost and dark world of sin and suffering.
Community Prevention: A Case Study
Digging through the complicated web of reasons why slavery exists today, we will eventually make our way to the root cause, which is sin. The reason for all sin stems from the breaking of two greatest commandments. The first of these is when God’s children fail to love him first above all else, and the second is when God’s children fail to selflessly love their neighbors.
All sin can be traced to the breaking of these two commandments so clearly presented to us in the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and again by Jesus in Matthew 22:36-40. “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Therefore, when these two commandments are not obeyed, individuals experience broken relationship after broken relationship, not only with God, but with each other too. Because our hearts are so easily motivated by our own selfish gain, rather than aligning with God’s heart of justice, harm is done to others instead of love and service. In other words, we hurt God by not obeying him, by not seeking him first in all things and by not desiring to please him.
We hurt others by isolating ourselves in an attempt to secure comfortable and safe lives for us and for our families, making little or no room for those around us in need.
With an understanding of modern day slavery and with a clear picture of what God desires of us in worship, our eyes will be open to clearly see the injustices existing in our communities and we may begin to mobilize one another into action so that we may work together to prevent further exploitation of the vulnerable around us.
One of the key essentials in protecting the most vulnerable in a particular community from being exploited into various means of modern day slavery is through collaboration of entities. Among the many works that International Justice Mission does well, collaboration with nationals and local government officials is among the most effective. International Justice Mission cannot conduct rescues, provide aftercare to survivors and prosecute slaveholders and traffickers without a rule of law established where they are working as well as officials who obey that rule of law and offer justice to their people.
As one body of Christ’s universal Church, with many members, we too can work together and take part in the work of justice through the multiple ways God has gifted each of us. Throughout the narrative of scripture we see time and time again God using very common, ordinary people to accomplish his extraordinary and profound work for good in the world and for all people. All believers in Jesus Christ are qualified to participate in this very rewarding call to justice.
Paul writes to the Church in Corinth regarding this wonderful work God does within us in order to equip and sustain us. “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’” 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
When God’s children humble themselves and worship him by ushering justice into an unjust world, then all men will know that God is good.
Gary Haugen goes so far to say, “He [God] doesn’t have any other plan. In fact, it was precisely for such good works that we were created; they don’t save us or make us righteous before God, but they allow us to fulfill the godly purpose for which God created us.”3
Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
We know that these good works are what Paul is referring to because of what God told the prophet Micah. “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Further, Isaiah tells us what it means to learn to do right. “Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17.
It is not enough for Christ followers to attend our local churches, tithe, and sing our songs of praise. We must do more. For God has called us into such a rich relationship with him he desires that we participate in his perfect plan to bring justice to his broken and hurting world by obeying the much greater important matters of the law – “justice, mercy and faithfulness.” Matthew 23:23.
We must also disciple other Christians so that they too understand biblical justice and our responsibility within it. When this happens, works of justice take root in communities, and as relationships with one another are healed and mended, growth in spirit and in truth will sprout, grow and provide protection for entire communities.
Let me offer an example of how this is taking shape in my own community. I reside in a very unique area of America. In Orange County where I live – a suburb of the Greater Los Angeles Metropolitan area – more millionaires reside than in any other part of the United States per capita. However, despite the abundant wealth in the region, the percentage of poverty and the need in Orange County is also among the highest in the nation. With such a high number of impoverished people, vulnerable men, women and children are abundant.
Due to economic hardship as well as other factors such as lack of access to proper health care, many families in Orange County find themselves removed from their homes and with no other place to go except to the streets or rundown motels.
It is at such a motel that I serve alongside a small team of leaders from my local church. We seek to build a presence in hope of establishing relationships with the residents and with those in need living at the motel. We have discovered that one of the main reasons entire families are living in a tiny room, without kitchens and without any privacy, is that they lack healthy relationships with others. Essentially, they have been isolated from other family members and from the community. More often than not, these people have broken relationships with their extended families, preventing them from reaching out for help. They have broken marriages and come from broken homes.
As members of our church, we desire to fill in the gap created by brokenness, and offer ourselves as friends and followers of Jesus who want them to know that God loves them and God has a great purpose for them. We want to model healthy relationships with one another and sanctifying relationships with God through Jesus Christ.
At this particular motel where we work, there are dozens of at-risk teenage boys and girls. The adolescents struggle in school due to a lack of assistance with their schoolwork from the adults in their life. In a season when they ought to be learning their independence, they are completely dependent upon each other for survival. These factors and more make them some of the most vulnerable in society. How quickly and easily they could become involved in prostitution either by soliciting sex themselves or by recruiting others into sexual slavery due to their hunger for acceptance, for value and worth and out of desperation to leave their current situation behind.
Our hope is that by creating a consistent presence at the motel with these teens, and by encouraging them and helping them know how deeply loved they are by their Creator, we might help prevent them from feeling so desperate and so vulnerable – vulnerable to those who seek to exploit them through forced labour, or forced rape, for profit. Ultimately, we want these teens to know how precious they are and that there are other ways to climb out of a life of poverty.
The key here is that the followers of Jesus Christ are the ones who are expected to support those in need in any way necessary, and to model relationships just as Jesus modeled relationships with others as we read about in the Gospels. Jesus was intentional and community oriented, and by means of gentle and loving discipleship, those who followed him experienced his peace that surpasses all understanding. Ultimately we hope to see complete transformation through a relationship with Jesus Christ take place so that these individuals can avoid a life of enslavement.
An example found in the Bible of how one community helped prevent a life of servitude for one family is found in 2 Kings 4:1-7. A woman’s husband, a prophet and colleague of the prophet Elisha, has passed away. Now a widow, this woman fears her husband’s debtor will take away her two sons to work for him in order to pay off the debt her husband owed. This type of potential labour bondage is all too familiar in our world, as we have already seen. The widow and mother of two calls upon Elisha for help.
Elisha asks her how he can help and specifically asks what she has in her home. I imagine this woman, feeling helpless and that a life of slavery is inevitable for her sons, answers back somewhat distraught when she realizes all she has is a little oil.
A significant factor to consider here is the oil and what that symbolized among the Israelites. In the book of Zechariah we see a description of a gold lampstand with two olive trees on either side. When Zechariah asks God about the lampstand and olive trees, God replies, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit.” The oil used in the story with the widow symbolizes that it is by God’s Holy Spirit that all things are made right.
Elisha instructed this newly widowed woman to ask her neighbors for empty jars they can spare. Elisha essentially encourages her to reach out to her community of neighbors and ask for their help. The two sons go door-to-door and round up the empty vessels. Before long, their house is full of empty jars.
She began to fill the jars with the oil she had and the oil kept pouring until every last jar in her house was full to the brim. Elisha then instructed her to sell the jars of oil and use the money to pay off her debt.
Her two sons were spared from a life of bonded slave labour and God used Elisha, his servant, to help her discern her resources and care and protect her children from harm. God gave her exactly what she needed and he used Elisha and the community to do it.
The realities of slavery are far too prevalent in the societies of our world today. This is due to the failure to love God above all and secondly to love one another unconditionally and without fail. If ever we are to put an end to such atrocities of sin today, we must first and foremost complete a self-inventory and ask God to search our hearts, to know our hearts and to make clean our hearts. As we begin to meet with him in silence and in times of Sabbath as established in Leviticus 16, we will inevitably begin living lives that reflect and illuminate God’s will for justice to prevail and to flow like a river from his throne of justice and righteousness.
Regardless of our geographical location in this world, we can all do our part to obey the two greatest commandments Jesus identified for us and together, in relationship with our communities, we can help protect the most vulnerable from a life of exploitation and harm.
Be bold, courageous and brave in life’s journey of worship and justice for God forever and ever.
May God’s children never tire of doing the good works set before us, so that all will know that God is good.
“Is it not the great end of religion, and, in particular, the glory of Christianity, to extinguish the malignant passions; to curb the violence, to control the appetites, and to smooth the asperities of man; to make us compassionate and kind, and forgiving one to another; to make us good husbands, good fathers, good friends; and to render us active and useful in the discharge of the relative social and civil duties?”-William Wilberforce
1. Bales, Kevin. 2004. Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy. University of California Press.
2. Batstone, David. 2007. Not For Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade – and How We Can Fight It. Harper One.
3. Haugen, Gary. 1999. The Good News About Injustice: A Witness of Courage in a Hurting World. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
4. Labberton, Mark. 2007. The Dangerous Act of Worship, Living God’s Call to Worship.InterVarsity Press.
5. US Department of State. 2006. Trafficking in Persons Report. Washington DC.
6. The International Justice Mission. http://www.ijm.org
7. Dillion, Justin. 2008. Call + Response.