Tuesday, July 31, 2007

What is good

Micah 6:8 is one of those verses in the Bible that gives us a glimpse of what is really important to God:

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 (NIV)

As I see more and more of us coming at pretty much the same time to a realization that God is calling us to do something about slavery, I am proud to call these new friends my brothers and sisters in Christ. In them I see hearts that are yearning to act justly—not just to think about it; to love mercy—wanting to shower it on the victims and even on the bad guys who so desperately need Christ; and to walk humbly with God—realizing that in His grace He has rescued us from slavery to sin and called us to this good work that He has prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

Monday, July 30, 2007

Vote for IJM

A few days ago, the Carol Wilson Update blog informed readers about an opportunity at rezoom.com. The site is holding an election for America’s most inspiring charity. The winning charity will receive an award of $100,000.

Between now and Aug. 10, you can go to the rezoom site and vote once each day for the charity you think is the most inspiring. There are some good ones among the 21 finalists, but if you would like to help fight slavery, please consider voting for the International Justice Mission. All you need to do is register with a username and password, then go and vote once each day through Aug. 10.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

New Name

OK, it’s official. I’m changing the name of our group to the Carolina Clapham Circle. You can see the new form at left.
A few days ago, Allison, a student in our youth group, picked up a copy of “Be the Change,” by Zach Hunter (see also my post from May 20). Allison suggested that we could work our way through the book as a group.

I’ve read about half of the book already, and I’m hooked. I think it will make a great foundation for a 10- or 11-week study, perhaps paired with “The Justice Mission,” the video-based curriculum from the International Justice Mission.

The students in our group are great. They are really fun to be around, and it is amazing to see them growing in faith, love and compassion (and in many other areas as well). I pray that they will become men and women of God, following Jesus and helping others to follow Him. And maybe freeing slaves as well!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Doing of the Thing

Tonight I was listening to an old recording from one of my favorite Christian singer-songwriters, Bob Bennett. It has been some years since he has appeared on the charts, but he continues to perform. Anyway, one of the songs from his 1991 album “Songs From Bright Avenue” is called “The Doing of the Thing.” It says, in part:

Broken souls covered in broken skin
No resolution on the video screen
And half a world away
Somebody does our bidding
Because we like to pray
With our fingernails clean

Mistake the nodding of the head
And all the words that can be said
Mistake the sympathy we bring
For the doing of the thing
The doing of the thing

So here I am, feeling incredibly passionate about fighting modern-day slavery, and just a couple of posts ago I was feeling quite content to pray and study as I try to see where God is leading me. But this song reminds me of all the times I have felt sympathy for those in need yet done nothing. And I want to do something now. I don’t want to pray with clean fingernails anymore.

Today I found another organization, Make Way Partners, that seems to be doing some good work in the fight against slavery, and they have some really solid board members. Check them out at the link above.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Burning Up

The past three days I’ve felt like I am going to burn up. More than ever, I can relate to the words of Jeremiah that I referred to in my first-ever post: “His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jer. 20:9, NIV).

God has ignited something in me that I don’t think can be extinguished—the sense that He has called me to fight slavery. I still have a long way to go in figuring out specifically what that means in the long term. For right this minute, it seems as if praying and learning are the best ways to proceed. But I still hope to hold a meeting of the Clapham Circle sometime this fall.

By the way, I’m thinking of changing the name to be more inclusive of the Charlotte metro area where I live, instead of seeming to limit the group to Lancaster County, SC.

Maybe it should be called the Carolina Clapham Circle. It’s short and pithy, and it includes two whole states! Since we still have only three members, and one of them (my brother) actually lives in Canada, it seems like a good time to iron this out.

Seriously, if you live anywhere near Charlotte, NC—in North Carolina or South Carolina—and you feel led to do something about slavery, it sure would be neat if we could see about working together. That’s the whole idea of the Clapham Circle—William Wilberforce and his friends met to strategize about defeating the slave trade, and that’s what I’d like this group to do, too. I want to see what we can do both locally (it is said that slavery exists in every major U.S. city) and around the world.

So please fill out the form at the left. There’s no obligation; I would just like to know if anyone might be interested in attending a meeting this fall to think more about how we can take action together, divide up the research, pool our skills and resources, and do what we can to abolish slavery.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Confession

I have to confess something. For most of my life, I have silently dismissed part of the Lord’s prayer, even though we say it in church every week.

It’s the phrase, “Your kingdom come.” Honestly, I think that most of the time as my mouth says those words, my brain follows it with “yeah, right—as if that’s going to happen.”

Oh, I firmly believe that at some eschatological point in the future, Christ will return, and at that point His kingdom will be here in the fullest sense. But now? With the rampant wickedness of slavery and bondage and oppression and cruelty and too many other bad things to list?

Still, it doesn’t seem to me that Jesus was thinking about the end of the world when He taught us to pray this phrase. It seems like He really means for us to pray with all our hearts for His kingdom to come here and now, and that the following phrase, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” will be the result of His kingdom coming—now. The Bible is clear that God’s will won’t be done in every way or every heart until He comes again. But I think this prayer means more than merely “Please come again someday.”

I think it is supposed to be more immediate than that, and I think one reason is that when we invest ourselves in earnest prayer, God changes us and often begins to use us to do the things we’ve been praying about. Look at Nehemiah: he prayed and wept for four months about the fact that Jerusalem was in ruins, and then God sent him to rebuild the walls. So if we take this phrase seriously, maybe God will move in us to strengthen His kingdom today.

There is a kind of theology called “kingdom theology” that some people disagree with. I don’t want to get into an argument about that. But I do think that George Eldon Ladd, who some consider the first proponent of kingdom theology, had the most serviceable definition I’ve heard of the kingdom of God: The rule of God in the hearts of people.

With that in mind, I had a really neat “kingdom” day yesterday. I won’t go into the details here, but I felt as if God (the King) told me to do something and I (the subject) obeyed. That shouldn’t be an unusual occurrence, but something about this day was really cool. And at the same time I was hearing about other people—friends of friends, a student in our youth group at church—who, like me, seem to feel called by God to do something about slavery.

It’s like I got a glimpse of how God has been working in all our hearts, and as we obey, the kingdom comes just a bit more strongly. A Sara Groves song called “Kingdom Comes” basically says that when we live out God’s love even in trying circumstances, “That’s a little stone, that’s a little mortar, that’s a little seed, that’s a little water in the hearts of the sons and daughters. This kingdom is coming.”

In small ways, I can see it happening. And I’m not going to dismiss that phrase in the Lord’s prayer anymore.

Your kingdom come, Lord.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Break my Heart

Well, after a long week of Vacation Bible School at church, I'm ready to get back into life again. VBS is really fun, and I love to hang out with the kids in our youth group. But between work and VBS, I haven't been able to think of much else.

Today I felt like I needed something to engage once again with the issue of modern-day slavery. I needed to let my heart be broken again, and a short film called "Fields of Mudan" did it. Produced in 2004 as a thesis film for the Florida State University Graduate Film Conservatory, "Fields of Mudan" is a brief glimpse into the life of a very young Asian girl, Mudan, who has been sold into sex slavery. Another girl at the brothel befriends her, and in spite of the cruel conditions they are in, the two determine that they will continue to dream of a better future.

In the course of the 23-minute film I found myself sobbing. Sobbing over the cruelty of someone taking a child away from her family to abuse her like this; sobbing over the fact that there is such a demand for this among males. And wondering again if there is some way to lessen that demand. How could we do it? How could we get to the customers, show them their need for Jesus Christ and convince them that only God can fulfill their deepest needs? Any ideas would be welcome! If you have run across any organizations who are working along these lines, please let me know.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Back soon!

Sorry for the lack of posts the past few days. We are having Vacation Bible School at Church, and when I'm not at work, I'm editing VBS videos.

In the meantime, I would encourage you to look for a copy of the video "Modern-Day Slavery: Sierra Leone and Liberia," from WorldHope, FAAST and World Relief. It is only about 11 minutes long but powerful, and the DVD has a 2-minute version and a 30-second spot as well.

Amazing how much you can pack into a short video. Also amazing how God can put lives back together, even when they have been torn apart by human trafficking.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Thanks, Friends!

Many thanks to some new friends at World Hope International, FAAST (the Faith Alliance Against Slavery and Trafficking), The Salvation Army and Polaris Project, all of whom have corresponded with me or sent materials that should help me to gain some much-needed direction in a couple of areas:

1. Researching the extent of human trafficking in South Carolina
2. Charting the initial course of the Clapham Circle of Lancaster County.

It is going to take some time to go through everything these organizations have sent—and I can hardly wait! Every bit of information will help.

These past few months, I’ve had this fire burning inside me to make a real impact on the problem of slavery, but at times I’ve felt a little lost. Little by little, though, things are moving, and tonight I really don’t care what my specific role ends up being. I believe it will be doing something, somewhere, and I pray that God will use me as He sees fit.

He will, of course. I simply need to be receptive and obedient.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Learning all we can

If we are going to be committed to the abolition of slavery, we need to learn all we can about it and its companion-in-evil, human trafficking. By the way, these two terms are different ways of expressing pretty much the same thing. Slavery, of course, describes the condition of a person’s life when he or she is under the control of someone else; trafficking is when fraud, force or coercion is used to make people work or have sex against their will.

Anyway, I’ve found another video that I think is worth watching. It is called “Bound By Promises: Contemporary Slavery in Rural Brazil.”

This 17-minute documentary, produced in part by Witness, looks at men who have been promised good jobs but then have been enslaved in the charcoal industry. They are taken to camps deep in the jungle where they can neither escape nor be found. They are informed that they have incurred a debt that must be paid before they can leave. But as usual, the slaveholder finds all kinds of charges to add to the slave’s bill so it never can be paid.

One man’s wife obtained the phone number of the man who had enslaved her husband. She called, asking for her husband. The slaveholder threatened to change the number to stop her from calling and said that if she called again, he would tell her where to find her husband’s body.

The video gives statistics on the Brazilian government’s campaign to wipe out slavery. From the information presented, it looks as if the government is sincere in its effort but is falling far short of its goal.

The U.S. State Department’s 2007 Trafficking in Persons report, with which we Abolitionists should all become familiar, lists Brazil as a “Tier 2” country (Tier 1 is best, Tier 3 is worst). The report says that although Brazil has made clear progress in efforts against sex trafficking, progress has not been so good in the area of labor trafficking, which is the focus of this video. Although the criminal penalties for sex trafficking are commensurate with sentences for rape, the sentences for labor trafficking are only one-to-three years, which is not stringent enough.

On the positive side, the report notes that the government’s Mobile Enforcement Groups rescued a total of 3,390 victims of forced labor in 2006 and that victims were given immediate medical care, counseling and some compensation.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

A Declaration of War—and Love

The utter brutality of slaveholders never ceases to amaze me. What gall, to simply take people by force and enslave them, beat them, threaten them, hunt them down if they escape, use them up, then throw them away when they are no longer useful.

And they don’t back down easily when abolitionists try to take their “property” or shut them down. Kevin Bales, writing in “Disposable People” about slavery in Brazil, says,

Human rights workers, trade union leaders, lawyers, priests, and nuns have all been murdered while working against slavery and abuses. Eight antislavery campaigners in the small town of Rio Maria in the state of Para had their names circulated on a “death list,” and six are now dead.

But I’m not at all surprised when Bales adds, “it doesn’t stop the reformers; all of the activists I met … faced these dangers with a calm resolution.”

I’m not surprised because although the slaveholders are motivated by greed and power, the abolitionists are empowered by love. And frankly, greed and power don’t stand a chance against love.

Listen, slaveholders: you’ve been flying under the radar for a long time, but you can’t hide much longer. The Abolitionist Movement gains momentum every day. You can’t stop us, because love is relentless.

Love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:7-8, NIV).

Thursday, July 5, 2007

A Cut Above

What’s your impression of a bureaucrat? Someone who has a cushy government job? Someone who would take any political stance just to assure continued employment?

I don’t personally know anyone who works for a government agency, but let me tell you, I’m getting pretty impressed with the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

At the end of the 2007 Trafficking in Persons Report, the Drafters add a poignant note that seems to really show their hearts:

At the age of 22, Ko Maung left his home in Mon State, Burma with his new bride to find work in a neighboring country. The newlyweds dreamed of earning enough money to return to Burma and build a home for their children. Ko Maung’s wife went to work in a fish-processing factory; he took jobs aboard fishing vessels that took him to sea for two to three months. In 2003, he accepted what, he thought, was a safe offer of work on a fishing boat for two years. “You stay here,” he told his wife as he left. “I will come back with money and we can go back to Burma.” Later, his wife was told he had died during the final months of the fishing boat’s three-year voyage.

From accounts of survivors who made it back, Ko Maung and 30 other Burmese recruited to work on a fleet of six fishing boats died at sea from forced labor, starvation, and vitamin deficiencies. They had been forced to remain at sea for years, denied pay, and fed only fish and rice. Workers made repeated requests to leave the boats, but were denied. They requested medical attention but were ignored. As one after another grossly exploited man died at the end of the fishing voyage, their bodies were unceremoniously dumped overboard. They were used in forced labor until they could breathe no more. Those who survived were not paid for their work-which amounted to three years of enslavement.

This Report is dedicated to Ko Maung, who paid the ultimate price of slavery, and to his family whose dreams were crushed. Through the courage of his compatriots, and advocates who assist male victims of slavery, we have heard his voice of agony. We pledge to project his voice, breaking down the walls of indifference and corruption that protect businesses that rely on this despicable trade in disposable humans.

Thank you for your support. Thank you for joining us.

Rebecca Billings
Eleanor Kennelly Gaetan
Sally Neumann
Felecia A. Stevens
Kathleen Bresnahan
Paula R. Goode
Amy O’Neill Richard
Mark B. Taylor
Jennifer Schrock Donnelly
Megan L. Hall
Gayatri Patel
Caroline S. Tetschner
Dana Dyson
Mark P. Lagon
Catherine Pierce
Jennifer Topping
Shereen Faraj
Amy LeMar-Meredith
Solmaz Sharifi
Rachel Yousey Raba
Barbara Fleck
Carla Menares Bury
Jane Nady Sigmon
Veronica Zeitlin
Mark Forstrom
Jennie Miller
Andrea Smail

I’ve included the names of the drafters here because I think they deserve credit for a job well done. The annual report they produce is a key tool in the modern Abolitionist movement, and it seems clear that they produce it with both passion and compassion. Thanks, Drafters!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

IJM Helps Free 17 Slaves

The International Justice Mission continues to do great things, or should I say that God continues to do great things through IJM. Here’s a news flash I received today.

Its the same old pattern of someone incurring a debt and being tricked into slavery. But this time it looks like a positive ending, as 17 people were freed from a rice mill in South Asia.

By the way, I received a youth curriculum from IJM today: It’s called The Justice Mission, and it includes a dvd and a leader’s guide with five lessons. It is really well done, and I’m looking forward to doing the lessons either with the youth group or with the youth Sunday school class at Belair United Methodist Church.

The church is in Lancaster County, SC, where the Clapham Circle of Lancaster County will have its initial meeting this fall, if all goes well. If you live anywhere near here and are even vaguely interested in attending a meeting to see how you can fight modern-day slavery, please fill out the form at the left. There’s no obligation; this will just help me to track interest and make sure that people get info about the meetings.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Tender Restoration

Victims of trafficking and other forms of abuse find protection and support at Baan Kredtrakarn, a government shelter in Bangkok which can care for up to 500 women and girls. While at the shelter, they are counseled, prepared for testifying in court, and given vocational training in hair-dressing and traditional Thai crafts such as basket-weaving, flower-making, spinning, and weaving. The shelter's goal is to help reintegrate them into society so that they can lead productive lives. Photo by Kay Chernush for the U.S. State Department.

People who are rescued from slavery have a hard road ahead. They have been so thoroughly abused that they need a lot of help getting to a point where they can function again. Thankfully, some people are helping to restore victims.

The Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons seems to have a good handle on the need for qualified aftercare, and their site has some photos with helpful information about some of these shelters. The photo above comes from their online gallery.

As we think about the gentle aftercare that rescued slaves need, let’s look at a Scripture passage that talks about the tender care given by God’s servant, the Messiah:

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice.
—Isaiah 42:1-3, NIV

Let’s be His servants, too.