Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Greater than the sum of its parts

We haven’t yet held the first meeting of the Carolina Clapham Circle, but already I’m excited about the skills and experience of people who have expressed interest in attending. We have someone who works with women who have been freed from brothels in Asia, someone who is part of a group providing safe houses for people who have been rescued, someone who works for a large missions organization, a pastor’s wife, and on it goes—and God has brought us to a point where we are about to join forces to fight slavery.

If you know the basics about the original Clapham Sect in England, you know that William Wilberforce was one member. But the group included other amazingly talented people that might not be so well known to us today, such as Granville Sharp, Henry Thornton and Hannah More.

So as I look forward to what the Carolina Clapham Circle might decide to do in fighting modern-day slavery, I can’t wait to see how God has brought together like-minded people with all kinds of abilities, contacts and experience, to do what none of us could do on our own.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Immoral Trade

I’ve finished reading “This Immoral Trade,” by Baroness Caroline Cox and Dr. John Marks. The book seems a bit uneven; at times it looks as if the authors left place-holder text for later verification, and the verification never came (or if it did, someone forgot to enter the info in the book). And the Dinka word for slave is spelled one way in a photo caption and a different way in the body copy.

That aside, the book relates powerful, first-person accounts of many rescued slaves from different countries. Reading these accounts one after another stirred up some real indignation and outrage. In spite of my many posts that have expressed an honest yearning that the slaveholders might come to Christ and be transformed, I found myself wanting to just blast all of them away. But vengeance is up to God.

Justice is something we can work for, however, and I love how groups like the International Justice Mission don’t just rescue oppressed people; they bring the perpetrators to justice.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Justice Mission

In Sunday school today we did the first session of “The Justice Mission,” the five-session youth curriculum I mentioned a few posts ago. Each session includes a short video followed by discussion. Today’s lesson was “Oppression,” and it was sobering. I felt like all of us were shaken by what we saw. In the video, four teens from the U.S. travel to India and see oppression and slavery firsthand. They grapple with the reality of it and actually take some practical steps to fight it.

For me, the most powerful part of today’s video was when the teens spoke with a young woman who, at age 12, went looking for her father, who had left home. At the local train station, two elderly women with another young girl offered her a job and convinced her to go with them. You can guess what happened. When they arrived in a different city, they forced her into prostitution. She had to service some 30 customers every day.

This kind of subject matter is pretty intense, and I’ve been a little nervous about presenting it to the kids. But then I think about how our Christianity so often can come across as divorced from real life, irrelevant and, for many young people, actually kind of boring. Maybe if they can see how God calls us to join Him in the great cause of defending, rescuing, redeeming and restoring people, that can help them hold onto faith through their high school, college and young adult years.

I’ve also ordered a dozen copies of Zach Hunter’s book “Be the Change,” and I’ll plan on leading the youth group through that in the coming weeks as well.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Mark Your Calendar!

I've got a date for the first meeting of the Carolina Clapham Circle: September 20, 7 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall at Belair United Methodist Church. The church address is 8095 Shelley Mullis Road, Indian Land, SC 29707. That zip code is only a few weeks old, and most online directories don't seem to recognize it yet. But you can click here for a map.

Please come! We'll introduce ourselves, probably watch a short video clip or two, and I'll bring all the resources I can gather. Then we can start planning what our group can do to fight modern-day slavery.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

‘Apart From Me You Can Do Nothing’

“Apart from me, you can do nothing,” Jesus said. I’ve proved the truth of that statement over and over, and if you’re honest, I think you’ll admit the same. I’ve always thought of this statement in regard to individuals, but it occurs to me that this statement is as true of cultures, societies and nations as it is of individuals.

Reading today about the widespread slavery in Mauritania, I couldn’t help but think that if only the people of that country knew Christ, things would be so different. As it is, the country seems about as messed up as I can imagine, and it has been so for hundreds of years.

Sociologist Kevin Bales, in his book “Disposable People,” describes all kinds of characteristics of Mauritania, some of which might even be humorous if they weren’t so sad. Examples: The country has only two paved roads, both of which were constructed by other states in an attempt at foreign aid. The country’s second-largest city and center for iron ore export has no roads connecting it to anywhere. To reach it, one must drive up the beach along the Atlantic ocean for 250 miles, waiting for the proper tides, etc. And slavery has been officially abolished in Mauritania, yet slaves are seen everywhere.

It should come as no surprise that European colonization played a role in messing up this country. Today, both the United States and France continue to help prop up a government that has no interest in actually ending slavery; the members of the ruling class are the slaveholders. The U.S. supports the government because it sees it as a hedge against Islamic fundamentalism.

Religion, however, does play a part in the slavery. “Slaves are taught that only if they obey their masters will they go to heaven,” Bales writes. “Deeply believing that God wants and expects them to be loyal to their masters, they reject freedom as wrong, even traitorous. To struggle for liberty, in their view, is to upset God’s natural order and put one’s very soul at risk (pages 106, 108).

Anyway, it seems as if just about everyone has had a hand in the mess that is Mauritania, and I just wonder how different things might be if the values of Jesus had been known by the Mauritanians or practiced by the Americans and Europeans who have dealt with the country. “If a man remains in me and I in him,” Jesus said, “he will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, NIV).

Nothing except to create despair and hopelessness.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Dateline NBC feature

Thanks to Kristen for sending a link to a Dateline NBC feature that aired yesterday about human trafficking. “To the Rescue” tells the story of a Filipino woman, Lannie, who was promised a job as a singer in Malaysia.

Lannie’s story contains the usual elements in a trafficking situation: a false promise of a good job, a bogus contract, confiscation of the victim’s passport once the destination is reached, threats, forced labor justified because of a supposed debt the victim owes to the slaveholder, crooked police who are part of the whole ugly system. But in Lannie’s case, the story also contains a heroic uncle and a retired FBI agent who travel to Malaysia and rescue Lannie.

Pray that God will rescue more slaves today, either through His people or His own mighty hand. And consider how He may want to work through you to free slaves, too—either overseas or in your own area.

That’s what the Carolina Clapham Circle is all about, and it is open to anyone who is interested in attending meetings in the Charlotte, NC, area, to find ways to fight modern-day slavery.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Mercy and Justice

A couple of posts ago I quoted Micah 6:8. But I’m not done with it. For the past few days, I haven’t been able to get mercy out of my mind.

Again, in the New International Version the verse reads

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.

I don’t know about you, but I’m guessing that many of us who are sensing a call to be abolitionists are particularly drawn to that second phrase, “to love mercy.”

I long to see justice done, especially when I read books like “Disposable People,” by Kevin Bales, and “This Immoral Trade,” by Caroline Cox. I can hardly describe the outrage I feel at the injustice, and I pray that God will bring justice soon. Pretty much every day I pray, “Lord, free slaves today, and thwart the plans of the human traffickers.”

But I think what really energizes me is mercy. With all the destruction that accompanies slavery, I want to reach out with God’s love to heal and restore people. (By the way, I think it is really cool that the Department of Health and Human Services has seen fit to call its anti-human-trafficking effort “Rescue and Restore.” It’s nice when a government agency gets the emphasis right!)

I’ve heard sermons that use a handy device to distinguish between mercy and grace. They say that mercy is when God doesn’t give you what you deserve, and grace is when God gives you what you don’t deserve. And when I look at the dictionary definition of the English word mercy, this seems to be a fairly accurate distinction.

But I get the sense that mercy in Micah 6:8 is talking about more than simply not getting the punishment one deserves; it feels more proactively good than that. And I think I’m right; some versions translate the Hebrew word, Checed, as kindness. And the word is sometimes also translated as goodness.

I’m on vacation for the next few days, and I don’t have ready access to resources that give the meanings of Hebrew words. The public domain resources available online don’t give much detail. If any Old Testament scholars (Jim?), pastors (Tony?) or all-around great researchers (Kristen?) are reading this and would be willing to look up Checed, it would be nice to hear more about the meaning of this word in Micah 6:8.

I’d also love to hear comments from other readers. Which phrase in Micah 6:8 really grabs you, in terms of your calling to fight modern-day slavery?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


As I have immersed myself in the issue of modern-day slavery these past few months, I’ve noticed that the materials fall into several categories.

Most of the video documentaries and written reports of atrocities produce a sense of outrage and injustice. These accounts remind me daily that I must not go back to the comfortable ignorance I had before I learned that slavery still exists. It is strange that in the midst of the outrage, I usually feel an undercurrent of hope as I digest these materials, because I know that the people who have produced them are part of the solution.

Materials such as the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons report and the toolkits from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Rescue and Restore program help me to understand the scope of the problem, the way traffickers work and how law enforcement and community groups can help.

Most organizations fighting slavery also have ideas for practical things individuals can do. As I’ve mentioned before on this site, the list compiled by FAAST is about the most comprehensive one I’ve seen.

Finally, there are the biblical and inspirational thoughts that help me to learn God's ways, including His passion for justice and our need not simply to hear His Word but to obey it.

I found a small article like that in some materials that arrived in the mail today from Make Way Partners. Their June 2006 newsletter has a short excerpt from Frederick Buechner. It says,

… the life you clutch, hoard, guard and play safe with is in the end a life worth little to anybody, including yourself, and only a life given away for love’s sake is a life worth living.

I can relate to playing it safe. I have a history of talk with little action. This time, I know that isn’t going to cut it. People are beginning to sign up to say they are interested in the Carolina Clapham Circle, and I hope we can spur one another on to make a real difference. Not to do dangerous things for the sake of danger, but not simply playing it safe, either.

If you don’t live near Charlotte, I hope you will find a group near you where you can plug in—or that you will start one! Finally, if you find this blog helpful, please tell a friend about it. I'm hoping that it will be useful to people no matter where they live.