Sunday, September 23, 2007

A Little Is Enough

Lesson Four of “The Justice Mission,” the curriculum we’re going through in Sunday school, talks about the feeding of the 5,000. The lesson makes the point that the young boy’s lunch—five loaves and two fishes—wasn’t nearly enough to feed the thousands who had gathered to listen to Jesus. But Jesus took that insufficient gift and blessed it.

Not only was it enough for everyone, it was more than enough. In fighting modern-day slavery, we might become discouraged by the scope of the problem—what we have is so small in comparison.

During the class session, the students are supposed to indicate the extent to which they agree with several statements. I agree with all of them, and I think they are worth remembering—maybe even printing them out on a card to keep handy.

I have a little knowledge God can use to fight injustice.
I have a little anger God can use to end oppression.
I have a little passion God can guide to help the helpless.
I have a little influence God can use to involve others in the search for justice.
I have a few relationships God can energize to create a team of people committed to changing the world as we know it.
I have a bit of freedom to decide what I’ll study and how I’ll spend the rest of my life.
—The Justice Mission, ©2002 Youth Specialties, published by Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Mich., p. 76.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Emancipation Proclamation

145 years ago today (Source: the National Archives and Records Administration):

In July 1862, President Lincoln read his "preliminary proclamation" to his Cabinet, then decided to wait for a Union military victory to issue it. On September 22, 1862, following the victory at Antietam, he signed the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, formally alerting the Confederacy of his intention to free all persons held as slaves within the rebellious states. One hundred days later, with the Confederacy still in full rebellion, President Abraham Lincoln issued the final Emancipation Proclamation.

Here are some excerpts from the proclamation:

That on the first day of January in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom. ...

Sec.9. And be it further enacted, That all slaves of persons who shall hereafter be engaged in rebellion against the government of the United States, or who shall in any way give aid or comfort thereto, escaping from such persons and taking refuge within the lines of the army; and all slaves captured from such persons or deserted by them and coming under the control of the government of the United States; and all slaves of such persons found on (or) being within any place occupied by rebel forces and afterwards occupied by the forces of the United States, shall be deemed captives of war, and shall be forever free of their servitude and not again held as slaves.

Sec.10. And be it further enacted, That no slave escaping into any State, Territory, or the District of Columbia, from any other State, shall be delivered up, or in any way impeded or hindered of his liberty, except for crime, or some offence against the laws, unless the person claiming said fugitive shall first make oath that the person to whom the labor or service of such fugitive is alleged to be due is his lawful owner, and has not borne arms against the United States in the present rebellion, nor in any way given aid and comfort thereto; and no person engaged in the military or naval service of the United States shall, under any pretence whatever, assume to decide on the validity of the claim of any person to the service or labor of any other person, or surrender up any such person to the claimant, on pain of being dismissed from the service.

Of course, 145 years later we still have slaves in this country, as well as in most countries around the world. We don't really need another proclamation (although rallying cries are nice), but we do need to do everything we can to free slaves and ensure that they "shall be forever free of their servitude and not again held as slaves."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

First Meeting!

We had a great meeting of the Carolina Clapham Circle tonight. Nine of us spent time getting to know each other, telling about our call to fight slavery, sharing ways that we are already doing so and considering where we might go from here. We watched a video from World Hope International; the Faith Alliance Against Slavery and Trafficking; and World Relief; on modern-day slavery in Sierra Leone and Liberia. And we had a good time of prayer, asking God to lead us into what He wants us to do.

We’ve decided to meet on the second Thursday of each month, so our next meeting will be October 11. I’ll make sure the location is confirmed before posting it here. The location will change each time, but you can mark your calendar for Oct. 11, Nov. 8, Dec. 13, etc.

Here are two ministries that are on the cutting edge of helping to rescue people who have been exploited and trafficked: God4Girls and Family Christian Center’s Project Safehouse

And here is a news item saying that the U.S. House of Representatives has passed The Vietnam Human Rights Act by a 414-3 vote. The Act ties future increases in U.S. non-humanitarian aid to verifiable improvements in Vietnam’s human rights record. Among other things, the Act points out violations of religious freedom and harassment of people of faith.

One of the Act's requirements is that Vietnam will need to show that none of its government officials or agencies or entities is involved in “severe forms of human trafficking” (a strange term, I know, but one the U.S. State Department uses in its annual Trafficking in Persons report) and that the Vietnamese government has taken all appropriate steps to end such complicity and to hold guilty parties responsible.

Sounds like a good law to me! It looks like the Senate still needs to act on the bill, and twice in the past it has failed to act on similar legislation. Might be a good thing if some of us abolitionists were to write to our Senators!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Getting Ready

Tomorrow night is the first meeting of the Carolina Claphma Circle. I've been looking forward to this for months—since before I even started formulating actual plans for the group. It started when my son and I saw the film "Amazing Grace" last winter. It was inspiring to see how a group of concerned people challenged one another, gave one another assignments and strategized together about how to end the slave trade and then slavery itself in the British Empire.

Since early May, when I began posting on this blog and actively trying to figure out what God wants me to do about modern-day slavery, I've been meeting (mostly online) other people who feel a similar call to action. I can't wait to see what comes of our meetings!

My friend Burkinator is blogging about this issue, too. Check out her blog—she is insightful and passionate, and she's a good writer.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Taking Sides

I came across a good quote today in a book by Tom Davis called “Red Letters: Living a Faith that Bleeds.” I’ve only given the book a cursory glance, but it seems good. The quote is from Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel’s Nobel acceptance speech Dec. 10, 1986:

I swore never to be silent whenever [and] wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Captive Daughters

I just came across a very helpful Website called Captive Daughters. It includes a blog, a large reading list, other resources, links, information about public policy and more.

One page on the site, called Cause: Demand, talks about the demand side of sex trafficking. The site notes that "the cause of sex trafficking is the demand for it" and states,
"By understanding the dynamics of demand, we can develop the legal and political policies necessary to control and end this horrific practice."

Along these lines, the organization has produced a book called "Pornography: Driving the Demand in International Sex Trafficking."

On a related note, I'm concerned about a situation in Greenville, SC. A news story Wednesday says that six people have been arrested for importing women into the US and making them work as prostitutes. One of those arrested is an alleged "madam."

But then the article says,

Greenville County sheriff's investigators and the FBI said that the six women were being used in a prostitution operation at a house on Dorsey Boulevard in West Greenville.
"Being used" makes it sound like some of these people are victims, not perpetrators. And the story goes on to say,

The six women, ages 18 to 24, have been released, but will wear electronic monitoring devices. They are being held as material witnesses and will be housed in women's shelters while the case is prosecuted. They all face deportation.
Now, if some of these women are actually the victims, as the article implies, and if they cooperate with authorities, then they should be eligible for T-Visas to stay in this country, and they should not be treated as criminals. So it seems that either this article was poorly written or the authorities are blowing it by prosecuting victims of sex trafficking.

I've contacted a person who works with an organization that deals with issues like this, asking for advice on what to do. If anyone reading this post has further info about this case or what a concerned citizen should do, please comment!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Shame and Honor

Tonight I’ve been reading a chapter in a forthcoming book by Timothy C. Tennent, professor of world missions and Indian studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

The book, published by Zondervan, is titled “Theology in the Context of World Christianity,” and it deals with the theological perspectives of Christians in the global church. Tennent believes that by becoming familiar with the theology of our brothers and sisters in other countries, we can uncover our own blind spots and biases.

Hang with me for a minute—this post really is about modern-day slavery!

The chapter I’ve been reading deals with the fact that the culture in much of Asia is “shame-based,” as opposed to Western culture, which tends to be “guilt-based.” In other words, we in the West tend to emphasize individual guilt, while much of Asia and the Islamic world emphasizes shame.

In my research about slavery, I’ve been saddened and frustrated to learn that women who are raped or forced to work in brothels are considered to have brought shame upon their families. So after they are rescued from their nightmare, they still must deal with the awful reality that their families may not want them back. I hate that mindset!

Tennent’s book points out that anthropologists no longer tend to consider guilt-based cultures superior to shame-based cultures, but they do find the distinction helpful. He goes on to show how important are the concepts of shame and honor in both the Old and New Testaments, and he demonstrates that the theology of Jesus’ death on the Cross has much to do with shame. Further, the New Testament several times describes the resurrected Christ in terms of glory and honor—the opposite of shame. In our Western mindset that emphasizes individual guilt and forgiveness, we gloss over an important biblical truth.

I don’t think I’ve mastered the content in this chapter, but I think it has great relevance for people who are rescued from slavery, perhaps especially those who come from Asia. The Gospel is good news not only because Jesus removes our guilt but because He removes our shame. Even if our natural family rejects us, our heavenly Father will accept us, and our brothers and sisters and Christ can provide the respect, honor and love that we all need (may we do that with all those around us, not only with rescued slaves!).

I’m sure those who operate safe houses and after-care facilities are familiar with these concepts, but it’s a great lesson for me, as it reminds me that Christ can meet the deepest needs of people in any culture.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

That Ain’t Right

The first time I ever hung out with my wife’s extended relatives, more than 25 years ago at a family reunion, I felt like a fish out of water.

These were small-town and farm families from southern Minnesota, Northern Iowa and the Quad Cities area. I was a kid from the sophisticated city of Minneapolis.

Some of them smoked. I had been brainwashed by my parents (in a good way) with the phrase “Smoking? Filthy habit.”

Some of them chewed tobacco. I had been raised on the story of the time my dad and uncle tried chewing tobacco, swallowed it and soon were throwing up.

Lots of these people cussed. My family simply doesn’t.

One of my strongest memories from that first family reunion is the conversation that went on most of the day among the men. One of them would tell about something that was wrong with the world or the United States or Cresco, Iowa. When he was finished, the others would respond with a chorus of “That ain’t right.”

Then someone else would tell about another outrage. Each story was greeted by the phrase “That ain’t right.” I found it fascinating. Since I felt so out of place to begin with, I imagined myself as a cultural anthropologist, observing the ritual of the men in this tribe as they bonded around a shared sense of right and wrong.

Tomorrow our Sunday school curriculum, “The Justice Mission,” includes an interactive reading of Job 24:1-4. Whenever an injustice is mentioned in the passage, the youth are to respond by saying, “That ain’t right!”

I never thought I’d be using that phrase in a Sunday school lesson, but it sure does fit when we’re talking about modern-day slavery and other forms of oppression. The passage reads as follows:

Why does the Almighty not set times for judgment?
Why must those who know him look in vain for such days?

Men move boundary stones;*
they pasture flocks they have stolen.*

They drive away the orphan's donkey*
and take the widow's ox in pledge.*

They thrust the needy from the path*
and force all the poor of the land into hiding.* (NIV)

Every place where there is an asterisk, feel free to say (out loud) “That ain’t right!”

I love discovering the many Scripture passages that show how God hates injustice and loves justice. And I love the deep assurance that when He calls us to join Him in fighting for justice, He will equip us (has already equipped us, I’d say) to carry out that fight.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

On Friday I heard Joseph Stowell talk about Philippians 1:20, where the Apostle Paul writes “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” (NIV).

Stowell reminded us that Paul was under house arrest. But rather than complaining, he pointed out that his imprisonment had actually served to advance the Gospel. Paul also had to deal with petty fellow Christians who wanted to be big stuff and so preached out of envy and rivalry. Paul didn’t let that get to him, either. He said, in effect, “So what? At least Christ is being preached.” In fact, Paul didn’t even really care whether he lived or died. To live was Christ, to die was gain. Either way was good. And all through the letter to the Philippians, Paul the prisoner talks about rejoicing.

Stowell pointed out that the key to Paul’s attitude is Philippians 1:20. Paul’s concern was not his own circumstances or what other people thought or anything else except that Christ would be exalted in him. Stowell told about a time when he was desperately trying to get from Kokomo to Grand Rapids to speak to a thousand people, and he got so caught up in his need to get there that he was a pretty lousy witness to a Kokomo airport employee. He wondered how things might have turned out if his goal had not been getting to Grand Rapids to speak to a group [about Christ] but rather magnifying Christ in every situation.

Those of us who believe that God has called us to fight slavery can get so caught up in the problem that we might forget the most important thing—glorifying God. If we lose that focus, even for a cause that God has called us to, we won’t succeed. Remember John 15:5: “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (NIV).