Millions of people are trapped in slavery today – and the church has a key role in ending it
On 25 September, churches around the world – including Baptist churches here in the UK – will mark Freedom Sunday, a day to remember those who are trafficked into modern slavery, and pray and act to end it. Together, we can stop slavery for good, writes Kath Johnson of International Justice Mission UK
Did you know that, around the world today, an estimated 40 million people are trapped in exploitation? Modern slavery takes many forms, from people forced to work in brick kilns, factories or brothels, to children being sexually exploited over the internet. It happens right here in the UK, too – a reality more people have become aware of this year, thanks to Sir Mo Farah’s courageous decision to share his childhood experience of trafficking.
I work for International Justice Mission (IJM), one of the world’s largest anti-slavery charities, and my colleagues around the world are seeing the devastating impact of slavery on individuals, families and communities. To give just one example, Thaiyamma was in her early 20s when she and her husband took a loan of $15 to pay for her young daughter’s medical bills. The man who they borrowed the money from used that debt to keep Thaiyamma and her husband in bonded labour for three years. This form of slavery sees victims forced to work to pay off debts that grow at impossible rates, often under threat of violence.
Alongside 13 other labourers, Thaiyamma and her husband were forced to work from daybreak to nightfall chopping acres of trees, tangled with thick thorns, loading trucks with lumber – all without adequate food, rest, or pay. Within a week of working there, the facility owner had tried to sexually assault Thaiyamma.
After many years of exploitation, Thaiyamma managed to contact IJM, whose local team was able to help authorities bring her and other exploited workers to safety, support her recovery, and hold the perpetrators accountable.
IJM has seen stories like Thaiyamma’s repeated all over the world – showing that although slavery is still a brutal reality for so many people, change is possible. We’re working to create systemic change to make sure vulnerable people are not exploited in the first place, and a key part of that is strengthening criminal justice systems so that traffickers are held to account. We’ve seen amazing change through taking this approach – with reductions in trafficking of up to 86 per cent in places where we work.
As an organisation inspired by our Christian faith, we believe in a God who loves justice – so it is our joy to stand alongside survivors like Thaiyamma and say that enough is enough.
One of the Bible passages that encourages us is the story of the good Samaritan, which Jesus tells in Luke 10:25-37, in response to a question about what it means to love your neighbour. This parable highlights the commitment that a “neighbour” must have to help those in need. We read that three men encounter a man who has been brutal beaten, but only the Samaritan stops and meets his needs. We read that he stops, takes care of the man's wounds, gives up his donkey and sets him up with the care he needed, even at his own expense.
Jesus is challenging our understanding of mercy and justice for those who are oppressed. It is not simply awareness that matters, it must be a level of engagement that ultimately costs us something.
Ending modern slavery will take a movement: with survivor leaders, justice systems, governments and communities all playing their part. It will also take the support of the global church – and encouragingly, we’ve already seen incredible change through church involvement. We’ve seen churches help identify and refer cases of trafficking, as well as supporting IJM’s aftercare programmes through providing support to trafficking survivors.
On 25 September, IJM will be joining with thousands of churches around the world – including Baptist churches here in the UK – for Freedom Sunday, a day to remember those who are trafficked into modern slavery, and pray and act to end it. Together, we can stop slavery for good.
Access a range of church resources for Freedom Sunday here.
If you would like to find out more about IJM’s Freedom Church programme and how to get involved, visit IJMUK.org/church
Kath Johnson is Church and Community Mobilisation Lead, International Justice Mission UK
Image | IJM stock image (doesn't show actual survivors of slavery)
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