BY KRISTI GAMBUTI
“Abolish Slavery Everywhere, Forever.” These are the words that pulsed from the wall each day I walked into the A21 office this summer. These four words, big and bold, were the very first thing I saw entering the room and the last thing I saw exiting it. The more days I spent there, however, the easier it was for me to miss the full weight of the words.
Abolish (verb): formally put an end to (a system, practice or institution)
Slavery (noun): the illegal trade of human beings
Everywhere (adverb): in or to all places
Forever (adverb): for all future time; for always
This declaration is daunting because there are 40 million slaves in the world today. Human trafficking is slavery; it’s the recruitment, control and use of people for their bodies and for their labor. And it is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world, generating more than $150 billion USD every year. I honestly didn’t know much about the issue of human trafficking going into the summer. I knew it existed but had no idea the breadth or depth of its reaches. 40 million people. 40 million lives in nearly every country in the world. 40 million men, women, and children.
The more I have learned about the issue of human trafficking and the more I have heard the chilling yet beautiful stories of survivors, the more I have been convinced that the fight for freedom is at the very heart of Jesus. In Matthew 22, when a lawyer asks what the great commandment is, Jesus responds: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. This love Jesus speaks of is defined in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
There is no room for the force, fraud, and coercion involved in human trafficking in this kind of love that we are meant to lavish upon our friends and family. On our coworkers and classmates. On the people we pass in the street. On the least of these.
Unfortunately, there have been Christians throughout history who have condoned slavery, in the many detestable forms it has presented itself. However, frontrunners like Frederick Douglass, Jonathan Blanchard and William Wilberforce stood in the gap, rebuked the cultural status quo and pointed to Jesus. Because the gospel Jesus preached is inarguably one of freedom and for freedom. And it’s freedom of every type—physical freedom, spiritual freedom, emotional freedom, mental freedom.
Jesus begins his earthly ministry, as detailed in Luke chapter 4, by quoting from the book of Isaiah. Like the aforementioned abolitionist frontrunners that would come centuries later, people didn’t respond well to Jesus’ claims; they drove him out of town with the intention of throwing him down a cliff. But Jesus stood firm in his call for freedom and his words built the foundation of his life that would change many.
And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:17-19)
Moreover, although the Bible gives us red lines that are indicative of what Jesus said, it also gives us tangible examples of what Jesus did. Yes, he performed miracles: he healed the sick (Matthew 8:16), he brought a widow’s son back to life (Luke 7:11-17), he fed 5000 men (Mark 6:35-44). But I think it is also important for us to look to what Jesus, the Son of God, did in his humanness. He went out and spoke life into the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-26). He got down on his knees and washed the Disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17). He looked at the Pharisees with anger while grieving the hardness of their hearts (Mark 3:4-6). He wept with Mary and Martha at the death of Lazarus (John 11:35) and cried in anguish as he looked upon the brokenness of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41).
Jesus spoke radically but he also lived radically and in doing so, called for radical freedom. The kind that has the power and authority to abolish slavery everywhere, forever.
A21 has been on the front lines for a decade now, fighting for freedom and helping restore hope and joy to hundreds of human trafficking survivors. But it is only a start. The staff, volunteers, and supporters of A21 want to abolish, not just make a dent. And they want to see lives restored everywhere, not just in the 12 countries where A21 is currently operating. And yes, they mean it when they say forever.