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Fighting our blindness to slavery with Freedom Sunday

“The LORD has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his habitation.” This inscription of Psalm 132:13 is etched in Dutch onto the chapel wall at Elmina Castle, an imposing whitewashed structure on the coast of Ghana, my father’s homeland.

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… What I saw made me wonder if God was here at all.

I visited Elmina in 2010. Built in 1482 as a Portuguese trading post and the site of the first Catholic church in West Africa, the castle was then taken over by the Dutch before coming under British rule in 1872.

This engraving from Psalm 132 in the Dutch chapel declared that God dwelt in this place – but what I saw below made me wonder if God was here at all.

I was taken into a hot, dimly lit dungeon in the lower region of the castle. Poorly ventilated, the only hole was in the ceiling, for basic food and water drops.

Four hundred men at a time were crammed into this small space and with nowhere to relieve themselves, they slept in their own filth. Captives were confined here for two months before being shipped to the Americas.

As I stood in that dungeon I thought, why – through the 155 years of Portuguese and 235 years of Dutch rule – were these cries for freedom not heard?

Even today, slavery is all around me, and I have been deaf and blind to it.

How did Jesus’s words announcing his mission to the world not ring in the ears of these colonisers and the churches that sent them? “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:18-19)

Yet even today, slavery is all around me, and I myself have been deaf and blind to it.

It is easier for me to turn away than to allow the Holy Spirit to help me see with Jesus’s eyes and hear with his ears the world’s 40 million slaves.

Today, just up the road from the castle, thousands of boys are being trafficked into forced labour on Lake Volta, a massive lake covering much of central Ghana.

Thousands of boys just like Foli, who is now free but was once a slave. Foli lived with his grandparents on their farm in rural Ghana. They were poor and when his grandfather was injured in an accident, a relative promised to care for and school Foli.

Instead, Foli was taken to Lake Volta and forced onto a fishing boat where his life became one of 19-hour work days, setting nets on the lake. Sometimes a net would become stuck and though the boys couldn’t swim, one would be forced to dive into the deep water to untangle it. Sometimes boys drowned.

Somehow Foli held out hope that he would be rescued.

In the mornings when he went to the lake, Foli would go by himself to a place on the shore where only God could hear his voice, and pray: “God, we are awake. In your name we are going to the lake. Put your hands over the net and don’t let it go to a place where humans can’t go, but someone still has to go. Take it to a place where it is safe for humans to go.”

Somehow Foli held out hope that he would be rescued. International Justice Mission (IJM) led an operation with Ghanaian police in which Foli and nine other boys were freed. Foli is now safe at home with his grandparents, going to school and dreaming of becoming a soccer star.

In our time, Foli’s cry was heard and the Body of Christ came together to send rescue. As IJM founder Gary Haugen shared: “If we simply and courageously make ourselves available to him, Jesus Christ himself will ‘set the oppressed free’ (Luke 4:18) – and we will know the extraordinary joy of watching him do it through us.”

So what can we do? This year, your church can join 5000 others from over 40 nations and host a Freedom Sunday.

This is an invitation for your congregation to see and hear slavery and partner with IJM to end it. Dedicate Sunday, 23 September to ending slavery, and your church can help send rescue to every child, woman and man living in slavery. Join us for Freedom Sunday.

Jacob Sarkodee is IJM Australia’s Director of Strategic Partnerships.

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