What I have learnt about fighting the evil of slavery and trafficking

Every year on July 30, the United Nations recognises World Day against Trafficking in Persons. It’s devastating that we need a day like this in the 21st century because millions of children, women and men are still being bought and sold as commodities in an industry worth $US150 billion every year. This day is a declaration that trafficking is a reality our shared humanity cannot tolerate.

That is nothing new to the Christian. We are well aware that we live in a fallen world. We are aware from over 2000 biblical references that we must defend the vulnerable. We are aware that every person is made in the image and likeness of God. We don’t need to explain to each other why trafficking and slavery are evil.

I wish more Christians knew just how real and how terrible trafficking is.

And yet trafficking remains an ugly fact of our world today that does test our faith: Why does God allow suffering like this?

Steve Baird

Leading the team at International Justice Mission (IJM) Australia over the past two years has brought me closer to this suffering – but also closer to God’s mercy expressed through his people.

I wish more Christians knew just how real and how terrible trafficking is. This crime involves a shocking depth of evil that has come acutely into view for me since I joined IJM. In protecting people in poverty from violence such as sex and labour trafficking and violence against women and children, we face severe suffering on a large scale.

I’ve been struck also by the extent of the complicity involved in perpetuating the suffering of so many. Complicity looks like paedophile rings made up not of a few hundred social outliers but millions of regular – and even respected – members of society, paying to livestream the sexual abuse of young children in the Philippines and elsewhere. Complicity looks like the risk of slavery tainting the supply chains from which we get as many as eight in ten of our products, including clothing and appliances.

It is my faith that has helped me make sense of that suffering through belief in a God of redemption and rescue.

I wish more Christians knew that something can be done about trafficking.

Since 1997, IJM has helped rescue over 79,000 children, women and men from various forms of violence, including sex and labour trafficking. The cost of a rescue varies from place to place, but as little as $2500 can bring rescue to someone in bondage.

I wish more Christians knew that something can be done about trafficking.

Not only is it possible to bring freedom to precious individuals as we “go after the one” lost sheep, we’ve seen that it’s possible to break down the structures that enable slavery and trafficking. When law enforcement does its job well, traffickers are held to account, creating a deterrent effect which prevents other would-be offenders from criminal activity. This, in turn, protects entire communities.

It’s not just a theory. IJM saw this happen in the Philippines, where the rate of children trafficked for sex fell by 72 per cent or more within the space of a few years. How? IJM partnered with local law enforcement to rescue and restore survivors and restrain traffickers. Over time we got to the point where there was both capacity and willpower for law enforcement to do this on their own, and IJM had worked ourselves out of that job.

Using this model, IJM’s work is effectively helping to protect over 400 million people around the world from violence.

Lately, I find myself reflecting on Ephesians 2:4 and the richness of God’s mercy. I believe that mercy is the heart and essence of the Christian faith. It’s not a ‘nice to do’ but rather a full expression of the core of our faith.

I believe that mercy is the heart and essence of the Christian faith.

At IJM, I have found myself surrounded by Christ-like people who are the epitome of what it means to be rich in mercy. These are men and women God is using to bring about his kingdom. In so many ways, their example has sharpened my faith.

My global colleagues embody mercy in how they live their lives, in how they are courageous and take risks for the sake of the vulnerable. They do this while knowing God answers prayers – and leaning on him to do so. Through 25 years of protecting people in poverty from slavery and violence, it’s plain to IJM that we can’t get past God’s fervent desire to rescue and redeem.

I’ve now had the privilege of meeting several survivors. One who’s left a strong impression on me is Raja whose earnestness and disposition to help others reminds me of my eldest son.

Raja went through hell as a child and yet grew up to be the gentlest and most humble man. When his parents were tricked into slavery, this 12-year-old’s life was completely upended. Dreams of school melted away as he took on the role of caregiver for his younger brother. And then, the boys were forced into brutal, bonded labour at a brick kiln to repay a debt from their sister’s wedding. For two long years, Raja was treated as property, didn’t see sunlight, lived off rice and brick dust.

We can’t get past God’s fervent desire to rescue and redeem.

But God saw him and rescued him through the work of IJM. Defying the limitations of his caste alone, let alone his suffering in slavery, Raja trained as a lawyer, and today he represents other bonded labour survivors like himself. In him, I see the full cycle of God’s redemption and grace.

God, who is rich in mercy, has all the strength we need. God’s mercy combined with the prayer and fellowship we have in our Christian community are what’s required to fight the darkness of human trafficking.

The truth is when we ignore the suffering of the world, we are the ones missing out on the riches of God’s mercy and power. Rescue and redemption are already happening. God is at work, and so there is reason to hope. And that’s why we must act.

In the words of Raja, “Deep inside my heart, I wanted to serve my community and help others who faced situations like my own.” Will you join Raja in this fight?

Steve Baird is CEO of IJM Australia. To find out more, click here.