Human trafficking is not the problem.
Current estimates indicate there are at least 36 million slaves in the world today (fmchr.ch/gsiorg). These are not people paid a low wage who go home at the end of the day. These are people trapped in violence, being threatened and abused in horrific ways. Ethiopia has an estimated 390,000 slaves. Bulgaria is a leading source country for modern slavery in Europe.
Modern slavery is not just a problem “over there.” A recent study of American cities found that sex trafficking generates close to $300 million yearly in urban centers like Atlanta (fmchr.ch/urbanss). There’s even slavery in little towns like Greenville, Illinois. It’s in our closets and kitchens, down the street and in every city and nation. But it’s not the main problem. It’s a symptom.
The real problem is that relationships, values, systems and communities are broken. Human trafficking and many other injustices are symptoms of brokenness. It’s not enough to treat symptoms. So while we need solutions involving prevention, advocacy, rescue and restoration, we need to do more than respond with compassion. Alongside effective, sustainable projects and programs, we need to work to bring healing to relationships, shift values and re-create systems. In other words, we need to lean into community.
How do we move from the problem to the solution?
God is the only one who can bring healing to the brokenness. Jesus came to set all people free physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. He offers both forgiveness and healing. This is the gospel. The church, with Jesus at the center, led by the Spirit, helps others find freedom; not just emancipation, but liberation. Liberation is the full expression that begins with freedom and moves to citizenship and human flourishing: shalom, reconciliation and community.
On Freedom Sunday, we acknowledge the tragedy of human trafficking within the appropriate context of worship. We lament and repent. We focus on the creator and champion of liberation, Jesus. The Spirit leads us into hopeful responses. We sing and celebrate. There is no room for despair. Worship forms and informs us and is a catalyst for joy, hope and action.
Each year on Freedom Sunday, Free Methodists join with others across the nation and around the globe to proclaim that God created us for worship, not for slavery. Giving is also part of the worship. In partnership with International Child Care Ministries and the Set Free Movement, previous Freedom Sunday offerings have:
• Launched the Stand for Children education initiative in India, which is having a profound effect on preventing the trafficking of children.
• Helped establish homes to protect children in Colombia, Thailand and the Philippines.
• Helped launch ministries in Greece reaching out to women trapped in prostitution.
• Helped establish a home for survivors at Eden’s Glory.
• Helped launch more than 30 Set Free teams around the United States who are deeply impacting their local communities.
Praise God! What better response than to worship? God is doing this.
This year we invite churches to pray for and give toward three projects:
• ICCM Ethiopia is beginning to partner with a Free Methodist church in Addis Ababa that reaches out to 50 of the most destitute orphans, vulnerable children and their families who are at risk of child labor and sex work. ICCM sponsorship will support these children through access to education, food and health care, creating a ripple effect that benefits the children’s welfare, their families and their communities. Freedom Sunday funds will also provide trafficking awareness education for all involved in the project.
• St. John’s Home for Roma Girls in Bulgaria is led by Free Methodist missionaries Chance and Dee Dee Galloway, who seek to create a safe and secure family environment for Roma girls who are highly at risk to exploitation and trafficking.
• Mission plants in Portland, Wichita and Atlanta are led by Set Free Movement leaders who are working toward creating holistic freedom, addressing racial reconciliation, relieving poverty and intervening in human trafficking in these broken urban areas.
A portion of offerings will also go to the Set Free Movement general fund for oversight.
Ephesians 3:14–21 is a powerful prayer that sums up the above. Within a context of unity and community, the author reminds people that God is the Father and that Jesus is the center of our family. Three times the author states that God has empowered us to learn more, be more and do more through “him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (v.20).
The power of God is at work within us to do more than can be imagined or asked! We live in the power of the resurrection (Ephesians 1:18–20). God being our helper, we can be the community of God and end modern slavery.
God has called us, gifted us, blesses us, leads us and empowers us to join the mission of freedom in the name of Jesus. We can protect vulnerable children in Ethiopia. We can prevent the selling of Roma girls. We can bring healing into our own broken cities.
How we engage is just as important as what we do. Will we unite? Will we serve with humility? Will we partner strong with others? Will we be the community of God, and will we be known as a people of freedom and for liberation?
Raise your voices on Freedom Sunday. Sing, rejoice, lament, pray, learn and give generously. Be the people of God and let the worship be catalytic. Kick against the darkness until it bleeds daylight. Hammer slavery back into the history books and worship as you act.
Visit fmchr.ch/fsr2016 to register your church for Freedom Sunday.
Kevin Austin is the director of the Set Free Movement and a Free Methodist missionary working to end slavery.3