This is the fifth post in a series of articles on global ministry trends and issues presented by Dr. Greg Burch, Director of the Master of Arts in Global Development and Justice program and Chair of the Global Studies Department. You can read more articles from Dr. Burch on his personal site, The Burch Blog.
As I return from Asia, cruising at 35,000 feet, I am reflecting on the numerous lives caught up in distinct forms of human slavery. It disturbs me greatly. This is an issue I wish we did not have to focus on, but the mission of God includes those who are victimized and invisible to most of us. “Estimates go as high as 27 million people being enslaved globally. Internationally, 600,000 to 800,000 are trafficked annually, 80 percent of these being women and children” (Steffen and Douglas 346).
The implication for a biblically based justice-mission among these populations is clear. Christ draws our attention to His mission and the fulfillment of Scripture in quoting from Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. 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 favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
Freedom for those enslaved certainly involves a spiritual freedom, but a favorable reading of this text, in conjunction with the practices of Christ, would also lead us to believe that this passage should be understand holistically. Lives are transformed spiritually, emotionally, socially and in many cases physically as well. This notes a need for organizations like the International Justice Mission (IJM) and others that are seeking to work around the world, meeting the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of people victimized through exploitation and greed (Myers 3).
Some examples of children and others enslaved are:
- An estimated 168 million are caught up in child labor with at least half of that number enslaved and working in hazardous conditions (Johnson and Wu 48).
- 700,000 children forced into domestic labor in Indonesia (Batstone 6).
- The largest incidences of slavery in the U.S. are found in California, Florida, Texas and New York (Batstone 214).
Critical training resources and interdisciplinary programs focused on caring for those who have been enslaved are essential. Social justice and advocacy initiatives are also needed to target structural changes that might need to be confronted (e.g. bonded slavery due to debt). There is a lot of interest and passion among students to serve in these areas, but as Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert rightly point out, sometimes trying to help without the right knowledge can end up hurting those we seek to rescue or care for (21-25). Training programs must work hand in hand with organizations on the ground involved in this work. Partnerships between academic and non-profits are a recognized way forward to prepare students with both knowledge and practical experience.
“Christian researchers and practitioners have much to gain from greater interchange of ideas” (Judith M. Dean, Julie Schaffner and Stephen L.S. Smith 6). This is especially true for those desiring to produce quality research and training that will target lowering human slavery indexes. The authors insist that collaboration at all levels between academics and those on the field are critical if we are to have success in reducing poverty and its demeaning results (33-47). As we work together, we build on local knowledge, and the results lead to better practices and career/vocational placements for our graduates.
Batstone, David. Not for Sale. New York: Harper Collins. 2010.
Corbett, Steve and Brian Fikkert. When Helping Hurts. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers. 2012. Print.
Dean, Judith M., Julie Schaffner and Stephen L.S. Smith. Attacking Poverty in the Developing World. Waynesboro, GA: Authentic. 2005.
Johnson, Todd and Cindy Wu. Our Global Families. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015.
Myers, Bryant. Walking with the Poor. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis. 2011.
Steffen, Tom and Lois McKinney Douglas. Encountering Missionary Life and Work: Preparing for Intercultural Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2008.