Blog and Discussion
As I slip back into the throes of everyday life, I cannot stop thinking about what God brought to my attention during three days in April. My wife and I joined with 1,700 people from across the world at International Justice Mission’s (IJM) Global Prayer Gathering in Washington DC.
In these three days, I have to say that my view of the world – in fact my view of the future -- has changed. I have seen and heard from people who are at the front lines in the battle against violence and slavery, and through them I have indeed seen the hand and the heart of a powerful and merciful God who is relentless in his mission to end oppression and slavery in the earth. In these two days, the focus was on two things. First, proclaiming how God has powerfully answered prayer in people and nations around the world, and second, praying for God to move even more mightily in the future.
While there is no way that I can convey with words the intensity of what was said and what happened, I will do my best through a few stories that were shared with us. I’ve changed the names and left out facts to protect the identities of those sharing, as these are live cases in nations where we are attempting to change the balance of power from the criminals with impunity to those who are on the side of justice.
First, the story of a man I’ll call Jayesh. He told of his years laboring in a brick kiln with his whole family. They had no hope of escape, and they worked brutal 19 hour days -- with back breaking labor. The kiln owner ruled ruthlessly and would beat or kill anyone trying to escape. Jayesh asked us, “Have you ever felt completely helpless? With no hope? With no one to protect you or take you away from this hell of oppression and torture?” Jayesh did not know Jesus; he did not know about a God who had the power to rescue him. He only knew pain and brutality and exhaustion and hunger.
By God’s grace, IJM coordinated a rescue operation at that brick kiln, and he and his whole family were saved. After that rescue he met Jesus through those who came to his side. And he dedicated his life to serving his Savior. Jayesh was able, with the further help of IJM, to finish high school, go to college, and eventually become a lawyer. Now he has dedicated his life, as part of one of IJM’s teams in India, to helping rescue thousands of victims and put their perpetrators behind bars. As Jayesh finished his story, the whole crowd of 1700 rose to their feet in a standing ovation - not only to Jayesh – but to God – who had transformed a victim into a victor, and not just a victor, but an agent for justice.
We also heard that these brick kiln slave masters in some Indian cities are now afraid and are actually setting their slaves free, for they have heard reports that other owners have been arrested and are close to being convicted and sent to prison. Absolutely amazing news that has never before occurred in many areas, as these perpetrators have been used to absolute impunity. This shift is partially due to IJM’s tremendous efforts in this nation, but such a seismic change can only be explained by the power of a God who answers prayer.
Consider also the story of a woman I’ll call Sarah -- who experienced domestic and sexual abuse from her father in an African nation. After she escaped that situation and obtained employment, she faced supervisors who demanded to rape her before they handed over her paycheck. She refused and changed jobs over and over again, wondering if she would be able to survive. She saw brutal killings of her friends in a state of utter lawlessness. Sarah also faced a police force that was
completely corrupt, where police chiefs would beat and kill men who could not pay them bribes and then frame other innocent men for the crime. As we cried to her story, she then stood up straight and said this: "I am Sarah, and I am now a social worker for IJM." It is impossible to describe the mix of emotions that I felt at that moment: Sorrow, grief, sadness, gratefulness, relief -- but mostly wonder. Amazed wonder -- that God could so mightily transform a woman who had suffered so much and make her stand tall in the dignity of His redemption and healing and grace.
We heard later that in one African country, one of the corrupt police officers who brutally murdered an innocent man has actually been arrested and is facing trial. This is the first time anything like this has happened in that country, and it is watershed moment for justice in that land.
The last story I’ll tell is from an IJM undercover investigator in a country I will not name. He told the story of tracking down a man who brutally raped his two daughters and kept them and their mother captive like slaves. One of this man’s crimes was finally witnessed by someone, and the investigator did not rest until that perpetrator was in prison and his victims were safe.
People like Jayesh, Sarah, and this investigator are my heroes. Most people will never know them, but in God's kingdom they are giants. I feel so small in their midst. They have faced the ogre of oppression and have emerged, not as victims, but as conquerors.
There are too many other thoughts and stories to put down on paper. But I have truly taken a tour of the world that both breaks my heart and gives me hope. My hope comes from the fact that so many are being rescued and healed and restored. But it also comes from the fact that justice systems in cities and nations are being transformed.
Rather than fearing the police who have for so many years oppressed them, many are seeing law enforcement agencies that now protect them. Slave owners and perpetrators in many cities who once brought fear and pain to many – they are now the ones who are afraid, as police forces in some countries are now sending this message: "Harm our children, and your next destination will be prison." (This is an actual quote from a police notice).
There is much that remains to be done. Millions remain enslaved. Perpetrators still have free reign in many countries. But the tide is turning. God is waking up his church. God is giving favor to IJM’s work around the world. Unprecedented rulings in favor of justice are being handed down. Yes, the first cracks in the shackles that have bound men and women are beginning to appear.
One picture given to us at the conference of what is happening today is described in the Bible – Amos 5:24: “But let justice roll down like a mighty river, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” The river of God’s justice is rising. At first it was just up to the ankles, and it was only a nuisance to those who oppressed others. But now it is waist deep, and it is flowing hard and fast. Soon it will sweep away all who oppress others with impunity. They will not be able to stand against it. For this is God’s promise: “He [Messiah] will not grow faint or be discouraged, until he has established justice in the earth.”
IJM’s goal is clear: The completed eradication of slavery from the face of the earth. I used to believe that this is something I would never see in my lifetime. But after these last two days, I can say instead, that yes, with man this would be impossible, but with God all things are possible. And I can also say that I’ve begun to see the beginning….of the end….of slavery.
May God’s people rise up and join this battle with all the strength He provides. We are in it for the long haul. We will not give up. We will not rely on our own strength or cleverness or power. But we will trust in our God whose very first act in revealing Himself to His people was to deliver them from slavery, and whose very Name is centered in Holiness and Justice and Mercy and Love.
Recently The Atlantic ran an article entitled, "When Sex Trafficking Goes Unnoticed in America". In it, author Pricilla Alverez reports that over 4,000 cases of human sex trafficking are reported yearly in the US alone. But she also says this is almost certainly under reported. The cause: fear of law enforcement on the part of the largely female victims. Of course the pimps use the fact that prostitution is illegal to shame and threaten the victims, keeping them in servitude. One example is given of a woman arrested for prostitution where the pimp put up bail for her. Alverez goes on to detail the accounts of two women who were rescued by organizations working to free these slaves. The women became victims because of a hunger for family and through the conduit of Facebook.