"What is this history of Fantine? It is society buying a slave.
From Whom? From misery.
From hunger, from cold, from loneliness, from abandonment, from privation. Melancholy barter. A soul for a bit of bread. Misery makes the offer, society accepts.
The holy law of Jesus Christ governs our civilization, but it does not yet permeate it; it is said that slavery has disappeared from European civilization. This is a mistake. It still exists, but it weighs now only upon woman, and it is called prostitution.
It weighs upon woman, that is to say, upon grace, upon feebleness, upon beauty, upon maternity. This is not one of the least of man's shames." Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
It is this end to which poverty leads. And we wonder if it's really that crucial to help the poor.
I'm not saying poverty is the only root of prostitution and sex trafficking, but I will claim it is one. That when a girl or a mother get so hungry and cold, she might see one of two choices: starve or let myself be sold. But could there be another option? Is God whispering to our hearts that His people might hold a key to offering this soul a third path: generosity.
Today I share part 4 of Anna's Story. You can find the previous portions here: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 ... This is a fictionalized story of what could be true this very day. Though it did not happen in exactly this way, it very well could have. I tell it not to scare us or shame us, but to ask our hearts to really look at this through the eyes of a person and not just a statistic. Statistics are important - they make our action urgent. But individuals are what Jesus sees. And we could all use more of His vision as we fight.
Anna crossed the room and sat down on the bed to wait for the man to proceed. He wrung his hands and sighed, clearly searching for what he wanted to say or do. His eyes held a compassion unfamiliar to her, and a concern more confusing than his hesitance. She looked out the tiny window at the gray sky above. It had been so long since she'd seen the sunshine.
Finally the man spoke again in broken Russian. His deep brown eyes reflected her own fear. "I bought time with you, but not to hurt you."
She swallowed, uneasy. "Then ... what?"
"I know you are trapped. I know there are goons and madaams who will hurt you if you try to run. But I want to get you out. I want to get you home."
"You're insane. I can't leave." Her hope had died. For this reason his words made no sense.
"No, please - trust me, Sarah," he pleaded, using the false name she had told him.
"Why would I?" Anna could only imagine him a liar. He was probably just trying to steal her away so he could sell her in his brothel instead. Lies, only lies. She forced her heart to kill the shred of hope rising up again when she looked into his honest eyes.
"Because I know this is evil. Wrong on every count. I know a God who cares. He sent me. And here I am. I will help you get out. I promise."
"God?! There is no god! Why would a god let this happen to me? Who are you to - " but she stopped herself short. She had revealed too much. Given her despair and vulnerability a voice.
"Get out before I call Kristof!" she shouted. She grabbed his arm and began shoving him toward the door
"No - please! Believe me. I won't hurt you. I won't. I only want to help!" And it wasn't until his hand took hers that she did believe him. Because his touch wasn't rough or demanding or taking. His touch was only to give. And for a moment all hope rose to the surface and the tears could not be stopped.
"How? How could you help me? There is no way out!"
His careful lips continued to move and his eyes stayed on hers ... and for the first time in months she saw another way out than death. He explained that he was a member of a coalition to help trafficked girls and that he knew an honest policeman and a government official who were willing to help in the raid. If she would trust him and cooperate, they would return the next day to get her out. She could go to a rescue home in a nearby town to receive help, and then they would find a way to get her home safely. He had come to take covert photographs of the girls and their conditions for proof.
With only slightly more trust than hesitation, Anna agreed with a simple nod of her head. The man introduced himself as Carl, and promised to come back the next day. Anna cautiously revealed her true name, in case he could retrieve her paperwork when he came back with the police. Though she was more afraid of this rising hope than she was of a beating, Anna let him go with a guarantee of only his handshake. When he walked away she realized he had left a small piece of paper with a phone number in her hand.
It was more light than she had seen since she arrived in this horrible nightmare of a place ...
In light of the magnitude of 27 million slaves plodding this spinning globe, I don't know of an abolitionist not aiming for solutions. The truth of the matter is that solution-oriented action must be multifaceted and nothing if not long-term. With this in mind, I see no greater change-agent than Jesus's Church. Why?
- We are called to care (Matthew 24)
- We've been given comfort to then offer to others (2 Corinthians 1)
- We are able to offer not only arresting change, but root-cause prevention as well as long-term restoration care [click links to see examples of organizations doing just this]
- We have the power of the Holy Spirit to combat the devil's schemes for souls (Ephesians 6)
Trafficking in humans is unfortunately not a new problem. Les Miserables was published in 1862, but how about this ancient source from the 7th century BC:
"Yet here we are having to sell our children off as slaves—some of our daughters have already been sold—and we can’t do anything about it because our fields and vineyards are owned by somebody else.” - Nehemiah 5:5 (Msg)
Due to circumstantial poverty, the Israelites were selling their children (daughters first - I wonder why ... ?) to pay off the debt they owed for basic survival. When the governor, Nehemiah, heard about the human trafficking, he was outraged and demanded his citizens come to grips with morality.
“What you’re doing is wrong. Is there no fear of God left in you? Don’t you care what the nations around here, our enemies, think of you? I and my brothers and the people working for me have also loaned them money. But this gouging them with interest has to stop. Give them back their foreclosed fields, vineyards, olive groves, and homes right now. And forgive your claims on their money, grain, new wine, and olive oil.” -Nehemiah 5:9-11 (Msg)
His solution: share. As fellow members of one race, don't allow the disparity of poverty and wealth. Permit this evil no longer. It reminds me of what the early Church of Jesus did after He ascended.
"And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met." -Acts 2:43 (Msg)
Another thing Nehemiah voluntarily initiated: the laying down of his entitlement.
"Even so, I didn’t use the food allowance provided for the governor—the people had it hard enough as it was." -Nehemiah 5:18 (Msg)
The riches rightfully his - rendered for the sake of others.
Modern translation: are there any Nehemiah's among us, who might lay down our rights to at least some of this life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for the sake of our brothers and sisters enslaved? Could we surrender this entitlement to wealth we've inherited for the benefit of this oppressed portion of our family?
Alright, before you throw tomatoes for my seemingly anti-patriotic ideas, let's just all take a deep breath and imagine ...
What if - we as one human race (no Jew or Gentile, remember?), or for argument's sake, one American melting pot - what if we could share? Be willing to pool our resources to stop the gouging and the trafficking? Provide for our own family - the human family. I know - it's a far-fetched vision of revival, but ... every revival starts somewhere. Today let it be here in me.
Lord, I plead for freedom. Please show us how. You have called Your Church to be change-agents and freedom fighters. You have called us to fight injustice and to give of everything we have for the benefit of the oppressed. Help us now. Bring a freedom revival. And let it begin with me.
To start your own giving revival, please consider giving to one of these organizations who do the intense work of rescue and restoration of trafficking victims:
The Exodus Road