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Asking the Critical Questions about Slavery

Asking the Critical Questions about Slavery

(Today’s guest blogger is Eugene Cho. Eugene is the lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle. He is also the founder and director of One Day’s Wages, a movement to alleviate poverty worldwide. This post is excerpted from Eugene’s blog. You can read the post in it’s entirety here.)

Because I’ve been hearing some comments that have made me cringe a little, I’d like to humbly offer some random and quick thoughts – confessing that I don’t clearly know it all. (In fact, you should run away as fast as possible from anyone who advertises that they know it all.)

What I have learned is that doing justice work is important but it’s even more important that we do it with integrity, transparency, and dignity – rather than a skewed perspective to feed our own personal savior complexes.

Here is my list of critical questions we should ask about slavery:

1. Why our heart and motivation matters. For us as Christians, our theology matters. Meaning, what motivates, moves, and stirs us to do what we do matters. Simply put, our God is just and God loves justice. Justice is not an accessory God puts on and off like a trendy wardrobe. Justice reflects the character of God and thus, justice must reflect the people of God. Let’s not be afraid to ask the important questions of “Why” and “How” we engage all this important work. Anything less makes us vulnerable to being one-hit wonders rather than compelling us to the long, arduous, and tenacious marathon of justice.

2. Why we can’t reduce people into projects. Human trafficking is not just an issue. It’s ultimately, about people. Depending on the sources, there are anywhere from 27-30 million people in the world trapped in some form of forced labor and slavery.

Egregious. Painful. Reality.

God never intended people to be reduced into projects. If we forget this critical point and we indirectly foster a culture and system of victimization or worse, the pornification of the poor.

3. Why human trafficking is complex. To reduce human trafficking to simple terms, causes harmful consequences. While we can all agree that it is sinful, egregious, evil, and wrong…there are many nuances and complexities. It would serve all of us to grow deep in the awareness not just of the larger issues but the nuances and complexities of those issues.

To reduce the entire issue of human trafficking into one form is not helpful because the mission is to fight the entire injustice of slavery. And if that’s the commitment, we have to be prepared to engage a long battle across many fronts.

4. Why awareness matters. An X mark on the back of our hands isn’t going to eradicate slavery. Wouldn’t it be great if it was that easy? But for those who are critical and even cynical about the #EndItMovement, I can’t think of any substantive actions that have ever occurred without a groundswell of awareness. Awareness, in itself, is action but we must make sure that it isn’t the totality of our action. Awareness though can lead to action. Awareness can lead to advocacy. Awareness can lead to generosity. Awareness can lead to mobilization.

5. Why our language and methodology matters. Let’s be honest. We often want to appear to be the liberators, the heroes, the saviors…If we’re not careful, we’ll fall into our Messianic or savior complex. This is still a growing edge for me (as I would assume it would be for others) but maintaining the human dignity of those living in oppression is absolutely critical. Some even more random thoughts:

a) Let’s be careful with the stories we share. Don’t fabricate. Don’t exploit those that we’re “helping” by using them beyond what should be ethical, dignified, etc.
b) Let’s be careful with the photos we take, distribute, and even lavish around on our merchandise. Let’s remember: These are human beings. Girls and boys. Women and men. Do we want photos of our kids on peoples’ t-shirts?

6. Why transparency matters. There’s something disgusting about engaging in the work of justice…unjustly. And this can especially happen when people fail to follow through on their commitment to transparency.

Please: Don’t fabricate. Don’t lie. Don’t make up stories to enhance more emotional tugging (translation: $).

Please: Make sure all your financials are front and center so it’s easily accessible and understandable.

Please: Don’t glamorize the work or beautify it. Anytime someone paints the work of justice – including human trafficking and development – as perfect, beautiful, and without challenges and complexities and mistakes…Run. And run fast. Something is not right.

7. Why we can’t forget the small on-the-ground NGOs and CBOs. The #EndItMovement has enormous momentum. It’s brilliant. It’s also encouraging to see numerous large and ginormous NGOs like IJM, Love146, World Relief, World Vision, Not For Sale, etc. as part of their “coalition.”

We should always celebration collaboration.

As we celebrate their work, it’s especially critical that we highlight the work of small NGOs and CBOs (community based organizations) that simply don’t get the attention. They may not have the budget or the celebrity endorsements…but their work is incredibly important, too. The truth is many of these larger NGOs actually work silently through some small CBOs/NGOs on the ground.

Let me pause for a moment here and say that if you represent one of these small orgs: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for your commitment. Your tenacity. Your perseverance. Thank you.

This is one reason why One Days Wages and our Human Trafficking Fund attempts to work with smaller organizations that most folks have never heard of.

8. Why solutions are not in isolation. This is far too complex to discuss in a bullet point but much of the injustice in our world is not an isolation in itself. For example, you can’t talk about issues of poverty without issues of education.  Or water. Or access. Or gender inequality.

Such is the case with human trafficking and slavery and if this is the case, solutions aren’t in a vacuum by themselves.

Painful and true story: I met a guy once who reveled in “freeing” girls caught in sexual exploitation (especially in brothels).

It made for a great story and testimony and fundraising. The dark truth he encountered was that many of these girls were back in brothels or some form of exploitation because there was nothing for them to live into. But, he confessed he couldn’t share that part of the story because it would impact…fundraising.

As glamorous as it sounds to “rescue slaves”, we have to see the bigger picture about jobs, aftercare, economics, counseling, education, access to health care, cultural stigmatization … which explains why collaboration is so important.

Yes, doing justice work is important but it’s even more important that we do it with the integrity, transparency, dignity and self-examination that comes by asking the critical questions.

(Eugene Cho will be the keynote speaker at FIGHT. Eugene will share with us much more about his passion for Justice and what drives his will to FIGHT. For more information go to the FIGHT site here.)

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