Ending Slavery: The Extraordinary Work Of The 21st Century Abolitionists

Brought to justice: suspected human traffickers arrive for trial at the criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand earlier this year.Reuters

In the first wave, the Church evangelised, and took the gospel to every corner of the world.

The second wave saw Christians campaign to alleviate poverty wherever they found it.

Now the third wave is building, and this is the Church awakening to its role in protecting individuals, communities and entire nations from violence. 

At the crest of this new wave is International Justice Mission (IJM) and the extraordinary Christian lawyers and lobbyists it employs to change the world for the better.

This is the 21st century equivalent to the 19th century slavery abolition movement, led by evangelical Christians such as William Wilberforce.

This violence they have pledged to fight includes sex trafficking, bonded labour slavery, police brutality, citizenship rights abuse, property grabbing, cybersex trafficking and sexual violence. 

Pablo Villeda, a former law professor in Guatemala, now works for IJM in Washington as head of regional ops in Latin America. He is engaged in the battle to end sexual violence – confronting the hidden nature of the crime, the sheer scale of the problem, the lack of political will and the long process involved in securing convictions.

In Dominican Republic, for example, girls are sold openly in the streets.

"Every day we see violence – sex trafficking, exploitaton, police abuse of power, slavery which still exists today, land grabbing," he told Christian Today. 

Leaving behind comfort

The work of IJM begins with prayer. This helps people become aware and educates them about the violence many poor people experience around the world.

Villeda said: "If there was something that Jesus continuously led us by example and then invited us to do, it is to leave behind our place of safety and of comfort.

"In many countries Christianity is an accepted thing, part of the culture. What Jesus did, and invited us to do, is leave those places of comfort, go out there and learn and see first hand about those suffering from sexual and domestic violence and slavery. We raise the voice of those who don't have a voice.

"We can give, and then give the most important gift we have, which is ourselves."

IJM advocates work in the field. "Our most important role is to come alongside them, equip them, help them. It is not a Western fight, it is the fight of the people where violence happens," Villeda added. "Those of us in developed nations have to come alongside them and help them."

The key tasks that need addressing in so many countries include strengthening rule of law and making sure justice prevails. Big companies can also help, by making sure that supply chains are free of slavery.

"Violence affects real lives. In the Bible we get to see the stories of real people who are broken, desperate," Villeda said. "Then their lives are transformed. At IJM we see that first hand, we serve individual people, individal lives. It is beautiful to see their lives transformed.

"Once they are free from fear, free from violence, they can just become what God intends them to be."

Keeping hope alive

In South Asia, laws against violence are rarely enforced.  IJM works with local authorities to rescue and restore victims and to convict the criminals. 

Abraham George of International Justice MissionRuth Gledhill

Abraham George, a minister ordained by the Assemblies of God and now director of international church mobilisation at IJM, works alongside local communities and police. 

This week, hundreds of IJM lawyers and other Christians passionate about ending violence and injustice worldwide met in London for their annual prayer conference. The organisation is reliant on prayer for God's help in its work. 

George is responsible for managing the charity's church and community mobilisation process across all of IJM's international operations. He works alongside local governments to develop facilities for victims of violence.

At present, he is overseeing a project in Chennai, India, which will see the construction of 50 new homes for disadvantaged families from the slums.

"One of the biggest issues we are now beginning to work with is the online exploration of minor children in the Philippines," he said. "It is becoming an increasingly big issue. The demand for child pornography is really large.

"The abuse of little children as young as one year old – or even younger in some instances – we are only beginning to scratch the surface of that issue."

IJM recently worked to secure the successful arrest and convicton of a Western paedophile who had abused about 23 young children in the Philippines. In many of the cases, the families were complicit in the exploitation of the children.

George said: "There are things people can do.

"One of the things we can all do is pray about it. Often that is seen as not a meaningful or significant thing but I believe prayer for these kids to be rescued is key.

"We can all be a prophetic voice of transformation in our own realms of influence at school university work.

"Third, we can all contribute to keeping hope alive. When you see the magnitude of the issues we are talking about and then look at your own relative lack of capacity as an individual, it can quite often paralyse us into a state of inertia.

`We can keep hope alive that justice will come about because at the end of the day that is God's plan for his creation.

"And we can all get engaged in any and every opportunity that comes our way to do anything for justice."

There are more than 45 million people in slavery today, according to the Global Slavery Index.

Just this year, IJM rescued 564 children, women and men from forced labour slavery at a massive brick kiln in India on the same site where the charity rescued more than 500 people in 2011. 

IJM's first rescue operation in Ghana on Lake Volta rescuing boys from slavery.