On a Justice Mission
Gary Haugen's life took a sharp turn in 1994. The young attorney with degrees from Harvard and the University of Chicago was loaned by the Department of Justice to the United Nations' team investigating the genocide in Rwanda. Painstakingly gathering evidence from the sites of massacres and the stories of victims, Haugen confronted the power of evil and the reality of lawlessness. When he came home from Rwanda, he founded International Justice Mission (IJM), an organization nearly unique among human-rights agencies for its focus on dogged legal casework and its depth of Christian conviction. During the past decade, IJM has played a major role in awakening American Christians to global injustice, and, more importantly, to the opportunity we have to bring justice to the oppressed. Haugen has a bracing answer to our big question for 2007: What must we learn, and unlearn, to be agents of God's mission in the world?
Wouldn't it be ironic if Western Christians were more excited about what God did through William Wilberforce to fight slavery in 1807 than about what God wants to do through us to fight slavery in 2007?
The question would seem absurd if not for the fact that there are more slaves in the world today than were extracted from Africa during 400 years of the transatlantic slave trade. More than 25 million human beings are slaves in 2007. They are not slaves in a metaphorical sense. They are held in forced servitude by other human beings. The statistics may seem incomprehensible, but my colleagues and I have known thousands of them by name.
Indeed, it takes far less time for an American in 2007 to hop on a jet airplane and see where slaves are held on the other side of the world than it would have taken Wilberforce to visit a slave in the British Empire of 1807 (which he was never able to do).
When Wilberforce sought to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire in 1807, about 50,000 new slaves a year were being boarded onto British ships. While that was a nightmarishly large number for its day, there are far more children sold into sex slavery every year in the 21st centuryto say nothing of the millions of adults held in other forms of slavery in the mines, rock quarries, brick factories, plantations, and rice mills of our world.
What a tragedy it would be if amidst all the movies and memorials celebrating the life of Wilberforce in 2007, Christians missed out on the chance to actually be Wilberforce in 2007to be used of God to set slaves free, to bring an end to slavery in this generation, and to bring honor to the mission of Christ in the world. William Wilberforce and a vibrant movement of middle-class Christian abolitionists didn't miss their opportunity in 1807. So what will it take for us not to miss our opportunity in 2007? What follows are, in my opinion, the fundamental challenges.
Will our sense of mission reflect God's passion for the world beyond our borders?
The vast majority of modern-day slaves live in countries that are far away and unfamiliar to North Americans. But the slaves of the British Empire were infinitely more remote for the millions of common English Christians who nevertheless joined the abolitionist movement, all without the benefit of CNN, anti-slavery websites, television documentaries, or jet air travel. "Am I not a man and a brother?" pleaded the slave figure etched on campaign paraphernalia of Christian abolitionists 200 years ago. Indeed, with a leap of moral solidarity that still baffles historians to this day, common Christians of Wilberforce's England determined that these slaves, suffering in remote lands they would never even see a picture of, actually were their neighborsand that Christ's command of do-unto-others love extended to them as well.