Mention the word “slavery,” and people think of the distant past -- of Africans who were cruelly kidnapped from their homeland and forced to work in brutal conditions in a strange land, or of ancient Hebrews struggling to build pyramids under the watchful eye of sadistic Egyptian masters.
Few know the shameful truth: Slavery still ensnares millions of men, women and children today in many parts of the world. According to Amnesty International and the United Nations, some 27 million people are enslaved today -- more than double the numbers at the height of the colonial period. And half the victims are children.
What can we do to help end the horrible blight? For starters, go to the movies. Yes, take your family and every one you can to see "Amazing Grace" (amazinggracemovie.com). The cinematic wonder is the story of how British lawmaker, William Wilberforce, 200 years ago -- February 23, 1807, to be exact -- finally won a battle he had waged for two decades: Parliament passed a bill banning the slave trade in the British Empire.
Why is the film called “Amazing Grace?” Because the haunting, timeless hymn was written by one of Wilberforce’s contemporaries -- a man named John Newton who once made his living in the trade of human flesh by commanding a slave ship. He underwent a spiritual conversion and became a preacher, dedicating his life to service as an act of penance. His sermons and writings influenced Wilberforce and countless millions through the years.
Newton's and Wilberforce's works are as relevant today as they were in 18th century Britain. Their legacies can extend into our time by inspiring and moving us to act for causes greater than ourselves. But we must let them. Where is our Wilberforce? Where is our Newton? Maybe it's you.
According to the U.S. State Department, last year between 600,000 and 800,000 persons were trafficked across international borders. They are forced not only into hard labor, but into “sexual servitude, begging, forced combat and illicit removal of body parts,” reports the anti-slavery group Faith Alliance Against Slavery and Trafficking (faastinternational.org).
Consider this chilling excerpt from the State Department’s latest “Trafficking in Persons” Report: