One hundred fifty years and ten days ago, President Abraham Lincoln put his signature to these words:
“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free….” – Emancipation Proclamation
As a child, I learned that this proclamation ended slavery in the United States once and for all. Yes, it was still a long road to true equality, with monumental strides toward civil rights being fought for and granted in the 1960s, but in general, I was under the impression that the Civil War ended the lie that people are property.
Imagine my surprise to learn that people are still enslaved every day in an industry widely known as human trafficking. What was once done publicly on plantations and estates, and was largely a racial issue, has now been driven underground, taking advantage of immigrants, runaways, and others nobody will miss.
Lest you say to yourself that this only happens on the coasts or in the big cities, please consider the statistics here from the Polaris Project for Missouri from July to September of last year. During those three months that we were preparing for the launch of Life360 Ozark, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center received 74 hotline calls from Missouri. Most of the calls were from English speakers. One of the calls came from Ozark.
Even now, as I type these words, I can’t wrap my mind around it.
People are slaves.
But even though my mind struggles to understand how modern-day slavery is even possible, my heart can’t ignore it.
I sit on a toddler bed uncomfortably close to the ground, and turn to the ear-marked page in my boys’ story Bible. The colorful drawings and easy reading level can’t diminish the ache in my soul as I read.
“She said to Abraham, ‘Get rid of that slave woman and her son….'” (Genesis 21:10)
“Judah said to his brothers… “Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites.” (Genesis 37:26-27)
“So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor.” (Exodus 1:11)
Hagar. Joseph. Moses.
Three separate stories of people born or sold into slavery, right there at the beginning of the Bible. Their voices cry out to me, along with the millions of others in bondage right now, in America and around the world.
If you aren’t familiar with the story of Hagar, she was the slave of Abraham, patriarch of the Israelites. After God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations, Sarah took matters into her own hands. She gave Hagar to Abraham as a concubine, hoping Abraham might produce an heir through her.
When Hagar found out she was carrying Abraham’s baby, Genesis tells us that Sarah began to mistreat her slave girl. Eventually the situation became so bad that Hagar felt that her best recourse was to run away. But she ended up in the desert, alone and afraid.
Jesus met her there.
And it was during that encounter that Hagar was given the distinction of being the only woman recorded in Scripture to have ascribed a name to God.
“She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me.’” (Genesis 16:13)
As we join others in the fight against the giant of human trafficking, the first step is simply seeing. Today is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. Are you aware?
Are you aware that there are approximately 27 million slaves worldwide today? (That’s one in every 250 people.)
Are you aware that more than 1 million children are exploited in the global commercial sex trade each year?
Are you aware that last year, the slave industry made more money than Google, Nike, and Starbucks combined?
Are you aware that the current average price for an individual slave is only $90?*
Reading these things makes me ache. These numbers are simply unfathomable to me, but I keep making myself read them, over and over again, because I want to be like my Jesus. And my Jesus sees the slaves.
Many generations after his encounter with Hagar, God shows up again, not beside a well, but inside a fiery bush. “The LORD said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering…. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.” (Exodus 3:7, 9)
But this time, he had a rescue plan: “So now, go, I am sending you….” (Exodus 3:10)
*statistics about Human Trafficking found at http://freeinternational.org/the-facts/
Help Life360 Ozark fight Human Trafficking in January here.