rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow." (Isaiah 1:17 NRSV)
All throughout the Bible, we read that God is the champion of underdogs. In our quest to love God and love our neighbors as Christ loves us, we often remember the orphans in our prayers. We donate food and clothing to the poor. We bring dignity back to the isolated, desperate widows. But who are these ‘oppressed’ referred to in the Bible? There are over 200 mentions of oppression and justice in the Bible. Do you think perhaps God is trying to tell us something?
A quick thesaurus search says that oppression is the same thing as ‘domination, coercion, cruelty, subjugation.’ It is defined as “to subject a person or a people to a harsh and cruel form of domination.” Domination? But that sounds like slavery. Wasn’t slavery abolished in 1863 by the Emancipation Proclamation? There can’t be slavery today. The Thirteenth Amendment, ratified in 1865, guaranteed that slavery would never again exist in the United States.
The story of Joseph in the Bible details how he was sold by his jealous brothers to slave traders who took him away to Egypt. You would not be alone in assuming that this doesn’t occur much anymore, but slavery is, unfortunately, not just a mistake of the past. It is alive and thriving today. Boys, girls and whole families are being sold to slave traders, and like Joseph, it is sometimes by members of their own family. Current estimates reveal that there are 27 million people in forced labor, bonded labor, forced child labor and sexual servitude today. This is not just happening in impoverished countries either. This is happening also in our own neighborhoods. It’s everywhere.
Human trafficking is the second most profitable criminal activity, following drug trafficking and followed by arms trafficking. The trafficking of humans is highly profitable because, unlike drugs and arms which can be sold one time for one fee, humans can be forced to sell their services over and over and over again. These people are often forced to work in the brick kilns, sweat shops (the textile factories), or as cigarette rollers. They are made to harvest sugar cane, cocoa beans and coffee beans. They are forced to dig for diamonds. Some are sold into prostitution, and others are forced to fight as soldiers in a war in which no child should ever be involved.
There are many ways that a person can end up as a slave. Sometimes a parent will seek out the assistance of a local money-lender, only to be told that one of their children is needed to work off the debt. Once the child is separated from their loved ones, they are told that the passport that they were provided, the cost of the transportation to the ‘job,’ and the food, clothing, and shelter they were given has increased their family’s debt. The traffickers hold it over their heads, often threatening to enslave or even kill their family members if they refuse to work for them. The debt becomes impossible to pay off because they are paid so very little and are constantly building up more debt by accepting the filthy shelter and what little food they are offered. Many of these kids don’t consider themselves slaves. From what they can understand, they are simply trying to work off a debt that their loved ones accrued.
Other times, the person is lured into the slave trade by the promise of a much needed job that would enable them to provide better for their starving families. Slave traders even post fake job listings in the local paper to recruit the children. They promise restaurant, modeling, or housekeeping jobs in foreign countries. Once they arrive at their destination, they quickly realize that no such job ever existed, and that instead, a nightmare has just begun.
God wants us to seek justice. Isaiah 58:6 says this:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?”
Ecclesiastes 4:1 says:
“Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed—
and they have no comforter;
power was on the side of their oppressors—
and they have no comforter.”
After I was exposed to this world of oppression, I found myself repeating one question over and over to God – “Why aren’t you out there rescuing these people?” I eventually realized God IS right there with each and every one of them, and He does indeed have a plan to rescue them. The plan is us. That’s right, WE are the plan. There isn’t a plan B. We’re it.
Instead of asking “Where is God?” we should be asking “Where are His people?” The president of the International Justice Mission, Gary Haugen, says in his book, Terrify No More, that “Given all the power and resources that God has placed in the hands of humankind, I have yet to see any injustice of humankind that could not also be stopped by humankind…The question in the end is not an inquiry of obligation but an invitation – an invitation to the fundamentals of human joy for which we were made, a joy that our loving Creator refuses to hoard to himself.”
Edmund Burke summed it up nicely when he said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Just like the little boy who offered his measly lunch of 5 small loaves of bread and 2 fish to help Jesus feed 5,000 people, we all have been given something to offer. The amount of injustice being done in the world is staggering, and we can easily find ourselves thinking, “It’s only going to take a miracle to save these people.” This is correct, and mercifully we’re not called to perform that miracle. That is God’s department. But we are called to offer our God-given time, talents and treasures, our small sack lunch, to God so He can use us to bring about justice for the oppressed. Please prayerfully consider how you might become involved in God’s plan to seek justice and rescue the oppressed.