The forecast called for temps in the 60s, typical weather for this time of the year.
The sports page reported on the Indians’ loss to the night before to their division rivals, the Minnesota Twins. At 15-14, what could be more regular than mediocre baseball being played in Cleveland?
Even the NBA news seemed too predictable. On Sunday, the league awarded former Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James (a.k.a. “local traitor”) his fourth league MVP.
Been there. Done that.
But by the time the sun set on Lake Erie that night, the whole world would be looking in on breaking news coming from Cleveland.
It was on May 6, 2013, that three women escaped from the house where they had been held captive for upward of 10 years. The owner of the house, Ariel Castro, kidnapped them between 2002 and 2004 when they were 14, 16 and 20 years old.
In addition to the three women, a 6- year-old girl whose entire life had been lived to that point in captivity, became known to the world.
Fast-forward to July 17, Castro has now been indicted on 512 counts of kidnapping and 446 counts of rape – one indictment per month of captivity per woman. The 6-year-old girl was born to one of the women while being held captive.
We can take great joy that these women – presumed to be dead after so many years missing – are now reunited with their families. But other than that slice of joy, the horrid details of their captivity are so unpleasant that the story makes you want to turn away.
We turn back to the sports page, back to the weather forecast, back to the personal peace made possible by the self-imposed isolation of our own relative affluence.
But no matter how unpleasant, no matter how troubling, no matter how shattering, we must not turn away. This happened in our nation. This happened on our watch. This happened while we were too busy or too distracted or too consumed with being entertained that we failed to insure that the lost were sought until found – that those held captive were set free – that the powerless were protected.
This is not a Grimms’ fairy tale, this is a real life story of very real human enslavement, in our house next door to our own. These Cleveland women are not statistics in a file; they are the now-grown daughters of a family down the street. Except that these daughters lost an entire decade as victims of modern day slavery.
“When we think of the scale of modern-day slavery, literally tens of millions who live in exploitation, this whole effort can seem daunting, but it’s the right effort. There are countless voiceless people, countless nameless people except to their families or perhaps a phony name by which they are being exploited, who look to us for their freedom.”
Human trafficking and modern-day slavery take on many different forms, from local kidnappings (like the Cleveland story) to the forced labor of “guest workers” who have been taken across international lines and made to work under threat of violence or deportation. Here is another recent example from the news:
“Federal agents and police raid more than a dozen convenience stores in New York and Virginia, and arrest owners and managers for allegedly forcing foreign workers to work very long hours, for very little pay in their stores. …Only about 40,000 victims of human trafficking have been identified in the past year, the report said, based on information obtained from governments around the world. The estimated number of men, women, and children who are trafficked at any one time worldwide may reach as high as 27 million, according to the report.” (NBC)
Did you catch that number? 27 million.
Can you even picture what a group of 27 million people looks like? That’s nearly one of every 10 people in America today. The size of the number makes it seem so abstract – like these aren’t really real people. That’s when the infamous Joseph Stalin quote comes to mind: “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.”
The chief executive of the Polaris Project, a non-governmental organization that works to prevent human trafficking, said in an email to NBC:
“The average American should understand that human trafficking is much larger and more prevalent than most people realize, and they may come across human trafficking in their daily lives. Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable women, men and children right here in the U.S. are lured or forced into commercial sex or to provide labor against their will.”
“Presbyterians don’t pay for people”
Even in religious denominations marked by Humpty Dumpty fragmentation and divisiveness, certainly we can coalesce around a mutual abhorrence of human trafficking.
Going forward, I’d like to help increase Presbyterian awareness of and mobilization against human trafficking. We need to regularly highlight the issues, as well as include links to churches like North Avenue in Atlanta (see here: http://www.napc.org/mission) who are doing something positive on this front.
Maybe – just maybe – if we talk and pray and take action on something like this, it could have the potential for getting a currently fragmented people coalesced around something that’s so big only God could change it.
So, let the weatherman keep prattling off the forecasts day after day, and let baseball teams pursue pennants that make no ultimate difference – but let us not grow comfortable with reports of human trafficking. We must not allow ourselves to ever get used to the dehumanizing, sinful practice of modern-day slavery.
We must never accept as a “new normal” this kind of evil as simply an expected part of our society. Instead, let’s invoke the spirit of 18th century Anglican abolitionist William Wilberforce, and lead the way in fighting against this scourge of evil.
I can almost hear you saying, “But what can I do?” Start by opening your eyes. Look around. It is happening in your neighborhood. It is happening on your watch. Ask God to open the eyes of your heart and then ask Him to open your eyes to what breaks His. You will begin to see what slave owners want to keep hidden in the shadows. Become informed, even as the information will make you weep. Then get angry and let that righteous anger fuel the fire of activism.
In the PCUSA you can connect with efforts here: http://www.pcusa.org/resource/work-human-trafficking-roundtable/
In the EPC you can connect with efforts here: http://www.epc.org/welcome-to-epnews/epc-women-in-ministry-against-human-trafficking/
Churches related to The Fellowship of Presbyterians and the ECO are also mobilized: http://mppc.org/serve/trafficking
Join my “Presbyterians Don’t Pay for People” campaign today.