I just finished reading this book by E. Benjamin Skinner, one journalist’s investigation into the existence of slavery still present in the 21st century. He travels in perhaps twelve countries posing as a merchant, factory owner, or just a westerner searching to satisfy his own contorted lusts, whatever it takes to answer the question: how easily, how quickly, how cheaply can I barter and trade for the life, labor, or sexual commodity of a human being? Answer: much too easily.
I won’t summarize the book. Read it for yourself. My question is what to do after you’ve read it. Skinner points out that the face of modern slavery is much easier to ignore than the Africans in chains on southern plantations. The face of modern slavery is hidden. If you don’t want to see it, you don’t have to. It’s the face of a prostitute who most will judge and assume she’s chosen the life she leads. It’s the face of factory workers and farmers who appear to be working for wages. It’s the face of an internationally adopted child who appears to have been rescued from destitution and brought to live in suburban America, but it’s all just a rouse; it’s really Cinderella pitted against the cruel stepmother, minus a fairy godmother or glass slipper, with an abusive brother thrown in for twisted measure.
Why don’t they run? Why don’t they speak? Because they are beaten into submission. Because they are illiterate and ignorant of laws regarding their freedom. Because their families might die if they squeal. Because they are afraid of deportation where home might mean death. Because they are brought to believe they are worthless.
I read their stories and I struggle with how to respond. Shouldn’t I be in tears? Shouldn’t I be screaming at injustice? And I am. Sometimes. But I can’t bawl my eyes out with every page. It takes too much emotional energy. If I fell apart at every sign of injustice I’d have to bury myself at the bottom of a tissue box and never come out. I’d be useless.
There comes a point when I have to make a choice to say I refuse to be overwhelmed by injustice. It’s everywhere. There are more slaves today than at any other time in history. That’s a lot of evil getting its way. I’m tempted to think, what can I do in the face of so much wrong? But the moment I surrender to that thought, evil has won. So I have to fight, even if I never see visible changes from my efforts; it’s the principle of never conceding the fact that darkness has won… because it hasn’t.
I still don’t know what it looks like from day to day. I know it means I keep my heart uncallused and hopeful. It means I staunch my ignorance, help others open their eyes. It means I pray, I petition governments, I keep sending money to pay for the schooling of a dalit child in India to prevent him from falling into the same trap. Maybe it means one day I open up my home to show broken women how to find life after hell.
In some sense I don’t think it matters what we do, as long as we do something, as long as we keep fighting, as long as hope stays alive. I can’t fix a problem that is millions of lives deep in countries all over the world. If I think that’s my job, I better give up now. But I can find courage to face those who come across my doorstep. If I spend my entire life fighting for the life and dignity and restoration of one human heart than my existence will be worth something. And slavery, in the world of at least one human being, will die.