by Josh Thomas
From an early age at school I can remember being taught about the works of William Wilberforce, the slave trade, and its final abolishment in 1833. Until I was 18 I was fully convinced that slavery was no longer an issue, because that’s what I’d been told, and, in my naivety, had no inkling that it was still trapping people, tearing families apart and taking people’s rights and lives.
My first encounter with modern-day slavery happened on my gap-year, when I was on mission in Kenya. We were based in a town called Kitale, working in the slum. Interestingly, it was not in the slum where I first saw slavery in action; it happened right in the town centre where everyone could see. In this town, and in many others like it, street children roam the streets begging for money and food off those more fortunate. I had grown a friendship with one of the boys, and so rather than giving him money, I gave him a loaf of bread and some fruit. Almost immediately he was harassed by a group of street fathers (not the C of E kind) who stole the food off him. Although this was not an extreme form of slavery, the street boy I was friends with answered to a greater power, and had no right to anything without the consultation of his superiors.
That very same night I went back to an American friend’s compound for dinner. I told their team of what had happened at the market that day; what I had seen. We then watched a Liam Neeson film called Taken and my eyes were opened to just some of the horrific truths of the sex-trade that still happens (although, I realise, dramatized for the movie).
That evening I went to bed a very angry teenager, not because of hormones, but because of the awful injustice and abuse towards people that should be entitled to every right that I take for granted.
Since Kenya, I have travelled to Thailand and Cambodia; both countries opened my eyes even more to the horrible existence of slavery that still happens post 1833. Some of the stories I heard there shocked me; for most people living under the weight of poverty, working in a sweatshop or a brothel on a low wage is their only option. Finding out that people are bought and sold like commodities brought me to a stunned state of silence; I never thought a human life could have a price on it but the average price of a slave is only $90.
This summer I helped out on the Soul Action Stand at the Soul Survivor Summer Conferences getting people to sign our petition to see the UK government do more about combating slavery. I was perplexed by the sheer volume of people who had never heard of modern-day slavery, but was greatly encouraged that everyone we spoke to wanted to see a change in this injustice.
From a cow shed in the middle of Somerset, to the UK Home Office in Westminster; the petition has come a long way in the space of 2-3 months (to my great misfortune the dress code for a cattle shed is a little bit more relaxed than that of the Home Office). It was a massive honour to have represented thousands of people crying out for a change. The meeting with the Home Secretary, Theresa May, was extremely encouraging, even if we did only get 15 minutes with her. It was great to hear how passionate she was about seeing change happen in the UK and overseas to see an end to slavery, and that she would make our (your) voices heard in parliament. She was so greatly encouraged and overwhelmed to hear that nearly 10,000 young people wanted to see our government take further action to preventing and stopping slavery.
But I know it can’t end there.
Even though all 9000 of us made our voices known in one of the UK’s centres of power, I still know there is more to do. As followers of Jesus I feel we are called to stand until laws are passed, people are set free and there is finally an end to slavery. Even when it’s tough and even if it feels like we’re fighting by ourselves, we shouldn’t feel comfortable sitting down while our brothers and sisters cry out for freedom.