21 for freedom: March

It’s our third 21 for freedom day. And so our special focus today is on prayer and action to bring an end to the horror of 21st century slavery – human trafficking. The last three months have been a journey. We’re learning and discovering more about the shocking reality of this issue. We’re beginning to voice our questions and heart-cries to God…


…And at the Sanctuary’s centre itself, we’re supporting each other to face the pain of this issue so we can allow our hearts to be broken and our lives to be committed to its resolution.

Today was another step in that journey. And today we looked at this issue in the framework of two testimonies that gave us new faith to pray and act – one was from yesterday and one was from 200 years ago.

Yesterday, the Chancellor announced a budget which committed to 0.7% of the UK’s national income going to international aid. There was some disappointment from aid agencies that tax dodging wasn’t addressed, and for those of us with a heart for poverty in the UK as well as abroad, it was a disappointing day in terms of welfare reform.

BUT… and it’s a big one… the fact is that this success by the IF campaign represents the first time that a promise first made by our government 43 years ago has been honoured. And that as the first country of the G8 to honour this corporate promise, others may follow.

Perseverance; prayer; concerted campaigning… they may take time sometimes – but they do bring change.

200 years ago a group of like-minded men spent twenty years working to over-turn a giant commercial enterprise and brought freedom to hundreds and thousands of oppressed people. The end of the slave trade was one of the turning points in world history and it was brought about against all the odds.

Perseverance; prayer; concerted campaigning… they may take time sometimes – but they do bring change.

So what does it take to bring about this kind of change?

We don’t know for sure of course. But we couldn’t help but be struck by a number of key ingredients that seemed significant to us and went on to inform our prayers for another movement to rise up to end 21st slavery:

Firstly, the key figures were normal, frail and beset with personal challenges as well as opposition. Wilberforce in particular had ill health and was described as ‘all soul, no body’.

Secondly, though these men did have remarkable skill and noteable influence, far more instrumental to their success was staying faithful to the unique calling each one of them had – whatever came at them; extraordinary perseverance and prayer. For some it was politics; for some it was to challenge someone to act; for one it was to write a hymn…

Thirdly, though there was one man of extraordinary faith and courage at the centre of this struggle, his work was made possible by an incredible community or family of fellow believers who supported Wilberforce consistently or at key times. There was a life-long friend (William Pitt), and crucially older men who brought wisdom and challenge (Newton and Wesley).

Fourthly, despite the importance of extraordinary heroes of humanity in this story who were willing to give their lives to fight for justice, there is also a huge sense of the author behind the story at work as well.

Wesley’s interaction with Wilberforce came near the end of his life – therefore, this massive social change came off the back of a dramatic renewal and revival of deep Christian faith in the nation.

All these men – Newton, Pitt, Wilberforce, Wesley and many others – had their lives weaved together at exactly the right moment to create the right breakthrough… again a verse we have come to value recently came to mind, “Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago” (Isaiah 25:1).

God is constantly laying in place redemptive plans for us to return to him and his ways – his mercies are new every morning but often stored up years in advance and then weaved in with the most incredibly precise timing which those who know what they’re looking for begin to recognise as being anything but co-incidence.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly of all was the marrying up of God’s redemptive plan not just with a willingness to follow it in men of faith, but with the perspective of his heart and vision.

These men simply refused to look at the issue through the ‘rational eyes’ of what the world might say was possible. In the film ‘Amazing Grace’, William Pitt puts it this way, “we are too young to realise that certain things are impossible”.

Another way to say it was that these men refused to believe the lie that there was any darkness so dark that light couldn’t overcome and defeat it.

As John Wesley, in the last ever letter he wrote – which was to Wilberforce – put it, “Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God?”

And so back to trafficking…

Perserverance; prayer; concerted campaigning; the Spirit at work; a relatively small number of people following their unique calls obediently so that a redemptive plan laid in place can come to pass; and a perspective that remembers just how big God is. It may take time, but they can and will bring change.

Yesterday, we sent out an email to everyone on the Sanctuary’s update list remarking on an act of noteworthy kindness.

We remarked on how through this and many other prayers and actions, we are starting to see how transformation might be possible as God builds a bigger and bigger family of people who want to show kindness to others because of the kindness they have experienced from him.

Today we found renewed faith to believe that this is what he is doing, and what he invites us to be part of, as we continue to pray for an end to human trafficking, global poverty, and every other injustice in our world, nation and communities which denies the unique and precious nature of every person made in God’s image.

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