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16 October 2015

Will your heart be stirred by slavery?

Will your heart be stirred by slavery?

Today, the country’s first anti-slavery commissioner has spoken out against the treatment of modern-day slavery victims by the UK authorities. Officers don’t know how to handle those identified as victims, said Kevin Hyland. Home Office statistics suggests there could be as many as 13,000 here, but the way they’re received by authorities is “morally unacceptable”. The commissioner now plans to train forces to react better when they discover these victims, who are predominantly from Albania, Nigeria and Vietnam.

I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you to hear that human trafficking is one of the most profitable crimes in the world, with an annual trade of around $32 billion. There are an estimated 36 million people in slavery across the world today. Each circumstance different, each exploited individual unique. It’s sometimes hard to keep that in mind when dealing with such vast numbers. And the truth is, trafficking is not a problem in any way removed from us. It’s close. It happens in and through the nice, quiet towns and villages where many of us reside and also amid the buzz and loudness of some of our biggest cities. It happens here, in the UK, and all across the world. As we approach Anti-Slavery Day this Sunday, I would love to encourage you to engage with the issue of human trafficking and to allow your heart to be moved to action.

My heart was first stirred for this cause many years ago when watching the film Taken.  As I sat in the cinema, my heart pounding in my chest, I became aware for the first-time of this awful, sick and twisted crime that is the trading of humans against their will. In that moment my heart was broken and overwhelmed, but it was stirred not only to care, but to action.

Throughout the Bible, we see God presented as a God who cares deeply for humanity, for His earth. We see a God who is constantly moved to action. He just couldn’t bare to look down at His earth and leave it in the state it was, so He stepped down, He humbled himself and became flesh, one of us. I’m often reminded that the very best example of ‘just doing something’ is God Himself. He helped mankind; met them in their suffering and offered hope of life eternal. And so we, as carriers of this message today, have the opportunity to proactively intervene in the lives of those who are bound by fear, have no freedom and see no way out. It’s a biblical mandate. We read of it in Isaiah 61: “The spirit of the sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” You see, it’s very clear in the Bible that part of our commission as followers of God is to use the freedom He has given us to help other find their freedom. In Galatians 5:13 we read: “Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows.”

I think the hardest thing sometimes can be knowing where to start. God often stirs our hearts for a cause or a person and we can be left not knowing where to start or what to do. My best advice would be to look at what He has put in your hands. What are your skills, talents and areas of influence? For me, it was sport. I work at Sky Sports News and I love sport myself, so sport was the thing that came naturally to me. I ran a half marathon first, then together a Row For Freedom crew, which rowed 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, raising awareness and funds and retracing the transatlantic slave trade route. By God’s grace we made it in one piece, and managed to break two Guinness World Records in the race. This feat birthed the beginning of Sport For Freedom, a charity that uses the positive power of community and sport to bring freedom from trafficking and slavery. When I look back to the point where my heart was first stirred, it’s no coincidence how and where God has worked since. We are partnering with the Premier League, educating their academy players and together we are hosting a Football For Freedom international tournament on Anti-Slavery Day. An incredibly exciting opportunity born from one small ‘yes.’

The truth is, you don’t have to row an ocean, but we can all do something. Be proactive, engage with the issue and do something. I regularly encourage people to ‘dream it, do it’. We can wish and dream, but there is nothing better than just doing it. Take a look at what is in your hands. What could you use that you have been given to help those who have had so much taken away? Your voice, your time, your money? I totally believe God is a proactive God – the whole of the biblical narrative is his proactive pursuit after mankind. I for one am so glad He didn’t just leave us as we were. 

 by Julia Immonen, founder of Sport for Freedom, assistant director at Sky Sports News and author of Row For Freedom: Crossing an ocean in search of hope

Image: Julia Immonen in the middle of Kirsty Gallagher and Natalie Pinkham, Sky Sports News presenters and ambassadors of Sport for Freedom.