Human trafficking is an abuse of rights and human dignity. Despite state-sanctioned slavery being outlawed over 200 years ago, up to 27 million people around the world are still trapped in slave-like conditions. On Sunday 25th November churches around the country will come together to call for the end of modern-day slavery.

When looking at the history of successful social movements, you can quickly see that they were not just about protest; they also had a positive message of hope that was a distinct and better alternative to remaining with the status quo. They challenged the status quo, but they also put forward a vision of a better future and appealed to humanity’s better nature.

A 13-year-old boy works hard in a brick factory in Cambodia to earn income to repay the debt of the family. PICTURE: Claudina Lembe/World Vision.

"Abolitionist Sunday, a campaign organised by World Vision Australia, is focused on the abolition of human trafficking and exploitation. This goes right to the heart of what we decide to purchase our loved ones at Christmas."

Abolitionist Sunday, a campaign organised by World Vision Australia, is focused on the abolition of human trafficking and exploitation. This goes right to the heart of what we decide to purchase our loved ones at Christmas. Much of our clothing for example is made through child labour, and it is incumbent on us, now that we are more aware of this reality, to make purchasing decisions that are ethical and that do not exploit the innocent and vulnerable of this world. It is for children like these who are forced to work in degrading conditions and at such a young age that Jesus came to earth. What we celebrate at Christmas is the coming to earth of God in the form of another vulnerable child, a child who also experienced persecution at a very young age.

Despite the protests of many who – understandably in many cases – believe the Bible to endorse slavery, a closer look at the context and the overall story of the Bible will show us the opposite. The New Testament writers in particular are aware of the injustice of slavery. To highlight a couple of examples, Michael Parsons - then of the London School of Theology – wrote in 1988 that: “Paul’s list of lawbreakers includes ‘slave-traders’ (I Timothy 1:9-10). John incorporates slavery into his analysis of wrongs which pervade Babylon: wrongs for which the city is judged (Revelation 18:13). Social comment is certainly implied in these two verses.”

There is a long line of Christians throughout the last 2000 years who have forcefully spoken out against slavery. The most famous of these is William Wilberforce, whose decades-long campaign in the 18th and 19th centuries finally saw the overturn of slavery as a legal institution. Wilberforce wasn’t alone of course, and it was John Wesley who actually inspired the young Wilberforce to never tire in ridding the world of what had become the backbone of the British Empire.

Christians have been abolitionists because of our vision for the Lord’s Prayer to become reality. Jesus prayed, “May your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” and it is through his life, death and resurrection that we now live in anticipation of that kingdom one day being fully realised. 

To be an abolitionist is to be a prophet of hope. Abolitionist Sunday is not just about speaking out against human trafficking and exploitation; it is about a vision for a better future; a future where all of God’s image-bearers know justice for themselves. And this is where the church has a role to play. The Christian community has the awesome privilege and the awesome responsibility to be the light on a hill, the embodiment of the kingdom of God on the earth. This means that, as Tim Costello has said, if I am to be a disciple, I must be an abolitionist.

The more churches that register for Abolitionist Sunday, the stronger this movement will be. There is still time for your church to be involved. The World Vision Australia website has plenty of resources for your church to use, including sermon outlines, Bible studies, and an excellent youth resource pack. 

To be a Christian is to follow Jesus into the dark places where exploitation occurs, and to shine the light of hope. This can be done in a myriad of ways, from praying for the liberation of those enslaved, encourage our congregations to value people, showing our political leaders we care, educating ourselves on the issues, and speaking out to ensure the voices of the oppressed are being heard.

A heart that beats for others is a heart that is alive. Let’s come alive in the lead up to Christmas by joining with thousands of other abolitionists on Sunday 25th November – Abolitionist Sunday!