Justice for the Enslaved--Guest post by Libby Swenson
As we are riding a bus through the streets of Phnom Pen, Cambodia, I am watching people walking by or riding their scooters or selling goods in the store. I can’t help but wonder how these nameless faces have dealt with the tragedy of their past – the Khmer Rouge and brutal dictator, Pol Pot. What was it like? Do people talk about it? How were families affected by it? So, I decide to ask our bus driver, Chan. I ask Chan to tell me his story, how he became a tour guide, and what he knew about the devastation of the Killing Fields and Pol Pot regime.
Chan tells me that the mass murder of innocent Cambodians happened “35 years, eight months and two days ago.” Wow. Chan said that his father was shot by the Khmer Rouge while his mother was pregnant with him. His father passed away, and Chan was born to a single mother. She then became ill and passed away, so his grandmother took him in. She was not able to care for him, so she took him to a Buddhist monastery where he would remain for the next 20 years.
After he left the monastery, his life would take him down various paths that led to nearly being trafficked as a slave in Thailand, becoming a tour guide for men who wanted to have sex with young girls and working as a “bouncer” of sorts in a bar full of young girls fearfully waiting to be sold for sex.
But Chan told me that one day he encountered a very nice man who told him about Jesus. He slowly paused as he said, “my life was changed forever.” He began attending Bible study, learning English and working on a school degree. He got married and now has a beautiful baby girl. He is not ashamed to tell others how much Jesus has changed him and how he has gone from “taking men to buy girls, to telling people about Jesus.”
Chan’s life represents the kind of transformation that my team and I pray regularly for.
Justice Team in Cambodia
As four of us on the Cru Justice Team spent that week in Cambodia preparing for our new Summer Mission--to work alongside a ministry that helps rescue and restore young women who have been sold into the sex trade--we were reminded how the light of Christ radically changes lives, even within the dark world of human trafficking.
UNICEF estimates that 2 million children are exploited in the global commercial sex slave trade. Slavery is at an all-time high of 35 million individuals sold against their will, and human trafficking has annual net profits at $150 billion. As followers of Christ, what is our response to be?
In 2006 I heard Gary Haugen, President of International Justice Mission (IJM), speak at my church. When he shared about the atrocities of modern day slavery, I knew that Cru could be involved somehow. So I contacted IJM and said, “We need to work together!”
And now 10 years later Cru has a formal partnership with IJM, which has branched out into other partnerships with other anti-trafficking organizations; Freedom 58, Tiny Hands Int’l, Agape Int’l Missions and 10 Thousand Windows. We want to help end slavery in the name of Christ and Win, Build, Send with Justice.
We now have a Cru Justice team comprised of full time Cru Staff and interns! Several are working on university campuses sharing the good news of Christ while raising awareness of slavery and violent oppression around the world. We are leading Bible studies on God’s heart for justice and training a generation of students and communities who will live for Christ as they weave the compassionate works and words of Christ together.
And we are creating new Summer Mission opportunities (like Cambodia) for students to minister to families and individuals who have been rescued from trafficking. Staff moms are working with an aftercare ministry in South Asia and helping to build a training center for girls who have been rescued from slavery. God is doing great things!
Art Creates Dignity
Another burgeoning aspect of our work is Freedom 58, which is a portrait art ministry (created by my husband, Rob) that raises awareness of modern day slavery. We believe artists have a unique ability to create dignity, hope and beauty amidst the brokenness of the world.
Through the “Faces of Freedom Art Exhibit,” artists utilize their talents to bring light to the true stories behind the scourge of slavery and violent oppression. The exhibit invites visitors to follow survivors’ real life journeys from oppression to rescue, restoration and ultimately freedom. Each portrait painting, crafted by a critically acclaimed artist, gives viewers a chance to enter into a victim’s experience, reflect on their own stories of injustice, and inspire action.
Our team believes that God has much more in store, and Chan’s story is a vivid reminder that Christ continues to restore lives across the globe. Just like Jesus fed 5,000 people from a tiny lunch, He is still working miracles of multiplication today. He simply wants us to show up and give Him what we have, even if it doesn’t seem like much.
Our Justice Team is showing up and saying, “Lord we want people to know Jesus, and we want to help end slavery. What do You want to do with us?” And like the little boy who gave away his lunch, I believe that we are going to continue to experience miracles along the way.
What about you? How might God use you to set people free?
Libby Crafton Swenson serves as National Partnership Director for Cru and IJM (International Justice Mission). She speaks on university campuses across the country, engaging with students about the problem of modern day slavery in order to reach and equip students to be Christ-centered laborers in bringing justice to the violently oppressed. She also works with Freedom 58 and the Faces of Freedom Exhibit, which is an art exhibit to raise awareness about modern day slavery.
She and her husband, Rob, reside in Boulder, Colorado, and she has two stepdaughters, Lauren and Kristin.
For more information on our ministry and how you can be involved, please visit our website at freedom58project.com or email us at Justiceteam@cru.org