This word ‘freedom’ has stuck in my mind recently whilst reflecting on justice. It’s something we long for during lockdowns, it’s seen as a basic human right, and it’s woven into the fabric of true justice. What does it mean for a person to be free? For you or me to be free? What are we freed from, and what are we freed to?
What is freedom?
I’ve heard it quoted many times in many different contexts, but it strikes me every time I hear it.
Nobody is free unless everyone is free
It is attributed to the likes of Fannie Lou Hamer, Maya Angelou and Emma Lazarus, who spoke out against racism and slavery. It cuts to my conscience, and questions flow. I ask myself; do I take my freedom for granted? Am I truly free? The first step for me was to recognise that no one will truly be free unless everyone is free, until my brothers and sisters all over the world are liberated from bondage.
Following on from that question comes another: what am I going to do about it? Once I had this revelation I couldn’t simply sit back and move on. The natural response is to act for change, for justice. Dr Martin Luther King Jr said, ‘He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.’ I cannot be complacent or sit still in full knowledge that people are still in bondage – a subtle evil today. Diligent work must be done until everyone is free.
One thing I love about Tearfund’s work is their core principle to meet people’s needs in a holistic way. To get to the root of the problem we must next ask, bound by what? Many things keep humans enslaved – physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially. Tearfund meets all of these needs.
Bound to sin and evil – it controls our lives and keeps us enslaved. We all know of this bondage, whether we recognise it or not. This type of slavery doesn’t depend on external factors. But God assures us there is a way out, through Christ. There is freedom, by the willing and free gift of God. It is only God who can liberate us from this bondage, and when He does, our chains are gone. We are brought into a life of freedom and hope, into a relationship with a loving God. The Christian message of freedom in Christ is a core principle of Tearfund’s work.
Modern day slavery – although abolished hundreds of years ago, human trafficking and modern-day slavery is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. There are tens of millions of people living enslaved to their captors today. Modern day slavery is an issue very close to my heart. People trapped within it must be set free. But it can’t stop there. That is not the end goal. We must liberate people from the root problems that make individuals vulnerable to trafficking. One of the biggest root problems is financial poverty.
Financial poverty – we must get to the root of the problem and prevent risk of trafficking in the first place. The individuals most vulnerable to trafficking are bound by poverty. Traffickers target weaknesses, such as an older sibling’s need to provide for their family. This is how many are lured, but then trapped and aren’t allowed to see their families ever again. I admire Tearfund’s work in tackling the root cause to bring true justice, and long-lasting freedom.
Tearfund work by empowering local communities to lift themselves out of poverty. I saw this first-hand when I went to Cambodia for two weeks to work with Tearfund’s partner based in a town on the Thai-Cambodian border. They ran agriculture, education and sanitation projects to prevent human trafficking in their area. By education, and creating ways for communities to sustain themselves, communities can truly become free from the bondage of poverty.
What are we freed into? I would say one of the biggest things would be hope. It’s a word often associated with freedom – hope. I believe, and Tearfund envisions, that it is possible for all to be free. That freedom brings hope for the future – hope of education, hope of transforming communities, hope of a livelihood and career, hope of joy, peace and security.