Spectators or Saints – Which Will We Be?

Human trafficking today is a 44 billion dollar a year industry. With over 28 million humans in slavery worldwide, it is likely that Christian doctors will encounter one or more victims in their practice. We can make a difference, if we care and dare.

By David Stevens, MD MA (Ethics)

The power brokers of 19th Century England derisively called this small group of evangelical Christians "The Saints." Their evidence exposed evil. Their calls for justice annoyed most. Their eloquence and shrewdness mobilized public opinion. Their persistence irritated. They never gave up, but year after year, for almost half a century, they fought slavery. They lost. They lost. They lost again . . . until they finally won and slavery was outlawed in the British Empire in 1833.

That was not all that William Wilberforce and his "Saints" accomplished. They started the Church Mission Society, the Bible Society, and the Society for Bettering the Conditions of the Poor. They successfully sponsored a law requiring the East India Company to allow missionaries access to India, got King George III to issue a "Proclamation for the Discouragement of Vice," and much more. They were lawyers, itinerant evangelists, politicians, professionals, and average folk.

Their extraordinary impact is told well in the movie, Amazing Grace. If you have not seen it run, don't walk, to your nearest video rental store. Show it to your family and discuss it with your kids. I thought this movie was so moving that I shut down the office here at CMDA headquarters for a few hours and loaded all of our staff in a bus one afternoon to take them to see the movie. I wanted to get their attention, increase their understanding, and mobilize the troops.

It was inspiring and irritating. It was both a blessing and a boot in the pants, because today we need another band of faithful saints to take up the banner that Wilberforce and Lincoln faithfully carried and gave their lives for. We need some modern day abolitionists.

Slavery Today

Today, it is estimated that there are over 28 million men, women and children held in slavery. Close to six million are children bonded into labor or forced into brothels. Almost one million slaves are trafficked across international borders each year. This scourge on the freedom and souls of the helpless has contributed greatly to our epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases including AIDS and hepatitis, abortions, suicides, substance abuse, assault related trauma, and murder.

Why has slavery reared its ugly head again?

The foundational cause has not changed from the slavery business centuries ago - money. Modern day slavery generates 44 billion dollars a year, which is more than the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of two-thirds of the world's countries.

But the problem is much more than dry statistics. A CMDA board member and his wife recently took their family on a mission trip. While there, they met three girls, just days after they had been rescued from a brothel. Initially these girls were cowed and fearful, but they finally began to play like children with the couple's three young girls at a meal. Emboldened by the love they had been shown, they revealed the shocking truth that all of them were thirteen years old or younger.

If you want your blood to boil, imagine you or your daughter at that age being sexually abused day after day.

A Worldwide Problem

Many CMDA missionary members work in countries where girls and boys being forced into labor and held in sexual captivity is common. But don't kid yourself. It is not just a problem "over there." Much of it happens here in the West. Over 15,000 victims are trafficked into the U.S. each year, held in bondage. Many are lured by promises of jobs and money, but instead they are raped, beaten, and their money and documents confiscated. Ruthless pimps capture runaways with drugs and money and then dominate their lives. Prostitution is not a "victimless" crime, as some organizations proclaim. Prostitutes in Sydney, Australia reported the following:1

  • 65 percent-physical assault
  • 40 percent-rape at gunpoint
  • 33 percent-rape without a weapon
  • 29 percent-robbery
  • 53 percent-drug use to numb their minds
  • 87 percent-mild or moderate depression
  • 54 percent-current severe depression symptoms
  • 74 percent-suicidal ideations
  • 42 percent-have attempted suicide
  • 47 percent-met criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder currently or in the past

We Can Make a Difference

What we need today is a new grass roots movement to continue Wilberforce's vision to eliminate slavery, and it needs to begin in healthcare. A study in Europe revealed that one fourth of those held in bondage had been taken to a doctor's office or emergency room when they were too sick to work, but the doctor and nurses providing treatment failed to recognize that these patients were being held in slavery.2

Dr. Jeff Barrows, an OB/GYN member from Ohio, and Jonathan Imbody, our representative in Washington, are leading CMDA's multifaceted efforts to abolish modern day slavery, which include:

  • Educating healthcare providers to recognize Trafficking In Persons (TIP) victims through free online CME (available on www.cmda.org);
  • Publishing a systematic review of the medical literature regarding the health consequences of human trafficking in the next year;
  • Reviewing the medical records of TIP victims to gather data for use in development of protocols to screen and treat future victims of human trafficking;
  • Actively involve CMDA members in providing post-rescue medical and dental treatment;
  • Providing "talking points" (posted on www.cmda.org);
  • Working with the White House, State Department, and USAID on this issue.

Contact Dr. Jeff Barrows if you would like to be more deeply involved in these efforts at: jeffreybarrows@yahoo.com.

Which will it be?

I am reminded of Abigail Adams words to her husband John in the midst of the trials of the War of Independence: "You cannot be, I know, nor do I wish to see you, an inactive spectator.... We have too many high sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them."

Righteousness means not only sharing Christ with the lost and treating the sick, but also being a modern day prophet for truth, justice, and compassion in the public square. We need to rescue the perishing. As Isaiah said, believers have an obligation before God "... to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed..." (Isaiah 58:6, The Message).3

The problem seems daunting. Change will not happen overnight. What can one individual do? If, like Wilberforce, you are willing to be persistent, evidence based, sometimes annoying, and always faithful, who knows what God might do through you?

As for me, I rather be accused of being a saint than a spectator. Count me in!


1. Roxburgh, A. Degenhardt L. and Copeland, J. "Posttraumatic Stress disorder among female street based sex workers in the greater Sydney area, Australia." BMC Psychiatry 2006, 6:24: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-244X/6/24.

2.Turning Pain into Power: Trafficking Survivors' Perspectives on Early Intervention Strategies. Family Violence Prevention Fund in Partnership with the World Childhood Foundation, March 2005: http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/?action=getVersionInfo&vid=65.

3. Peterson, Eugene H. The Message (MSG), Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002: http://www.messagebible.com.