By Laureen F. Guenther
September 23, 2018 will be Freedom Sunday at more than 3500 churches worldwide, initiated by International Justice Mission (IJM) to educate people about modern-day slavery and call the global Church to pray and act to see slavery end, says Mark Wollenberg, IJM Canada’s National Director for Church Mobilization.
“We pray towards that end,” he says. “We work towards that end. We advocate towards that end. We believe we will see that take place if we are faithful and persistent.”
Twenty-one Canadian churches recognized Freedom Sunday last year; this September, Wollenberg hopes more than 100 will celebrate.
Each church worships, teaches and prays in its own tradition, uniting under one theme: One Church, One Fight.
“(One Church, One Fight is) really emphasizing that this is a global Church in all of its expressions and iterations,” Wollenberg says. “One Church, One Fight says this issue of justice matters to God. And this issue of slavery is something that we think the global united Church can have a significant impact on.” H says 40 million people today are enslaved in labour exploitation or sexual exploitation.
“In the developing and non-developing world, people are exploited and literally enslaved today, simply because there are people who see human beings as commodities to be traded, to be used, to be exploited for financial gain. The Church has a voice that needs to be brought into this, because we have a biblical mandate to seek justice and defend the vulnerable, which comes from a God of justice,” he says. “We also have a history of standing at the forefront of leading some of these initiatives, to address the injustice and the exploitation of the most vulnerable and poor.”
Dunbar Heights Baptist Church, a west-side Vancouver congregation of about 90, will celebrate Freedom Sunday for its second time this year.
“Freedom Sunday is only one avenue we use to bring continued awareness of injustice,” says Pastor Wes Parker, “as well as to seek its end through the transforming power of the gospel working through God’s people.”
The congregation will focus corporate prayer on injustice, watch Freedom Sunday videos, and present opportunities to support IJM. “Prayer is the foundation of everything we hope to accomplish,” Parker says. “Through prayer we can take an active part in supporting both the ongoing rescue efforts through IJM as well as those who are currently suffering under the injustice.”
Epic Vineyard, a downtown Calgary congregation of about 175, will celebrate Freedom Sunday for the first time in September.
“Justice is a part of how we love God,” says Pastor Joyce Reese. “It’s not just for some extra-specially gifted people. It’s a holistic response to our covenant relationship with God.”
“[Freedom Sunday is] going to add to [the congregation’s] spiritual formation around why justice matters to us as Christians and how we all live that out together.”
Reese says their service will include prayer for trafficked people, preaching and stories on justice, and highlighting justice resources. Music may include The Shiyr Poets’ “On This Troubled Day”, and Brian Doerksen’s “Micah 6:8”. They’ll also invite contributions to IJM’s work.
“We’re probably not going to be the people who are going to somehow unearth phenomenal financial resource for IJM,” Reese says. “But the little bit that trickles in from communities like ours is actually really important.”
IJM, working since 1997 to eradicate slavery and other injustices, has seen significant change.
In India, for example, government agencies and other NGOs have joined IJM’s fight against slavery. Some government agencies now initiate investigations, Wollenberg says, enlisting IJM’s help to complete rescues and provide after-care. Corporations have also joined the fight. Walmart, for instance, works with IJM Thailand to eliminate slavery in fishing from its supply chain.
This August, IJM witnessed the fastest-ever conviction of a man and woman for online sexual exploitation of children. Similar cases used to take years, Wollenberg says; this case, from arrest to sentencing, took 37 days. “That to me says we are making significant progress,” he comments. “Let’s be encouraged to ask for more from God and His help to do this work of justice.”