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Today's Wilberforces

Churches can make sacrifices to help those fighting the world's slaveries

Issue: "Marathon man," Feb. 17, 2007

Last week I wrote about William Wilberforce, the evangelical who led the anti-slavery campaign two centuries ago. Our next issue will contain a review of the movie about him that opens on Feb. 23, the 200th anniversary of Britain's slave-trade ban. But this history suggests questions: Who are the Wilberforces, and what are the slave trades, of today?

First, there's the international sex slave trade, lowlighted by organized-crime syndicates that each year force perhaps 1 million women and girls around the world into prostitution. Congress in 2000 passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, an important tool in fighting the sex slave trade, but more effort is needed: Lisa Thompson of the Salvation Army ("The abolitionist," Nov. 4, 2006) keeps alerting folks to the continuing battle.

Second, there's the enslavement of people by Islamists, particularly in Sudan. Arabs dominated the African slave trade early on and stuck with it even after Wilberforce-influenced Europeans dropped out. Journalists such as Mindy Belz and novelists like Art Ayris have alerted people to the slave raids in southern Sudan and the continued sadness in Darfur ("Dead ends in Darfur," Nov. 25, 2006).

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Third, there's self-enslavement. Some in Africa and elsewhere still adhere to animistic religions that leave them unwilling to change unhealthy living arrangements, lest they anger evil spirits. Others back dictatorships that run up huge debts. Others, like their Western counterparts, engage in sex outside marriage and get AIDS more often because of poor overall health and a lower rate of male circumcision, which sharply cuts HIV incidence.

People work on these problems through policy mechanisms, charitable giving, and exhortation. But some go even further: They give not only their eloquence, their leadership, and their funds, but their entire lives-and these full-bore compassionate conservatives deserve our respect and support.

For example, Daniel Jones ( and his wife Joan, both doctors in Kentucky, are trying hard to return for the next three years to Zimba Mission Hospital in Zambia, which has one doctor for every 14,000 people (the ratio in the United States is one doctor for every 358 people). Their goal is to "provide a compassionate medical ministry where every broken body can be nurtured back to physical health and then be completely healed by the Great Physician, who is Jesus Christ."

Wilberforce hoped that by banning the slave trade people in Africa would be able to live out their lives with their families, instead of being crammed into the holds of ships and sold into slavery. Dr. and Dr. Jones want people in Africa to live, and then gain eternal life. Total up the cost of their work: Base salary, $8,208 per year, each. Housing: $8,000 for both. Health insurance: $7,000 for both. Lives and souls saved: Priceless.

WORLD has covered some remarkable examples of Wilberforce-type churches sacrificing to provide effective compassion in Africa. Two summers ago I visited an orphanage in Namibia that existed because a Maryland church had decided that creation and staffing of such an institution was more important than air-conditioning the sanctuary. Another Maryland church made do with a sub-optimal meeting place so that it could buy and fund an orphanage and school in Zambia. (See WORLD, July 16, July 23, and July 30, 2005.) I would enjoy hearing of other examples.

Questions for the rest of us to ask ourselves: What are we doing to carry on the goals of Wilberforce? In our giving, do we aid small-scale community projects or do we throw money into Big Economic Plans that garner lots of publicity but are rarely effective? What percentages of our church budgets go to holistic foreign missions that show people the way to both material and spiritual change?

David Livingstone, the famous mid-19th-century medical missionary who kept up the Wilberforce tradition by attacking the evil of Portuguese and Arab slave trading in central Africa, said about slave-traders, "It is only by the goodness of God in appointing our lot in different circumstances that we are not similarly degraded, for we have the same evil nature." When people praised him for his sacrifices, he replied, "Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay?"

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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