The Elly Report: Local Perspectives
Wilberforce, Amazing Grace, and Tireless Efforts to End Slavery
by William J. Gillmeister
James G. Basker, President of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History wrote a letter recently to the Southbridge Evening News encouraging readers to view the new movie "Amazing Grace" which opened in theaters on 23 February. Mr. Basker reminds us that the release of the movie occurs on the 200th anniversary of the end of the slave trade in Great Britain, which is notable because the movie recounts the 20-year relentless war that William Wilberforce waged to eliminate the slave trade from Great Britain. Mr. Basker also holds Wilberforce up as an inspiration to us all of what we can accomplish with tenacious dedication.
One of its producers, Ken Wales, who brought the wonderful TV series Christy to CBS in the early 1990s, brings attention to the movie's relevance to today. In various venues from an interview in Christianity Today to one with Dr. James Dobson on his radio program Focus on the Family (locally heard on 760 AM WVNE), Mr. Wales points out that there are more slaves today than there was at the time of Wilberforce. Estimates of the number of slaves today that cross international borders range from 600,000 to 800,000 men, women, and children, and there are 12 million people who are enslaved. By any estimate, most of these are children.
Indeed, many Christian relief organizations and other humanitarian relief agencies have known about what is now called human trafficking. This modern day slavery takes many forms. In some cases it takes the form of our normal understanding of slavery as forced or coerced labor. In many others, particularly in countries and areas with rampant civil strife, human trafficking involves the abduction of children to become soldiers. Equally heinous is sex trafficking of very young girls. Other forms exist also.
Indeed, the issue of human trafficking has become a standard monitoring and intervention task of the federal government. Congress and the President in 2000 made the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) a law, which the Congress intended to provide various federal authorities with the ability to combat trafficking in human persons. The Congress has reauthorized the TVPA in 2003 and again in 2005. A primary function of the TVPA is to begin keeping record of the instances and types of human trafficking and the measures that foreign governments use to stop it.
As a result, the U.S. Department of State (http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2006) and Department of Justice compile reports on the trafficking in persons. In general these reports provide estimates of the numbers of victims of various types of human trafficking. They also provide law enforcement statistics on the number of laws, prosecutions, and convictions of human trafficking of countries throughout the world. With these data, the Department of State then places countries in one of three tiers depending on how well a given country does in meeting minimal standards for combating trafficking in persons, Tier I being those countries that meet the standard. Such reports also offer information on educational programs and programs that rescue victims of trafficking.
Many groups have been in the fight to stop this modern day slavery for some time. But the producers of "Amazing Grace" have created a web site, The Amazing Change (http://www.theamazingchange.com), where you can go to find out ways to help in the hopes of turning up the heat on this crime. Various Christian organizations also have web sites and information such as Action International Ministries. The Christian Medical and Dental Association has sought funds from the Department of State and the Department of Health and Human Services to provide education materials that they've developed to help health care professionals identify victims of trafficking and what to do if they do, indeed, encounter an instance. You can visit their site to download those materials (http://www.cmda.org).
The movie's title, "Amazing Grace" comes from the famous hymn by the same written by John Newton. John Newton had, himself, participated in the British slave trade earlier in his life as the captain of a slave ship. But due to his conversion to the Christian faith he finally left the slave trade. Eventually he became Wilberforce's mentor and spurred him on to take up the abolition of the slave trade. Newton wrote the hymn to tell the story of his own salvation and the possibility of others.
As Mr. Basker noted in his letter, "…Wilberforce's is a story that inspires us with a sense of the difference one person can make, and then what can happen when thousands or millions make a similar commitment and rally to a worthy idea whose time is at hand." So just as Newton spurred Wilberforce on, go see the "Amazing Grace" and become inspired to offer salvation to those still trapped in slavery.William Gillmeister is a PhD Agricultural Economist, a school committee member in Brookfield, MA, and a devoted family man. Contact him at email@example.com.
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