A reflection on these stories – Revd Wayne Hawkins
Vulnerability is a common human experience. We all know something of what it is like to feel vulnerable, perhaps through bereavement or loss; through arriving in a strange place or simply feeling emotionally dislocated and therefore vulnerable. At such times we are particularly susceptible to be exploited and taken advantage of – this is the story of both Binta and Albert.
Binta is vulnerable following the death of her father and mother. In her bereavement she is placed in the care of an uncle who exploits her vulnerable state when she is married off. A seemingly ‘friendly’ meeting with a Dutch man sees her vulnerability further taken advantage of and she is trafficked and used as a sex worker in the Netherlands.
Albert, like Binta, is already a vulnerable person when he experiences the life changing loss of his mother and he finds himself unable to cope with even the most ordinary of everyday choices and decisions. Whilst in this vulnerable state he is exploited for his physical labour and then sold like a ‘slave.” Albert’s story demonstrates that human trafficking is not something which happens to other people in other places, but can be very close to home and can happen to people like you and me.
Both Binta and Albert experience personal vulnerability which is further exploited by people who take advantage of them for their own benefit. They are hoodwinked or duped into thinking people are their friends when they are in fact, looking to exploit them. Both survive in appalling living conditions and are unable to gain their freedom, until they manage to effect an escape and contact the authorities, who are able to offer them support and assistance.
It is in the very nature of human trafficking that the people who experience this modern form of slavery are invisible. They are frequently locked and hidden away, even those in plain sight are often so terrified they are unable to seek help or speak out.
Enrique Iglesias as president of the Inter-American Development Bank, said “The next century will be fascinating and a cruel century.” Given humanities scientific, technological and philosophical advances, human trafficking is absolutely inhumane and an example of pure wickedness.
Of course, it would also be true that traffickers themselves can have deep-seated vulnerabilities and their participation in trafficking people expresses something of that vulnerability. But this can be no excuse for trafficking and its life devastating effects on people and their families.
The Bible is replete with the stories of people who experience vulnerability and sometimes further exploitation. Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers was made vulnerable by their cruelty and lies (Genesis 37:12), he is further exploited by slave traders and Potiphar’s wife which lead to him being imprisoned. A sizeable chunk of the Hebrew Scriptures re-tells the story of the conquest and exile of both Judah and Israel. As victims caught up conflict they are displaced and vulnerable, many are taken away into exile where they are put to forced labour. It is in this context of being far from their homelands that the people ask “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” (Psalm 137:4). But also that these same displaced people develop new ways of synagogue worship when they find themselves without the temple and shape the Genesis creation stories in contrast to the creation myths of their oppressors.
When we turn to the gospel stories we discover that Jesus experiences vulnerability is a variety of ways throughout his life. His birth into poverty and homelessness, his forced migration to Egypt and throughout his ministry “no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). Ultimately Jesus is taken by force in a darkened garden, tried against his will and executed because of his opposition and outspoken message of hope to the most vulnerable and exploited of his time. Even at the point of death Christ demonstrates care for the perpetrators of his own death and offers them forgiveness ((Luke23:34). In so doing, Christ’s challenge is decidedly uncomfortable as it calls us to care not only for the victim of trafficking but the trafficker.
Questions for discussion
- In a moment of stillness can you think how Binta’s and Albert’s vulnerability might relate to your own experiences? Have you felt taken advantage of or has your vulnerability exploited by others?
- How does Christ call us to respond to the traffickers and those who exploit the vulnerability of others?
- How you might your congregation participate in campaigns against human trafficking? For example Stop the Traffik.
Your upside down kingdom
Makes room for the weakest and most vulnerable
And reminds us that we too are often weak and in need.
When we seek security in power and possessions
Remind us that your kingdom
Is discovered in the smallness of a mustard seed
And the vulnerability of a child
Confront us with the stranger in our midst.
You tell us that in caring and showing compassion to others
We are caring for you.
Where we overlook or ignore the vulnerable and exploited
Remind us that “what you did for the least of these
You did for me.”
Surprise us with your presence in our midst.
You remind us that
We are all one in union with Christ
Where we focus more on our differences
And what sets us apart
Remind us that you make us one
And by the power of your Spirit
Transform us and your world
Until that time when we together
See your kingdom come
On earth as in heaven.
Transform us by your power in our midst.