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Slavery in America: A Conversation with International Justice Mission

In honor of National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, this is a repost of an interview held with International Justice MIssion staff member Lauren Johnson in early 2010. IJM currently is one of the world leaders in combatting slavery today. 


Last month I visited the International Justice Mission headquarters, not far from the Pentagon and just outside our nation’s capitol.  It was a beautiful day. The air was crisp and cool and the ground layered with the remnants of the recent snow storm.

Inside IJM headquarters - aka HQ -, you’ll find a quant, but inspirational photo gallery. The walls are lined with telling photographs of beautiful people who are part of IJM’s work abroad. Each face on each photo tells a different story of survival, of redemption and of justice at work.


Lauren Johnson, an IJM church mobilizer, met me in the gallery. Upon meeting Lauren, it was clear that God has orchestrated her life’s path perfectly by placing her at IJM during this time. She was a terrific host. After a tour of the floor offices, Lauren and I sat down and talked about human trafficking and the work brave work the associates of IJM are knee deep in.


Carrie: Lauren, thank you for having this conversation with me today about human trafficking in the world and what IJM is doing. I wonder if you could share with us a little about what your role is in the church mobilization department here at IJM?

Lauren: My team is responsible for sharing with US churches about our work and the Biblical call that we have as Christians to seek justice on behalf of the poor and the oppressed. We walk alongside churches as they build justice ministry into all aspects of their church, including missions, discipleship, evangelism, worship. In my particular role, I resource churches with tools that will help them along in their own journey and keep them updated on IJM’s frontline casework around the world.. I also assist IJM speakers who travel to churches in the US to share about God’s call to justice with diverse congregations around the country.


Carrie: How do you share about the work that IJM is doing and about this global issue of human trafficking and modern day slavery without paralyzing or scaring people?

Lauren: Well, we try to communicate a message of hope because the facts and realities are startling. National Geographic estimates there are 27 million slaves today and UNICEF estimates that there are about 2 million children exploited in the sex industry. Those are hard numbers to hear. But we also communicate that our God is big, and he’s bigger than even these statistics. He sees every person trapped in slavery. In scripture we see that he wants to redeem them and bring them out of the oppression. We also share stories of IJM clients who have been rescued from slavery or violent oppression. A big part of my job is sharing these stories of hope about God’s goodness and God’s grace. We have seen many incredible stories of rescue. Our field staff who do God’s work on the front lines are also a source of encouragement.


Carrie:  What do you say to those who believe that modern day slavery is something that only happens in the developing world?

Lauren: We at IJM see that modern day slavery thrives in areas of the world where there is an absence of the rule of law, which makes it very easy for people to be trapped in slavery and for people to run businesses with slaves. But you are right; it does happen all over the world. I know you are writing this column about slavery happening in the U.S. and we’re grateful that you’re raising awareness of this issue. IJM’s particular area of expertise is working in areas where the public justice system is not functioning, so we do not conduct casework in the U.S., but slavery does exist in our country. Thank you for what you’re doing to equip people to fight it.


Carrie: Are there things that Americans living here in the US can do to lessen the demand of trafficking in the US and overseas?

Lauren: The first thing that comes to mind is what we are doing with our Justice Campaigns. We, as citizens of the United States of America are in very powerful positions to influence our leaders. So we’ve been asking people to contact their Senators and Representatives in congress and ask that they support measures against human trafficking and make decisions that will help people in the developing world who are victims of slavery and child exploitation. We are specifically asking people to ask their representatives to support exciting legislation called the Child Protection Compact Act (CPCA). If this bill is passed, it will give extra funds to the United States State Department’s Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Office to help them fight child slavery and child exploitation. So that would be the first thing that comes to mind. Another thing would be to consider the things we are purchasing. An organization that comes to mind is Trade As One, which is an organization that helps the Christian community think about the way they purchase items and use their spending power.


Carrie: How would you encourage ConversantLife users to get involved with IJM?

Lauren:  I’ll start with the Justice Campaign since I already talked a little about that.  You can ask your representatives in Washington to stand up for victims of trafficking around the world - just visit IJM's Justice Campaigns to get started.  This really makes a difference.  Also, we recognize this work is impossible without God’s help, so we take very seriously our need of prayer. We have Prayer Partners all around the world praying for us and we need more people join us in praying for our clients and casework. You can sign up to be a prayer partner on our website. Also, as a non-profit we encourage folks to support us financially.  Our donors are vital partners in this work and paying for the rescue the poor cannot afford is a really valuable way to engage in the work of justice. We have a monthly giving program called the Freedom Partner Program – that is fantastic – you can invest in a certain area of the world or particular casework type.  


Carrie: Our last question comes from a ConversantLife user. Ridley would like to know how IJM balances fighting for justice while at the same time exercising compassion and Christ’s love for those who are inflicting the injustice?

Lauren: That’s a really great question. One important thing that we do at IJM is that we pray for the perpetrators. We recognize that like all of us, they are created in the image of God and we know that our Father is longing for their reconciliation to Him. So that’s what we pray for. We also believe that to treat the perpetrators with love is to restrain their hands from inflicting pain upon other people. We do celebrate the hope and healing of our victims but we obviously do not celebrate the pain inflicted upon them by the life of the perpetrator. But, we see an obvious call to seek justice and restrain the hand of people who are oppressing others.


Carrie: Lauren I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with me about this issue and about what IJM is doing to fight for justice on behalf of the oppressed and enslaved. IJM’s work is truly inspiring and I believe that your mission is a kingdom one that is obedient to the call for justice we know our God desires for all his people. Thank you so much for your words of encouragement and press on with your good works for the Lord.

Lauren: Thank you. It is really exciting to walk with God in this journey of seeking justice on behalf of the oppressed. Justice is an aspect of God’s character that really is an exciting and challenging component of Christianity and of our faith walk. So I just encourage everybody to investigate justice ministries and see how God might be calling us to use our own resources, gifts, and power to rescue and bless those who are being oppressed.


Thanks for checking out the interview . I’d love to hear from you regarding any comments you have or questions related to this interview with Lauren.


Be Blessed!


Great interview. I have great respect for IJM and the work they do. I interviewed Gary last year for a book and he was dead on.

Yea I was bummed Gary wasn't in the office the day I was visiting. Next time! Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment! I'm enjoying your columns!

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I want to quickly say thank you for asking my question at the IJM interview, as it is one that plagued me for quite some time. Her answer to the question I submitted, that out of love we restrain the perpetrator's hands, is a beautiful and thoughtful one.
I just wanted to post that, to give my thanks, and I will post some more a little later tonight.
Muchas gracias,

Andrew, De Nada! Your question was a fantastic one and I'm glad you asked me to ask IJM. I agree that Lauren's response to your question was full of love and grace and truth. It was great! Thanks again and I look forward to hearing more from you on this insanely huge issue.


I was reading a book called the Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster, and in the foreword written by D. Elton Trueblood it says this,

“The greatest problems of our times are not technological, for these we handle fairly well. They’re not even political or economic, because the difficulties in these areas, glaring as they may be, are largely derivative. The greatest problems are moral and spiritual, and unless we can make some progress in these realms, we may not even survive.”

Therefore, inviting people to know Christ and people coming to know Christ is the only way that the problems of this world will be alleviated. Granted, this is Trueblood’s opinion, I believe it is a biblical one and the truth at that.

I guess this fact is what brought about the friction or difficulty in answering my own question about how far we take justice into our hands. You see, if it is Christ that changes people, and creates new hearts, and forgives, then what need is there for us to resist an evil man, or to try and bring him to justice through our own institutions? If the sin he commits is derivative of a greater problem, shouldn’t we be trying to fix the cause (lack of Christ), instead of the effect (slavery, human trafficking, injustice)? Of course we should. But it is in trying to remedy the effect of sin, through Christ, that the cause is overcome as well, and the perpetrator transformed by God’s grace. (I hope that made sense). That is the major thought I have gleaned from your interview with Lauren.

We also have a responsibility to the physical wellbeing of the oppressed which also shows the love of Christ, as it is sharing the gospel in deed.

James 2:15-16, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”

I am convinced that this passage doesn’t just end at feeding the brother or sister, but making sure that they are safe and protected.

To sum up my thoughts, it is not primarily in our pursuit of justice that we should support organizations like IJM, but in our pursuit of love. The justice sought in these cases will bring about a needed change in society, a change that protects the innocent and oppressed (Isaiah 41). However, it is the love that is at the root of seeking justice, and not just the hope for justice itself, that will bring about an eternal change of heart for the sinner and the sinned against.

Isaiah 58:6-7:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Thanks for your hard work and service. I love in the bible when God is speaking with the Devil about Job, and God refers to him as "My servant". God says, "Have you considered my servant?" I think that may be one of the most personally meaningful things I have ever read in regards to our relationship with God. That we are something to God. That we mean something to God. That in light of all existence and all creation He knows us, and we come to His mind in regards to how much He values us. How special is that?!

It is fantastic that you are wrestling with understanding how to love and seek justice. Keep asking your thoughtful questions and seeking God and his kingdom above all else and he will reveal more of who he is to you which will continue to reshape and transform you as his beloved "servant."

Your first point about the root cause of sin versus the effect of sin is a good one. One of the aspects to God's truth that amazes me the most, is that he uses people like you and me to carry out his justice and his ways here on this Earth. Obviously he doesn't need us and yet he makes it very clear throughout scripture, with the climax being the Gospel, that it is you and me who he chooses to stop injustices.

You mentioned Is. 58 here. I am actually preparing a post using that passage as an example of how God feels about this issue and about our responce. I think you may have answered your own question by referring to that passage. Fasting is worship. Therefore, the kind of worship God desires from us, is the carry out his command in that passage. What's beautiful about it is that in a few versus there he tells us how to care for the oppressed and he reveals a host of promises for those who choose to worship him in this way. I would encourage you to continue to meditate on that passage for sometime and really allow God's heart for justice to pierce yours.

You sum it up well Andrew by acknowledging both love and justice and love of justice. Continue your good works for the Lord and watch him fulfill all his promises to you. Thanks again for your participation in the interview!

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I drink coffee, read books, and travel. I’ve been able to drink coffee and discuss books with friends all over the world, simply because someone built a bridge and I made it east of the Mississippi and beyond. For this reason, I love bridges.