How I love to proclaim it!
Redemption is one of those words that most of us use rather flippantly. Paul, the apostle, used the term because in the first century, slavery was an accepted practice and everyone fully understood what an unfathomable gift to a slave their redemption would be. But you and I have always been free. Particularly as Americans, our freedoms are “inalienable” and “endowed by our Creator”. By nature of birth, we’re free. Unfortunately, that’s not the case everywhere, and in many parts of the world, redemption is only a distant dream and an unanswered prayer.
I just witnessed the redemption of 300 Southern Sudanese slaves. Yes, there are slaves today. In fact, including those held in the sex trade, there are more slaves today than at any time in history. During the 22 year civil war between North and South Sudan, it is estimated that as many as 200,000 Southern Sudanese (African Christian) children and women were taken into slavery by the Northern (Arab Muslim) population.
Our team left our campsite in Wanyjok, Southern Sudan, and drove north, finally turning off the road and following a track that was originally a goat path until we got to “the big tree” – there we saw the 300 men, women and children, huddled together, unsure of what was happening. When we arrived – four white guys with a Dinka translator – their tension level ratcheted up a few notches. These are slaves – they didn’t know what was going on. Maybe they were being sold to new masters… or even worse.
We stood before them and explained that there was nothing to be afraid of, that we were sent by Jesus to secure their freedom. That today was a day of celebration, and not of horror. Today we’d kill a steer and have a feast to honor the end of their days of servitude. (great for them, sucked for the steer)
A shout of joy went up – a shout as only you will hear in Africa! Women doing that high pitched, shrill, vocal warbling thing, and men breaking into a foot stomping chant with confused babies and children resorting to crying. It was joyous bedlam.
Then we heard their stories – every one was interviewed – sadly, we’ve heard the stories before (repeated rape, mutilation, attempted murder, beating, fingers cut off, skulls bashed in, eyes blinded – by their Arab Muslim masters) but there’s always one that makes me put down the camera, find my own patch of shade, and cry. This time she was 23 – just two years older than my own daughter Tori – when I talked with her, she was holding a baby fathered by her slave master. During her enslavement, she had been genitally mutilated, raped repeatedly, gang raped 5 times, beaten, violently compelled to convert to Islam, forced to watch another slave be killed as punishment, and her own life repeatedly threatened – with the marks to prove it.
And then, she realized the beatings are over, the rapes will only exist in her nightmares, and she was free. We both were in tears – two ex-slaves, now redeemed as a free gift of grace – and almost speechless at knowing how to proclaim it.