by Mark Russell
This month’s focus on New Hope Digital is modern slavery. From the 1500s through the 1800s, the Atlantic slave trade brought millions of men, women, and children from Africa to the New World. A mind-boggling human tragedy. Yet some commentators legitimately estimate that there are more people held in some form of slavery today than were enslaved during the entire period of the transatlantic trade.
Society, and particularly Christians, must respond to modern slavery in numerous ways. There are many things we can do. Yet instead of simply fighting to free existing slaves (in all the ways we can and should) I believe we need to work toward eliminating future slavery through personal empowerment.
Last month I traveled to Kenya. Through the years, many well-meaning organizations and entities have contributed massive amounts of charity to Africa in the hopes that it would move the continent forward from slavery to prosperity. But, in many cases, the results have been lacking.
One of the main reasons is that charity, in many of its forms, prohibits rather than promotes human empowerment. I have been to Africa numerous times and witnessed the impotence of some of these interventions.
On my latest visit though I was pleased to partner, through my church, with two organizations, Genesis World Mission and MAP International, that are empowering locals for the future. They refer to their model as the “total health village” concept.
The goal is not only to treat people who are sick, but also to provide the infrastructure that prevents people from getting sick in the first place. The intervention in this rural village operates under a set of principles that actually empowers people rather than accidentally indenturing them as many development programs do.
For example, water is obviously a resource that is necessary for humans to survive and thrive. For those of us who have it on a consistent and regular basis in nearly unlimited capacity, it is easy to forget water’s importance. We need it to drink, cook, clean, and more. We also need it to grow our food. This is true whether we are growing plants or raising animals.
In the small Kenyan village I visited, I toured two different fisheries. Both fisheries need water in order to grow fish. But there the similarities end. The contrast will illustrate my definition of empowerment.
The government of Kenya, in an act of charity, dug out the first fishery right next to a river. The owner of the land was not accountable for what he would produce with the fishery. Months later, the fishery is now bone dry with weeds growing in it.
Genesis and MAP, in an act of empowerment, told another man that if he dug a fishery, they would help him line it with plastic, so that it would last longer and keep fish in. The man lives a mile and a half from the river. By hand, he dug a fishery 17 feet deep and 35 feet long.
I was privileged to be there on the day when the plastic liner was placed in the fishery. I spoke with the owner and there was a glimmer in his eye that only comes from the pride of a job well done . . . from being empowered.
I have no doubt that he will overcome the challenge of getting water to his fishery and raising fish. He has already dug his own personal pond. Is he going to let that work go to waste?
On the other hand, the man who has a fishery next to the river will probably never do anything with it. He never worked for it and is not accountable for its production.
As followers of Christ, we should oppose poverty and human enslavement, and we should do so by promoting solutions that really work for the long term. We should encourage interventions that empower men and women to become, with dignity, a part of their own solutions.
—Editor’s note: For further exploration of this topic, you may want to listen to Andrea Mullins discuss the work of WorldCrafts. WorldCrafts works with local artisan groups worldwide to offer men and women sustainable, fair-trade employment, which alleviates long-term poverty.
Mark Russell, author of The Missional Entrepreneur, is a widely respected voice in the missional community. He has lived in Russia, Chile, and Germany, and has traveled to more than 70 countries to carry out a variety of business, educational, humanitarian, and religious projects. Contact Mark through www.russell-media.com; www.facebook.com/marklrussell; www.twitter.com/marklrussell.