“My name is Janice and I am a Fijian Indian woman. I have one sister and four brothers. I was married at age 20; it was an arranged marriage because in my culture we have to respect our parents and so I got married. I now have two children. In Fiji, women stay at home, this is what I had to do. In 2004, my marriage broke up. I moved to live with my brother and I had to start looking for a job. I found a vacancy for a housekeeper with an Indian Fijian family.
I worked for this family for more than one year and then they asked me to move to Australia, they promised to help me get permanent residency, that I will be paid and that later I can bring my children. I trusted them. My son got sick and I came to Australia to earn money to support him.
When I arrived I lived in Sydney with the family that brought me here. They told me to do all the housework and I started doing this work the day after I arrived. After two weeks, they took my passport and said it was needed to apply for permanent residency, so I gave it to them, I thought they would help me. I did not know anything; I do not know this country’s laws. They did not tell me anything, they didn’t give me any wages at all. They were always fighting about money so I was afraid to ask them for my wages.
I worked seven days a week from 7am till 10pm. I had no breaks; I did all the housework and took care of the dogs. I had to do everything. For example – they would never put their clothes in the laundry basket. I worked very hard. They used to threaten me, swear at me, I had set times to eat and could only eat certain things.
I was in the house for three years. I couldn’t contact my family, as they had a pin number on the phone. I couldn’t leave; they held not only my passport, but the power and control of my life. I had no choices, no freedom.
A neighbour use to visit four days a week and she saw me crying and working hard, and the boys fighting with me one day picking them up from school, she didn’t like it and I asked her to help me. I didn’t see her after that, but maybe she called immigration. Later, Immigration came to the house to help me leave.
When Immigration came, the family tried to hide me in the small tool room with a padlock but I didn’t go in – I was scared to.
I met Jenny and The Salvation Army through Immigration. The Salvation Army helped me with many things. I didn’t have money, they gave me accommodation to live, they looked after me and they cared. They are very friendly people, very good people.
I am happy now. I was allowed to study. I have completed my Aged Care Certificate 3 and I am now looking for a job. I am doing volunteer work with The Salvation Army and am a soldier of The Salvation Army. I am also learning to play a flugel horn. I am able to talk to people and communicate. I have new friends and attend church. I have learnt new things and have independence.
I had a very hard time in the house for three years and I’m thinking that a lot of people in this country are still being trafficked. I want to help people. They need freedom; they should be able to live their own lives. We want the public to support us and the people who are in situations like we were. We want the government to listen to our voices so that this does not continue to happen to others.
Freedom to me means that I have a voice, I am free to go anywhere we want to, I am able to do things by myself, I have confidence in myself and I can do more with my life and help others.
Knowing Jesus means having lots of patience. When I began fasting I asked God to open the doors for me and towards the end of my fasting Immigration came to the house. I’m very happy – step by step moving forward.”
We are shocked by such stories. At least most of us are. I would think that in general people in the Western world are anti-slavery. For most of us, this seems a self-evident truth, a no brainer as we say. Not only are we against it, I think most of us would say that every human being has the right to freedom, that each of us has all sorts of rights and personal liberty is a pretty fundamental one.
The odd thing is, slavery and freedom seems to have a mixed heritage in Christianity. To be a slave, in some sense at least, is what it means to be a Christian. In his letter to the Romans, Paul opens by declaring himself a slave of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1). And it’s not just Paul. Jesus said that whoever wants to be first must be a “slave to all” (Mark 10:44).
But of course it gets even messier. Paul said to the early Christians, if you’re a slave be a good slave (Eph 6:5). What’s more, he urged the slave Onesimus to return to his owner, encouraging Philemon to be a good master to his reformed slave. And yet, conversely, it is Paul who rather radically states, that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female” (Gal. 3:28).
I think we can understand Paul. Like most first generation Christians, he thought that Jesus was coming again very soon, almost certainly in his lifetime. If he had known of our existence two thousand years on I suspect he would have been shocked. For Paul there was no time to reform the Roman world, so it didn’t cross his mind to do so. I’m happy to excuse him. But I think we also need to recognize, and celebrate, that this very fact makes Paul’s statement in Galatians, a very early Christian letter, even more remarkable.
For it was this key thought, that we are all equal in Christ, that we all matter equally to Christ that eventually leads to slavery being outlawed in Christian countries. I have to say eventually because it took an embarrassingly long time. Nevertheless, Paul’s contention that in Christ there was “neither slave nor free” started a canonical conversation that ended up with anti-slavery laws in every western democracy. And it was evangelical Christians who were at the forefront in Great Britain and the USA of the movement to abolish slavery.
And Jesus would have wanted them to be there! In Luke’s gospel Jesus ministry commenced with him quoting the great prophet Isaiah, and declaring that,
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:18-19)
Not only that, Jesus then said, “today this if fulfilled in your hearing”. Jesus himself, Jesus who is the good news, not just announces the good news, reveals his Father’s justice and righteousness. And we have to take that seriously, freedom for the prisoners and release for the oppressed. Our Lord is here with us, we continue his ministry, and we must work for his kingdom, to make it a reality.
And in one sense we have listened to his words. We have embraced freedom. But too often it has only been half the story. A great deal of what we talk about in Christianity is freedom on the inside. We understand Jesus’ words metaphorically. So freedom is about freedom from sin, freedom from abuse, freedom from selfish desires, freedom from all that would hinder our growth as Christian people. And all these types of freedoms are a good and necessary. We need to work for and celebrate freedom on the inside for ourselves and for others. Read what Paul says in Romans 6. Here once again he is using the language of slavery. “Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness” (Rom 6:19), he says. We should want to be slaves such as this. I want to be a slave to God, which leads to holiness, which leads to eternal life. And I hope you do too! We must never forget that Christianity is intensely personal.
But we must also never forget that Christianity is not just personal. We must embrace the other half of the freedom message. Nicholas Wolterstorff once wrote:
“The word of the Lord and the cries of the people join in calling us to do more than count our blessings, more than shape our inwardness, more than reform our thoughts. They call us to struggle for a new society in the hope and expectation that the goal of our struggle will ultimately be granted us.”*
One of the outcomes of the last 400 years of the enlightenment, particularly for Protestants, is that life has become more and more about the individual. And that’s secular life, not just the Christian life. We, in the west, have arrived at the rather strange notion that “I am a bundle of rights”, that it’s all about me and what works for me, which somehow ignores that each of us is also part of a community, that each of us is a self in relation, and we cannot be otherwise. Unfortunately, for many of us Christians, our faith has become more and more interior, more about faith inside. “It’s what’s in my heart,” we say, or, “that’s between me and God”.
And so, faith becomes a matter of individual decision and individual conscience. And that is not enough. Nicholas was correct. The word of the Lord and the cries of the people call us to do more! New Testament writer James said “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:18). Well, what are our deeds? What have I done today, this week this month, that has helped someone find freedom of any sort?
We need to embrace all that freedom means, not just on the inside, but on the outside as well. Not just in our hearts, but in the world around us. Hundreds of thousands of people, mainly women and children, that is, vulnerable marginalised people, who may have never lived in a family, or culture, or context that paid the least heed to Paul’s famous words, are being bought and sold as commodities. Abused and powerless they need our help. And their cries, although often unheard, call us to action. Our Master would want us to respond. We are his Kingdom agents. The responsibility is ours, those of us who have known only comfort, security, and freedom, both inside (in our hearts) and outside (in our community), to take action.
In Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female” (Gal. 3:28). May God himself, the author of freedom, revealed in his Son, be at work in our hearts through his Spirit and thus in our world through us. Let us take the opportunity glorify our Lord and Master through actively helping the oppressed find freedom. Your Kingdom come in our hearts and in our world Lord. Amen.
Topical sermon by Captain Grant Sandercock-Brown, Salvation Army