Millions of people are continually being displaced and the statistics tell us that approximately 50 million of them are trapped in some form of modern slavery. Workers are needed across the world and here in the UK to speak into this situation and, as Jesus says in Luke 4, to bring liberty to the captives and proclaim God’s peace by challenging the negation of human dignity and personhood that is destroyed by the practice of modern-day slavery. To engage with this work is to proclaim that “the Kingdom of God is indeed near to us.”
Throughout scripture, in both the Old and the New Testament, we see and experience a God who is interested in the lives of those who are most vulnerable in our world: the orphans, widows and aliens. Those who are displaced from their homes and come to our shores seeking asylum or who come as refugees. Because refugees are vulnerable, they are at risk of being targeted by criminal gangs and drawn into modern slavery and exploitation. This is happening more and more and awareness is low.
The God we serve continues to be interested in those who are most vulnerable. Earlier this year, for our Maundy Thursday service of renewal of vows in the cathedral, one of my priests who did not show up for that service, later shared with me that, he had learnt that the coast guards were coming in, having rescued people in the channel. He said, “I grabbed towels and dried clothes and rushed down to the shore. There I found myself on my knees, drying the feet of the many who had been rescued.” That is Jesus, present in their midst. And that is a great reason not to be in the cathedral renewing one’s vows!
In that moment, the action of the local priest was making real the words of the prophet Isaiah: “‘Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come…’”
In Kent where I am based, we have seen first-hand those arriving on our shores and seen the vital role of agencies such as Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN), The Clewer Initiative, The Anti-Slavery Collective and the many other organisations who are working to bring a halt to modern day slavery. Through work like this, we too can be encouraged to be messengers of God’s peace.
As God’s church, we are suitably placed not only to speak into these situations but to be the change we wish to see by welcoming and embracing the stranger; by giving a sense of belonging to those who are lost; by treating the vulnerable with dignity and respect and by doing all that we can to educate a world and a society that is often indifferent to the needs of the vulnerable; being Christ-like in our words and our actions.
Let us play our part in making the Kingdom of God a reality on the Kent coastline, in our world, and our communities.
This month, as we mark Anti-Slavery Day, please join me in praying that together we can make modern day slavery something for the history books, and rejoice in saying “The kingdom of God has come near to all of us.”