Vistas Ahead: Confessions of an Abolitionist

“But I have discovered that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.” -Nelson Mandela

As an abolitionist, I find myself in a very strange position.  It is the same position that development workers, aid workers, human rights activists, and NGO volunteers face. I am trying to work myself out of a job.

I am currently reading Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, which talks about turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide.  The stories of brave women around the world who stare down fear, resist hopelessness, and overcome suffering leave me speechless. What would I do in their situation? Would I be willing to stand up for what is right without the security blanket of being a white, middle class North-American?

I don’t know.  I long for the answer to be yes.

What I do know is that the world is changing.  It is changing one story, one woman, one bold action at a time.  I hear of men standing up for women, teenagers fighting for their sisters, and mothers saving their daughters.  I hear about how communities that used to live in fear due to widespread and normalized sexual exploitation are now flourishing because women have been empowered.

To be sure, we have a tough road ahead before exploitation and sex trafficking come to an end. However I can’t help but feel hope when I hear of changed hearts and shifting cultural attitudes in regions around the world.  In the midst of being overwhelmed by the darkness and suffering that surrounds the topic of human trafficking, these moments of hope allow a somewhat selfish question to flash through my mind. Maybe some of you have experienced it too:

Once we deal with this issue, then what? What will I write about?  Will I be like a soldier coming home from war only to find that his skills are no longer needed?

Such thoughts remind me that my life is more than a cause to fight for.  I cannot define my purpose and worth solely by the injustice I am trying to eradicate.  If this were the case, I would not be willing to give the fight my all, because by seeking to save my purpose I will compromise their freedom.  If I truly want modern day slavery to end, I have to long for the day when I am no longer needed.

Though there is more than enough work to be done before we even get close to eradicating exploitation and trafficking of human beings, we must be willing to examine ourselves along the way. The process purifies our motives and forms us into more effective abolitionists.  It allows us to celebrate victories and move onto the next project as need arises.

We can be sure of one thing – no matter how many vistas we reach, there are always more hills to climb. Let us always move ahead with courage.

Have you ever wrestled with these thoughts?

Michelle Brock

photo credit Evgeni Dinev

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