Could today’s slaves become tomorrow’s mission visionaries? CMS takes a look at what can happen when justice and mission meet
Ajayi was about 15 years old the last time he saw his father.
The day had dawned “fair and delightful” Ajayi later recalled, but by nightfall his Yorubaland town had been ravaged and his family torn apart.
He last remembers his father urging his wife and children to flee, but there was no refuge. Before long they were overtaken by slave raiders, who threw nooses of rope around their captives’ necks, tied them together and led them away like cattle. Their lives were no longer their own.
The year was 1821. It was a time of chaos and disorder, when regional wars abounded and innocent lives were casualties of conflict. A time not unlike the present.
Although William Wilberforce’s Parliamentary Act of 1807 had made the slave trade illegal, it didn’t stamp it out. There were still profits to be made supplying slaves to the Americas. Ajayi was eventually separated from his mother and sisters and sold to Portuguese slave traders.
The British navy functioned as an international police force, patrolling the African coast and apprehending slave ships. In April 1822, they intercepted a slave ship off the west coast of Africa. On board among an uprooted, disoriented human “cargo” was Ajayi. He and the rest of the people on the ship were taken to Freetown, Sierra Leone, and released.
But the story does not end there. Little did Ajayi realise that within a few years he would convert to Christianity, change his name and embark on a life path that would eventually lead him to become Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the first African Anglican bishop and a pioneer in mission.
It was through CMS that Crowther received his education and ordination, which was appropriate given that CMS was born out of the anti-slavery movement and William Wilberforce was one of the organisation’s founders.
As Britain commemorates the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade, Samuel Crowther is a figure of hope, not only because of his remarkable achievements (which include translating the Bible into the Yoruba language), but because he personified the power of physical and spiritual freedom.
In Crowther’s own words, “about the third year of my liberation from the slavery of man, I was convinced of another worse state of slavery, namely, that of sin and Satan”.
According to Tim Dakin, CMS General Secretary, “Crowther’s words speak down the centuries of spiritual and social freedom”. It is for both kinds of redemption that CMS continues to work today.
Out of his experience as a slave who became free, Crowther became an example of redemption in all of its dimensions, and despite many obstacles he spent the rest of his life taking this message of redemption to others.
Could it be that among the 20 million people enslaved today, there are many who could become contemporary Crowthers?
It’s certainly something to consider as Christians unite together to end slavery in all its modern forms through efforts like the CMS Setting Captives Free 2007 campaign.
Modern forms of slavery include human trafficking, sex slavery, child soldiers and bonded labourers who work in unacceptable conditions for substandard pay. Drug addiction is considered by many to be another current form of slavery.
It is particularly in the realm of setting captives free from addiction where one can find many people who embody the Crowther spirit. For instance, Sergey Oshchepkov, founder of CMS partner Izhod (Exodus), was a drug addict for more than 20 years before he found freedom from dependency through faith in Jesus.
Wanting to help others experience that same freedom, Sergey and his wife Lilia opened the first Izhod drug rehabilitation centre in Krasnodar, southwest Russia in 2000. Today there are 27 Exodus centres throughout Russia and beyond, and Exodus has seen God liberate more than 4,000 people from slavery to addiction. Many of those set free go on to open new centres and churches.
Another example: in Bangladesh a former sex worker (wishing to remain anonymous) who has become a Christian is working among those who have been tricked, trapped and trafficked, to help get them out of the sex trade. Also, in parts of Africa, former child soldiers are coming to Christ, laying down their weapons and looking to become leaders in their communities.
Crowther’s legacy is a call to Christians worldwide to work for empowerment as well as physical and spiritual freedom. Emancipation can be just the beginning of an even greater work of redemption.
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