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October 06 - CMS

Some 200 years ago there were 4 million slaves.  By 2007, there will be over 20 million. Now is the time, says CMS, for British Christians to fight slavery with as much fervour as they did two centuries ago.

March 25, 2007 will mark 200 years since William Wilberforce and others gained a major victory in their campaign to end the transatlantic slave trade.

While it is a time to celebrate that great achievement, it is also important to remember that slavery is far from over.

Since Wilberforce’s day, brothels have replaced cotton fields. Galley slaves have been traded for child soldiers. And many people spend their entire lives in bonded service. Most of today’s 20 million slaves are women and children, like Sabina. 

Sabina’s Story

As a young girl in Bangladesh, Sabina dreamt of helping her family overcome their poverty. Unable to afford school, she stayed at home to help her mother clean houses in exchange for food. One day an Indian woman visited their home.

Sabina recalls: “She told me: ‘If you come with me, I'll give you a better job. So come with me, but don't tell anyone.’”

The idea of having work was tempting to Sabina. “One day, I told my parents that I'm just going out with this auntie and I'll be back very soon.

“I was thinking that if I can get a job, I can save money and even marry someone really good in India.”

But when they crossed the border, Sabina’s ‘auntie’ left her with another woman, who locked Sabina in a room by herself.  For the next seven days, 12-year-old Sabina was beaten and raped repeatedly by as many as 10-15 men a day. 

When the week was up and her will was broken, Sabina was forced to work in a brothel. “During the day I did all the housework. At night I was forced to give company to the men who came.”

Sabina endured years of abuse and torture before she finally escaped.

Every year, thousands of girls are tricked, trafficked and trapped into sex slavery. Last year, their plight became the focal point for CMS’s Setting Captives Free campaign. CMS missionaries work with the Church of Bangladesh to raise awareness of sex trafficking and offer women opportunities to start businesses, so they aren’t vulnerable to those who would sell them to the highest bidder.

The campaign continues

The Setting Captives Free campaign began in 2003, with CMS focusing people’s attention on child soldiers enslaved in Northern Uganda. In 2007, this anti-slavery movement will continue in conjunction with the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slave trade.

Anti-slavery is a key part of CMS’s tradition, as William Wilberforce was one of their founders. According to CMS General Secretary Tim Dakin, Wilberforce’s vision fuels Setting Captives Free today.

“The year 2007 is a time for us to celebrate the brave actions of Christians in the past, but it also provides a time to urge Christians toward action today.”

Just as Christians 200 years ago used rallies, petitions, leaflets and lobbying to bring about change, CMS is committed to putting modern slavery on the national agenda through a series of special events designed to raise awareness among people of all ages. 

African Snow

At the heart of Setting Captives Free 2007 is African Snow, a powerful play commissioned by CMS. Set in the 19th century and told through the eyes of black abolitionist Equiano Olaudeh and white slave trader John Newton, African Snow uses the lens of the past to drive home the reality of slavery today, and the hope for change the Gospel provides.

Written by Murray Watts and performed by Riding Lights Theatre Company, African Snow will be premiered in York next spring and then embark on a national tour.

Free for All

For younger people, CMS and Big Intent Theatre Company are launching Free for All, a Cathedral Tour that will reach about 50,000 people.

The Free for All programme consists of a week-long drama, music and dance workshop for children that culminates in a public presentation of a poignant play about slavery.

As children rehearse Free for All, they explore the abolitionist movement and the continuing story of slavery today. Free for All is currently set to tour 30 cities between 2006 and 2008. Previews were hailed as “A performance that brought a lump to the throat.” (The Church Times)

Slavery Then and Now

CMS has also partnered with the Citizenship Foundation, renowned for their excellent school curriculum, to create Slavery Then and Now. This educational resource will be going into every secondary state school in Scotland and England and will be available for schools in the private sector.

London-based Pastor Agu Irukwu spoke of how much this curriculum is needed: “I [recently] told my eight-year-old son I was coming to the Houses of Parliament to talk about slavery. He said to me: ‘But I thought slavery was over.’”

CMS is out to change this perception in 2007 through each of these programmes and through sharing stories like Sabina’s. Though slavery continues to be “a weed that grows on every soil”, CMS is praying Christians will unite in an effort to cut it off at its roots.

How to get involved in Setting Captives Free:

•    The play’s the thing … help capture the conscience of the nation by attending or supporting the powerful play African Snow.
•    Children can get involved, too … through Free for All, an interactive drama, music and dance workshop that culminates in a captivating public performance.
•    The more you know … The Slavery Then and Now curriculum will help students explore and apply lessons learned from the history of slavery to issues of today.
•    For churches … CMS is creating dynamic resources to help churches make the most of Setting Captives Free in their communities.

Visit for more information on all Setting Captives Free events and activities, or call 0207 928 8681


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