Last night I witnessed something unspeakable. I sit with tears in my eyes even now as I write this. I have heard stories about the centuries old slave trade, heard about conditions on board the slave ships, seen posters advertising slave markets, and watched movies where such atrocities are shown, but none of that compared to what I saw last night with my own eyes. I saw real live human beings in chains, dragged onto an auction block. I saw a pregnant woman being sold as property, two for one. I heard the scream of a man branded with a hot iron. I was so close I could literally see tears in people’s eyes. I cried, but did not move. I sat riveted to my seat because this was not real; this was Broadway. This was the new musical Amazing Grace, the story of John Newton –slaver turned abolitionist – who wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace.” Here is what I was reminded of last night.
1. Slavery Isn’t Over
There are real slaves today. The slave-markets may look different – today it is mostly online and/or done in secret – but the buying-and-selling of human beings as property still exists. It is estimated that 29 million people all around the world are held in slavery today, including throughout the United States: men, women, and children. Slavery is different now than it was back then, it is worse. Back then, human beings were bought and sold primarily to the wealthy because it cost several years’ wages to buy a slave. While the treatment of slaves was unbelievably inhumane and cruel, slaves were still considered an investment. Today’s slaves are so cheap that your child could probably buy a slave with the money in their piggy bank. According the CNN freedom project, the average price of a slave in 1809 was $40,000 (adjusted for today’s economy) whereas in 2009 it was $90. Today an entire family can be enslaved for a debt of less than $20.
2. The people are real
I have read books and articles, watched movies, seen pictures, but seeing the dramatization of this with real people brought that home to me like nothing else could. Slaves all around the world are people. They are someone’s child, parent, sibling. Babies are born into slavery; girls are kidnapped and sold into brothels; men are tricked into labor camps. The brutality I witnessed on the stage is happening around the world today and on a far greater scale; it is darker and more inhumane than what could be shown on stage. Real people, real families: torn apart.
3. The fight is a fight worth fighting
The abolitionists understood the dangers of the fight in which they were engaging, but chose to fight because it was something they could not ignore in good conscience. Christian men and women who truly grasped the depravity of the slave trade and understood that all people had innate value as children of God could not just sit back and do nothing. They did all that was in their power to serve God through righting this wrong. Today that fight is still worth fighting.
4. It’s a fight that can be won
While slavery still exists today, slavery is illegal in every nation of the world. In the 1700’s that was the complete opposite. Slavery was an institution that existed within the boundaries of the law and was often promoted by lawmakers across the globe. The fight to end slavery would be comparable in scope as say a fight to eliminate all forms of religion from society. It was everywhere, supported by powerful people, accepted as just the way things were, and so intricately sewn into the social fabric of that day that its elimination could very well have unraveled the British Empire. Yet abolitionists changed all that. While they had been working for years prior, the real beginning to the abolitionist movement is considered to be 1783 and the British Empire abolished all slavery in 1833. That’s 50 years. A complete change in the thinking of the people, the laws of the land, and the function of society as a whole took place in only 50 years. If they could accomplish all of that without the benefits of the modern telecommunications we have available, what could we do? This is a fight we can win.
5. You can be used
God can use you to do amazing things if you are willing to follow Him where He leads, even if it seems kind of crazy. you have gifts that are needed. Whether your gifts are musical, scientific, athletic, (fill in the blank) ____________ you have gifts that not only can be used, but need to be used. And if you aren’t sure you have the needed skill to do a task, God has them and He is more than able to equip you for any task to which He calls you. Find your passion, find your gifts, and put them together. The fight can’t be won on a single front, it must be won on every front: Churches, governments, media, entertainment, business, agriculture, and on and on.
If you are anywhere in the New York City area it is most definitely worth every penny to see this moving musical, Amazing Grace. The story told here is a story worth telling; the injustice they were fighting is a fight we still need to fight.
If you can see the show. If you can’t read more about John Newton’s life. Then join the fight.