God-given Rights

1 Comment » Written on February 24th, 2015     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
Evelmyn Ivens was born in Mexico and moved to the United States during her teenage years. Graduated from North Park Theological Seminary in 2013 with a MA in Theological Studies and works at the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) in Chicago. Evelmyn has lived in Los Angeles, CA, Washington, DC, and Chicago, IL, enjoys traveling and learning about other cultures. She’s passionate about issues of immigration, hunger, poverty, and human trafficking.


A couple of weeks ago I was watching A Path Appears, a three-part documentary that looks into gender inequality in the U.S. and around the globe. If you haven’t heard of it, I encourage you to take a look here. After watching the first part, which discusses human trafficking and prostitution in the U.S. I couldn’t help to think about my trip to Thailand with North Park’s Global Partnerships (http://www.northpark.edu/Global-Partnerships). Even though this trip was so transforming, there’s something that I think about often and that I still struggle to process.

During the last part of our trip we had the opportunity to connect with a woman who serves women and men of Bangkok’s Red-light district. It was heartbreaking to see mostly young women, been used in such a way, and that only God knows their pain and suffering. Right before that trip to Thailand I wrote a paper for seminary on the immigrant church and human trafficking, so I share with you all an excerpt of that paper:

Human trafficking is considered to be modern-day slavery that holds captive between 12 million and 27 million people into lives of forced labor and sexual exploitation. Meaning that there are more people enslaved today than in any other time in history. It is astonishing to think that the average cost of a slave in 1850 in the Southern United States was approximately close to $40,000 (current approximation) and today the average cost is of about $100. According to Daniel Groody, each year nearly 800,000 persons are trafficked across borders, eighty percent of these are women and fifty percent are minors. The statistics reveal that more than a million children are annually exploited for commercial sex trade. Human trafficking is a very profitable business and with globalization the problem has worsened because it has expanded to new markets.

Even though human trafficking could be grouped in a number of ways, there are four main categories, 1) forced labor, 2) bonded labor, 3) child labor, and 4) sex trafficking. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) most of the people that are trafficked are victims of forced labor, or involuntary servitude. These individuals are pressured to work against their will and violently threatened and punished. They are obligated to jobs in agriculture, sweatshops, janitorial work, service industry, domestic work, or begging. Migrants are often more vulnerable to what is referred as bonded labor. In most cases migrant workers come from situations of extreme poverty and in the process of migrating incur transportation debt. This debt is owed to the traffickers, who demand labor as repayment. In some instances workers can even acquire their ancestors’ debts, and live in enslavement their entire lives. The traffic of humans not only includes adults, but children as well. The International Labor Organization states that about 246 million children between 5 and 17 years of age are exploited around the world. These children are subjected to debt bondage, prostitution, and pornography, to become child soldiers, or get involved in illegal arms trade. Finally, sexual exploitation is a form of human trafficking as well. Women and girls are forced into prostitution and many times remain in prostitution until they pay off their debt. They are usually promised opportunities of marriage, employment, education, or better financial lives; however, they soon find themselves tricked into working in strip clubs, pornography, and other forms of sexual exploitation.

The issue of human trafficking is global and the criminals from around the world target the desperate, those living in poverty, and the vulnerable. Trafficking not only strips people of their human rights and basic freedoms, but it also exposes them to physical and emotional abuse, also threats against themselves and their families. Groody states, “global ethic needs to address the wounds inflicted upon the innermost being of victims and their struggle to rebuild their lives in order to rediscover what it means to live freely as humans beings created in the image and likeness of God.” In his book Justice: Rights and Wrongs, Nicholas Wolterstorff asks the question of whether the image of God or the divine mandate or blessing can ground natural human rights.

Wolterstorff first interprets the image of God through what he calls capacity-resemblance lines. He gives the example of those individuals who suffer from Alzheimer’s and states that “while those who bear the image do have a truly exalted status in the cosmic scale of beings, not all human beings possess that image.” Then he interprets the image of God along nature-resemblance lines, and explains that while all humans possess the image, possessing it does not give its bearers a very exalted status. Wolterstorff concludes that the interpretation of imago dei cannot be read through capacity-resemblance lines nor nature-resemblance lines because then the image of God turns out to be inadequate. He argues that in order to have theistic foundation of natural human rights; we have to understand it through the lens of love. Wolterstorff, continues on to say that “being loved by God gives a human being great worth. And if God loves equally and permanently each and every creature who bear the imago dei, the relational property of being loved by God is what we have been looking for.” If God loves human beings equally and permanently, then human rights are granted by that love. In other words those who suffer from human trafficking are bestowed of natural human rights because they are loved by God. However, criminals take those God-given rights.

The question is, how does the church need to respond to this? The greatest commandment in the Scriptures is “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matt. 22:37) Then Jesus continues on to say “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:39) For those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ these words may not seem as radical. However, some Christians still believe that love and worship of God, is the highest command for believers. Yet, biblical mandate is to care for our neighbors, and to care for the least of these. As a community of faith we need to reciprocate the love we receive from our creator. It needs to be a just love. In Justice in Love, Nicholas Wolterstorff states that, “love for another seeks to secure that she be treated justly by oneself and others – that her rights be honored, that she be treated in a way that befits her worth.”

Let us pray for those around the world, whose God-given rights have been taken away, Lord, hear our prayers.


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One Response to “God-given Rights”

Evelmyn my heart continues to break and I pray without ceasing for the broken in our world; whether oppressor or victim, my heart simply breaks. Praying with you for deliverance of both the oppressor and the victims, the innocent and those who practice evil – that the power of the Holy Spirit would bring healing and restoration like only God can.

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