It’s strange how small facts can change your life forever. If you hear that Americans spend $61 billion annually on pets, it may change how often you groom your dog. Or if you read a news report saying dark chocolate can be good for your heart, you might feel better about eating an entire bag of dark chocolate M&Ms.
The one small fact that changed my life forever was something I heard while taking a tour of Merkato, the world’s largest open-air market that also contains Addis Ababa’s prostitution district. After visiting the district, a friend held a quarter up and said, “This is wealth in this district. Most of those girls are sold for no more than this quarter.”
I remember how that statement shook me to the core. Multiple times every night for a quarter each time. How could it be that these girls were having their childhoods sold for almost nothing? That fact became an unyielding obstacle to my future. I would do anything to rescue my sister from the same situation. Why would I not do the same for these girls? Did their life hold any less value than my own or the lives of those I love? Their price tag seemed to indicate that their innocence wasn’t worth much more than a gumball.
I knew that doing nothing would not be an option. From that single fact about a quarter, my passion for rescuing slaves was born. Since that moment five years ago, we have been fighting for freedom through Beza Threads. I’ve become an “expert” in the topic of slavery, spreading the word about the appalling reality of modern-day slavery. I remember reading that the value of a slave has dropped from $40,000 to $90 since the height of the African slave trade in the 1800s. It is truly hard to believe that the average price to buy a life—not to rent, but to own—is only $90, and subconsciously I thought this was an exaggeration to drive action. But this last spring I was faced with the realization that this fact held true.
In April, I spent a few weeks in Ethiopia collaborating with our partner organization to work on our plans for this fall. I met Bjorn, a Swedish businessman in his 70s. He had been very successful in life and had been traveling the last 20 years around the world sharing the gospel and fighting extreme issues of poverty. Our organization rescues individuals from slavery through an underground system; however, Bjorn was there to literally buy freedom outright. Solving world issues is a complex process, but changing a single life is often simple.
Bjorn had brought $3,600 with him to Ethiopia and he set out to haggle with slave owners to buy freedom for as many slaves as possible. I’m not sure how much of it was his business sense and experience with negotiation and how much was just an appalling undervaluing of lives, but with that money he purchased freedom for 24 boys and girls. Let that sink in: he paid $150 per person. The value of one of these children to their slave owners was less than my utility bill. It was less than a phone. It was less—so much less—that what they are worth. How encouraging to know that a life can be changed so easily, and yet how much more disappointing that so many remain in slavery when it takes so little to get them out.
This simple fact once again changed my life and has shed further light on how tragic the issue of human slavery really is. This fall, every time I share about slavery, I will share my first-hand experience of witnessing slaves being bought and freed for as little as $150.
Note: I realize there is some controversy over paying slave owners to release their slaves which they had no right to own in the first place. However, I can tell you that for these children their freedom was not at all diminished by the means in which it came. For these children, their gift of freedom was worth so much more than $150. Any argument will pale in comparison to the fact that the parents were able to hold their children again.