“I looked and saw how much people were suffering on this earth. I saw the tears of those who are suffering. They don’t have anyone to comfort them. Power is on the side of those who treat them badly. Those who are suffering don’t have anyone to comfort them.” -Ecclesiastes 4:1
I just wrapped up a trip on behalf of the international mission organization I lead called ServeNow. I don’t usually have time to do much sightseeing on mission trips, but because of a late-night flight departure, I could make a visit to a slave trade route in Benin that I wanted to experience for myself. It was my first time seeing with my own eyes and imagining just some of the horrors of what slaves endured. I want to document some of what I learned and felt.
It was particularly shocking to learn what happened to them before even getting to the ship to depart for Europe/America.
- After a terrible journey to begin with towards this port destination, slaves were tortured in unimaginable ways to break them in every way possible. Many would not even survive. They were required to circle a tree seven times to “forget their life before.” Then, forced to kneel for two weeks, a rope kept their mouths shut and hands and feet chained. The slaves were not fed any food during this time by their captures. If they died, they were buried in a hole in the ground. We walked to where a memorial is being established at this location.
- If they survived the above, they then were purchased by “the white man” even as many African kings facilitated, oversaw, and profited off selling their own people coming from different parts of Africa. The ears of the slaves were pierced or arm branded with a hot iron once sold.
- They were then marched down a road that I also walked to circle three times another tree. Behind that tree was the home of an African king who profited off this with mirrors, musical instruments, and other European items given him in exchange. Circling the tree three times was so if they died in their journey ahead, their spirits would return to this tree. In other words, whether alive or dead, they were never again free.
- They then were marched a long way down to the ocean chained and with a tree between their shoulders to keep them going in a straight line. We drove to this part, making it unimaginable how they survived this after everything prior.
- “The Door of No Return.” While the sign commemorating this was not there at the time, the saying was known by everyone. If you came here, there was no return. It was haunting to think about that. Can you imagine knowing you are about to enter a door where there was no possible return? A door to slavery for life?
Many thoughts flooded my mind and spirit as we walked where slaves once walked. It’s hard to understand or imagine this level of human cruelty and evil, and it reminded me of going through the Holocaust museum years ago. And yet, please notice the following picture.
I wholeheartedly agree and think this is so critical. This isn’t just history from long ago, even though this kind of slavery may not exist today. Still, over 40 million people are enslaved today through human trafficking, forced labor, and other forms of human exploitation and degrading human life. Over 70 million people have also been forcibly displaced from their homes worldwide, a crisis of historic proportions. Millions more live under fear and corrupt leaders.
Lest we think we are not capable of such evil, that is not the lesson of history or reality of the present. From the Holocaust of modern-day abortion to the evils of human trafficking, it begins with not valuing every human life and seeing each other, despite our differences, as human beings created in the image of God and loved by him through Jesus Christ.
Additionally, the sin of silence and passivity contributes to the ongoing oppression and injustice so many are facing worldwide. Influence is not only used for evil at times but not wielded for good at all.
This all begs and deserves questions: what are we doing on behalf of those suffering under injustice? Do we see them? Can we hear their cries? Do we even care? Is there anyone who will work on their behalf for their good? Or, do we go about our own lives, in our little bubble, oblivious to the suffering of a world in need and complicit in evil flourishing? Are we actively seeking justice and righteousness in a world in which injustice rolls on?
***I write more about this, and this very verse from Ecclesiastes, in chapter 4 of my new book Everything is Meaningless. It’s a chapter titled: “Injustice Rolls On.” It might be one of the more provoking chapters in my book.
But I challenge you to get engaged in seeking righteousness (right relationship with God) and justice (right relationship with others). I am so grateful to lead an international organization, ServeNow, doing that very thing. Some of our most vital work is in the area of empowering the most vulnerable to avoid a life and door of “no return.”