Her name is Sarah Durfey, and she is an abolitionist.
Sarah’s Quaker ancestors were also abolitionists, part of the Underground Railroad that fought to free slaves in the United States many generations ago. But Sarah knows that abolitionists are not a thing of the past—and neither is the trade of buying and selling humans. Today, there are an estimated 30 million people being bought and sold in the world—even right here in Boston. Although data is lacking, experts estimate that hundreds of men, women, and children are exploited for sex and forced labor in the Boston area.
Sarah also knows that no matter how many people are rescued from slavery, human trafficking will continue to exist as long as there is a market for it. So she began exploring this complex problem from a systems approach—looking at the bigger picture and all the “players” involved—to understand how abolitionists could be most effective in their work. As she received Living System Ministry* training from Emmanuel Gospel Center, Sarah began calling her work the Abolitionist Network. The combination of Sarah’s passion and her approach to addressing this issue made her an excellent fit for EGC, and this past July the Abolitionist Network became EGC’s newest program.
The living systems approach: more than an attempt to save enslaved people
Sarah first learned about human trafficking when she was a Gordon College junior. During a chapel message, she heard David Batstone (President and Co-Founder of Not for Sale, which works to end slavery) talk about the realities of slavery, which was happening even in Massachusetts! David told the story of a Cambodian girl in Western Massachusetts who cleaned, cooked, and was sexually abused for years by a pastor and his family while her miniscule wages were sent home to her family. Sarah knew that she had to learn more. (Read more about David's story in his book Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade--and How We Can Fight It.)
The more research Sarah did, the more she realized that the story of the Cambodian girl was only one story among millions, and only one example of what human trafficking looks like. Slavery can also appear on farms, and in restaurants, nail salons, and factories. It can take the form of forced prostitution, child slavery, or debt bondage, and is often accompanied by poor living conditions and abuse. Such information is surprising to most of us, as is the reality that slavery still exists in the world, U.S., and in our cities.
As Sarah learned more, she began to see that the stories that she heard were symptoms of a much larger and complex problem. “The reality is, if all the brothels were emptied and shut down today, and everyone was freed from forced labor, yet there was still a high demand for sexual exploitation and cheap goods, there would be more exploiters who would prey on the supply of vulnerable people, and it would all reopen, stronger than before,” says Sarah. This is why the Abolitionist Network, using many of EGC’s Living System Ministry tools, seeks to equip, connect, and support abolitionists who are fighting modern-day slavery by taking a step back to examine the entire issue of slavery, instead of only looking at the smaller problems that many abolitionists fight alone. (Learn more about the program’s activities on the next page.)
Our role and response to human trafficking
Approaching sickness in living systems is similar to approaching sickness in the human body. Sarah describes it this way: “If there is somebody who’s dying of an internal disease, and the disease is giving them skin sores, they will die if all you heal are the sores on their skin.” In the living system of slavery, it is crucial to rescue people who are enslaved. But if the effort were solely placed on rescue, or in capturing perpetrators, it could prove to be as frustrating as fighting an internal disease by treating skin sores.
It is also tempting to pinpoint others as the source of the problem. Living System Ministry does not allow this, because by expanding the focus in understanding the disease of slavery, even we come under the lens. “The brokenness that perpetuates trafficking is in all of us,” says Sarah. “We can’t say, ‘those poor people,’ or even get mad at the exploiters. We’re all part of the problem in different ways....And yet we’re also called to be a part of what God is doing in redeeming and restoring.”
As each of us learns how we’re part of the problem and responds in action, together we can work toward eradicating the market for human trafficking. Who knows how many others the Abolitionist Network will inspire to join in the fight. “I’m excited that Sarah is on our team,” Jeff Bass (executive director of EGC) says, “and look forward to seeing the fruit of her work in Boston churches and in the systems of human trafficking in our area and elsewhere.”
For more information or to get involved, contact Sarah at sdurfey [at] egc.org or visit www.egc.org/abolition.