Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Christian Citizenship Seminar studies modern-day slavery.

This year's Church of the Brethren Christian Citizenship Seminar, held April 25-30 in New York and Washington, D.C., drew 94 senior high youth and advisors from 10 states to study the eye-opening realities of modern-day slavery. The issue came before the full church last summer, when delegates to the 2008 Annual Conference overwhelmingly approved a statement to "reaffirm our denomination’s historic opposition to slavery."

Anna Speicher, a Church of the Brethren member who has written a dissertation on the abolition movement, reviewed that history for the seminar participants--and said all that good work is only a beginning. "You’re already way ahead of the game right now. You know it’s not over," said Speicher, who is also director of the Gather ‘Round curriculum for Brethren Press and Mennonite Publishing Network.

Speicher noted that while slavery is illegal in every country worldwide, it is often underground and thus hard to see. It exists in many forms and under many different names, such as debt bondage, human trafficking, sex trafficking, and forced labor. It can be found in many places including the United States, where an estimated 14,500-plus slaves are trafficked in each year.

Other speakers addressing the seminar included Roni Hong, herself a victim of slavery in India as a child; Lariza Garzon, who works with undocumented farmworkers in Florida; staff from the World Council of Churches US Conference and the National Council of Churches, who organized a conference on modern-day slavery last year and adopted a resolution; and staff from advocacy organizations Free the Slaves and Global Centurion.

Youth carried their stories and experiences to Capitol Hill during the second half of the seminar. Some groups were able to meet their representatives or senators personally, while others raised the issues with aides--particularly urging full funding for the recently renewed Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Worship and debriefing times during the week offered additional outlets to process the heavy topic.

Participants were encouraged to take the issue back with them, brainstorming ideas for speaking up and taking action after they returned home. "We’re beginning to make progress, but there’s so much more to be done," said Laura Lederer, vice president of Global Centurion. "I’m more hopeful now that I’ve been before. There’s a new human rights movement springing up all around the world."

The Christian Citizenship Seminar is sponsored annually, except in National Youth Conference years, by the Church of the Brethren’s Youth and Young Adult Ministry; go to the youth ministry page at for details. An article on the 2009 seminar will be in the June issue of "Messenger."

-- Walt Wiltschek is editor of the Church of the Brethren’s "Messenger" magazine.

Source: 6/3/2009 Newsline

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