From Slaves to Leaders (Name that Movie)

Leadership Training & Graduation for 2009 Labourers

This past week we ventured south to Mahabipurilam, a city of temples and sculptures on the coast of the Bay of Bengal, to put on a leadership training for all of our labourers who were released from bondage in 2009, around 200 men, women, and children.

The whole three-day training was truly something to behold. There were so many activities that were transcendent for me; it was like heaven had come to earth. As I looked at all their faces for three days I couldn’t help but notice a renewed sense of equality and human dignity. Just two years ago, they lived under the hand of a violent oppressor but today they are free… those children I saw are free, the women are free — whole families are free. The Leadership Training provided opportunity for the labourers to hear the stories of former bonded labourers along with knowledge of how to share their stories as they live in community with other people. Storytelling, leadership, and community leadership were covered for the families and children, even though only 12 people were selected as leaders for their communities at the conclusion of the training. This training represents one of the only accomplishments they’ve ever achieved. At the graduation, one labourer said “We never knew we would see a stage like this two years ago, but today we are finishing this programme and we are still living in freedom because of IJM.”  The trajectory of their lives is forever marked and altered by this milestone. And if all goes well, they will remain free, given that IJM’s rebondage rate is less than 2% (they must be doing something right). Many have yet to receive the rehabilitation funds (Rs. 19000, approx $400) they’re entitled to and it will take even longer for the perpetrators to be prosecuted, but in my opinion it’s not solely monetary entitlements or the content of IJM’s Aftercare Programme that prevents rebondage – it’s the compassionate relationship the case managers have with each client coupled with knowledge to empower them. Love is the ultimate vehicle for fostering resilience– at least in my opinion it is. 😉 They needed to matter to someone. They needed someone to care. For so long they have been ignored and exploited — no wonder some people thoughtlessly pass up the chance to live in freedom; they’re oblivious to their implicit worth.  But the aftercare managers gave their time to these precious people made in God’s image –most of which are from the scheduled castes/scheduled tribes of India (below the widely–known people group, the Dalits) and live with the reality of their inferiority everyday. These are the poorest of the poor; most of the people we work with aren’t even part of the caste system– they’re below them; they’re tribes. As Sean Litton, a staff member who recently visited our office from DC, said so eloquently (paraphrase, mine), “Miracluous transformations are happening — in individuals’ lives, in public justice systems, and across entire nations– because of miraculously transformed individuals.” The credit should go where it’s due: the strategization, operation, and efficiency of IJM is a direct reflection of each staff’s growing relationship with the Lord and our dependent partnership with a passionate God who hates injustice.

Alex and I were responsible for lesson plans and crafts with the kids which was a blast but for me, the most incredible hour was from 5:00-6:00 on Wednesday evening. Gathered together as families, we played games for an hour. The labourers laughed at each other as they felt silly playing the games; they cheered one another on and found immense joy in the moment. Most always, the poor are dysthmic and somewhat stoic, but these labourers have become a grateful people. Their joy is evidence that others have deposited love into their hearts. What a transformation for these newly elected leaders; they were once slaves – disempowered, exploited, and hopeless – and now they fill the shoes of IJM’s aftercare department for their villages and communities.

“We all long to belong. We are created to know love and to give love. Our need to love, though rooted in God, is not limited to him. Love is not a limited commodity. Love expands as we give it away. Love dies when we do not. Without love there is no life. To love is to be fully human.” – Erwin McManus in Soul Cravings


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