When I was 12, I became angry at the injustice of slavery. I was reading the diary of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and I wished I could have worked alongside him. Then I learned about modern-day slavery. An estimated 27 million people around the world are being held in some type of confinement.
I learned about human trafficking, where children are sold for work. Little boys and girls toil away in brick kilns, rug looms and rock quarries–not free to play or even go to school, but owned by someone else, forced to do whatever their masters want. I learned about little children and young women being sold as sex slaves. So I launched Loose Change to Loosen Chains (LC2LC), an effort led by students to raise awareness and collect loose change to benefit the work of abolitionist organizations.
Over the past year and a half, I have spoken to more than a half-million people in person, many of them students who are outraged about modern-day slavery.
I have watched as students who were once numbed by a hyperstimulated culture had their hearts broken–maybe for the first time–over the suffering of someone else. I have seen young people moved to tears as they discover, like I did, that God desires to work through them to bring about restoration to the poor and oppressed. Students around the world are holding awareness-building events and raising money on behalf of those who don’t have a voice.
Even more important, we’re discovering that when you reach out and help the poor and oppressed you get closer to the heart of God. The Prophet Isaiah said, “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday” (Isaiah 58:9-10, NIV).
Last year I had the privilege of being the student spokesperson for the film Amazing Grace, about the life of British abolitionist William Wilberforce. I learned that Wilberforce’s abolitionist group, the so-called Clapham Sect, included not just policy makers and lawyers but also poets, Sunday school teachers, business people and others who had a passion for God and for justice. I believe that in the fight today to bring about justice and to deliver the Good News of Jesus to a desperate world, there’s still room at the table for all of us–including a kid like me.
Zach Hunter is the author of “Be the Change: Your Guide to Freeing Slaves and Changing the World” and “Generation Change: Roll Up Your Sleeves and Change the World.” Zach speaks around the world about God’s heart for the poor and oppressed.