Setting Captives Free

The children in Barbara Vogel's fifth grade class are engaged in an unusual school project. Last February they began putting their pennies into a big glass jar. When they'd raised $200 the kids spent it—not on a computer game, or a field trip, as you might imagine. Instead, they bought freedom for two African slaves. This is a story about childish compassion—and adult hypocrisy. The fifth grade class project began when Barbara Vogel read about the enslavement of black Sudanese Christians. She was shocked to discover that slavery still exists. It also shocked her fifth-graders at Highline Community School in Denver. As Vogel told columnist Nat Hentoff, "many [of the kids] began to cry" when she read them the story from the Rocky Mountain News. "They... thought slavery was over." But then the children wiped away their tears and took action. They did a little homework and found out about Christian Solidarity International, an organization that buys slaves and returns them to their families. That's when the kids began saving their pennies. As Vogel relates, "these are not children of means. Some live in public housing." And yet, Vogel says, not a day has gone by since February without the children bringing in money. One youngster, who lives with his grandfather," was given a $100 gift certificate as a graduation present by his family He told his teacher: "I could go to a toy store with this certificate, but I want to buy the freedom of a person." As of August first, the kids had raised $9,000. Part of the money came from an anonymous corporate donor; but the rest came from selling lemonade, T-shirts, and old toys. It was enough money to set free at least 150 slaves. By then the kids had learned another lesson, however, this one about adult hypocrisy. When President Clinton traveled to Africa last spring, the children eagerly followed his visit. They hoped he would focus American attention on slavery in the Sudan. By the time the president finished his trip, he'd done a lot of apologizing for America's past involvement in the slave trade. But hadn't said a word about modern slavery. In Vogel's words, "the children went ballistic." That's because these kids just aren't sophisticated enough to understand American foreign policy—why our need for gum arabic, a key ingredient in soft drinks which comes from the Sudan, should outweigh fighting against a clear evil like slavery. And meanwhile, in Washington, the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act that passed the House so overwhelmingly has been effectively buried in the Senate. The Clinton Administration is fighting tooth and nail against the bill. And it's doubtful that Congress will pass it unless there's an outpouring of pressure from constituents. Please, contact your senators, while they're home this month, and ask them to pass this bill by a veto-proof margin. Where is the wisdom in America today? Not in this city of Washington that looks the other way at slavery, but in the hearts of children who still know right from wrong. Its easy to get discouraged about what happens in Washington, but thank God for the innocence of some kids in Colorado who see the truth and have the courage to act on it.


Chuck Colson


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