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‘Abolitionist mamas’ fight to end modern slavery

Shayne Moore and Kim McOwen Yim are anti-slavery activists and self-proclaimed "Abolitionist Mamas" - Image courtesy of Shayne Moore and Kimerly McOwen Yim
Shayne Moore and Kim McOwen Yim are anti-slavery activists and self-proclaimed "Abolitionist Mamas" - Image courtesy of Shayne Moore and Kimerly McOwen Yim

Shayne Moore and Kim McOwen Yim are anti-slavery activists and self-proclaimed “Abolitionist Mamas” – Image courtesy of Shayne Moore and Kimerly McOwen Yim

Shayne Moore and Kimberly McOwen Yim have two things in common: they are suburban moms and anti-slavery advocates.

These two “Abolitionist Mamas” have decided to share their journeys from middle-class mothers to activists in a new book, “Refuse To Do Nothing: Finding Your Power to Abolish Modern-Day Slavery.” It’s a guide for anyone else who has ever wondered what one or two average people can do in the face of evil. Here, we discuss the issue of modern-day slavery and how to overcome our resistance to getting involved in such a complicated issue.

RNS: Many of advocacy organizations are focused on “raising awareness.” But as you point out in your book, people don’t want to feel bad without taking action to make things better. Is “awareness” a cop-out?  

Shayne: Awareness and education is the key to everything. You won’t act if you don’t know. When good people are aware, I believe they will act. [tweetable]Awareness is where God starts to spark the imagination of the kingdom of God here and now.[/tweetable]

Kim: Awareness is only a starting place. Some people need many touches and message repetition before they are ready to look at the action needed. I prefer to see awareness paired with engagement–some sort of action–but sometimes you have to start with simple awareness.

Image courtesy of Intervarsity Press

Image courtesy of Intervarsity Press

RNS: If it is so important, why do you think more people aren’t engaged on the topic of modern slavery?

Shayne: The challenge of modern day slavery is that it is illegal throughout the world, and yet it thrives as a well-developed criminal activity. We don’t see people trafficked in our suburban lives, but it’s there, just below the surface. People aren’t engaged because the ordinary person isn’t seeing it with their eyes.

Kim: Everyone has their own needs and concerns, and we think that to engage on this means we have to add to our already busy lives. Because we think it is a burden we simply cannot carry, an issue we can do nothing about, we see no need to care. I used to think that activism is only for people who have their lives together, who can give up everything, who can fly to another country to save children. I have a hard enough time getting my kids to school. What I didn’t realize is that activism can be a bunch of small actions that are significant and important.

RNS: You wrote about developing both a thick skin and a tender heart. What does that look like? 

Shayne: Slavery is a difficult issue to face. We don’t want to think about 13-year-olds being sold as child brides, but make no mistake–that is slavery. Those children will be used for sex and household work. When you begin to absorb all of these things, we can begin to see the world as an incredibly evil place that should break our hearts. The pain can and should move us to take action. Ask God what God wants you to do with your broken heart. He will tell you.

Kim: Some people have a heart for adventure and caring, and they don’t have the same sort of breaking experience others do. But most of the people who are on the front lines have had a fire lit in their belly at some point. What lights the fire varies with each person. Even if you start the journey knowing it’s the right thing to do and are somewhat emotionally detached, at some point you will encounter something unexpected that will break your heart and light that fire. 

RNS: People working to increase awareness often toss around the phrase “compassion fatigue” and bemoan the way people tune out. Is this something you encounter?

Shayne: “Compassion fatigue” is not an option. It’s unacceptable. Moms talk about being mothers and how the momma tiger rises up when our children are sick or hurt. If it were your child being sold for sex, you wouldn’t even consider compassion fatigue an option.

Kim: Solving the great injustices of the world takes a long time. We learn this when we study history. But a lengthy process is no excuse to throw up our hands. Do you get tired of going to the grocery store? Maybe so, but you don’t just quit going. Grocery shopping isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition, and neither is activism. This goes back to the first question – you don’t have to choose between being all in or all out. You can make small changes in your daily life.

RNS: What is the most important thing that an ordinary person can do in the fight to abolish slavery?

Shayne: We were surprised by the answer, but as we did our research and talked with people on the front lines, with powerful government officials, the answer was pray. Pray protection for those on the front lines, that our churches and that communities will take it seriously. The enemy doesn’t want this out in the light.

Kim: We underestimated the power of prayer for sure. I was looking for a different answer, but when it comes down to it, we realized that this is more than a battle of flesh and blood. [tweetable]We must advocate and petition God to intervene on the issue of modern slavery.[/tweetable]

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.


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  • Shayne and Kim’s call to action in the face of fatigue, burnout, and competing causes is powerful. Thank you Jonathan for giving them a voice here. The imagery of having thick skin with a tender heart can be encouraging for many who are working to end slavery, because it gives permission to care and to be tough at the same time.


    P.S. Here’s a piece on a human trafficking conference my son and I attended a couple years back. The next conference there is coming up in May.

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