Thanks to Rev. Dr. John Dickson (CPX and St. Andrews Anglican Church), I heard about Augustine’s Letter to Alypius (# 10, ca. 428 AD) where he refers to an increase in slave trafficking by abduction in North Africa and how groups of Christians raided slave ships to set the prisoners free. Listen to this:
Even the examples of this outrage that I have personally encountered are too many for me to list, if I wished to do so. Let me give you just one example, and you can estimate from it the total extent of their activity throughout Africa and along its coasts. About four months before I wrote this letter, a crowd of people collected from different regions, but particularly from Numidia, were brought here by Galatian merchants to be transported from the shores of Hippo (It is only, or at least mainly, the Galatians who are so eager to engage in this form of commerce). However, a faithful Christian was at hand, who was aware of our practice of performing acts of mercy in such cases; and he brought the news to the church. Immediately, about 120 people were set free by us (though I was absent at the time), some from the ship which they had to board, others from a place where they had been hidden before being put on board. We discovered that barely five or six of these had been sold by their parents. On hearing about the misfortunes that had led the rest of them to the Galatians, via their abductors and kidnappers, hardly one of us could restrain their tears.
So what the smurf did you do after church last Sunday? Go out to a restaurant for lunch, went home for a nap, did some light shopping, or mounted a rescue mission for slaves?
Goes to show that the efforts of Christians to set the slaves free did not begin with William Wilberforce but has ancient origins. Makes me all the more thankful for the work on the International Justice Mission who advocate for those caught in human trafficking. See also the IVP book by Daniel Walker, God in a Brothel, and the interview with Walker at Patheos.