Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"You want these people?"

A movie was released in 1993 called Schindler's List. It was about a German man who took it upon himself to rescue a handful of Jews from the Nazis. He did it by employing them in a factory which produced nothing. He secured their freedom the old fashioned way; he bought it. The German soldier he bribes is shocked... "You want these people?" he asks. "These people", Schindler replies. "My people. I want my people."

One of the most powerful scenes of this movie is near the end. The war is over, Nazi's defeated, and Oskar Schindler is reflecting on this unusual work he's done the past few years. Rather than celebrating the fact that he was able to rescue some, he's overcome with sorrow, realizing he could have saved more.

Here is the dialogue between Schindler and Itzhak Stern, a Jewish accountant who assisted Schindler:

Schindler: I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don't know. If I'd just... I could have got more.
Itzhak: Oskar, there are eleven hundred people who are alive because of you. Look at them.
Schindler: If I'd made more money... I threw away so much money. You have no idea. If I'd just...
Itzhak: There will be generations because of what you did!
Schindler: I didn't do enough!
Itzhak: You did so much.
Schindler: [looks at his car] This car. Goeth would have bought this car. Why did I keep this car? Ten people right there. Ten people. Ten more people. [Removes Nazi pin from his lapel] This pin. Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would have given me two for it, at least. One more person. A person, Stern, for this. [begins sobbing] I could have gotten one more person... and I didn't! And I... I didn't!

I was thinking of that scene this past weekend during a trip to Chicago. I was standing in line at a Starbucks, and noticed - on the wall - this elaborate display of digital picture frames. There must have been 10 - 12 of these things, all arranged to look very modern and artsy, displaying images of everything from waterfalls and sunsets to coffee beans. What do you think that display cost?

I've discovered a shocking reality about human trafficking and modern-day slavery; the actual dollar amounts in each individual case are often very small. I've read about women who have been enslaved for the rest of their lives because they had to borrow $25 to pay a child's medical bill. $25. It's the price of a concert ticket. But mom doesn't have it, so she enters the employ of a slave owner, ostensibly to "work off" her debt, but somehow the debt never gets repaid. So she is a slave for the rest of her life. In all likelihood, her children become slaves as well, and her children's children. Generations enslaved over just $25.

Young girls are sold to brothel owners for similar amounts of money. Maybe more... $50 or $75... To us it's a night out. The people in developing countries, it's 3 months wages. And it's the cost of buying and selling a 12 year-old-girl into a life of forced prostitution. Rape for profit.

I think of these stories when I look around our country at the thousands (millions) of dollars we spend (waste) on superfluous things. I wonder if we will ever stop to ask ourselves if there isn't a better use of our money? Will we ever seriously consider the possibility that we could use our wealth for something more valuable than a new Coach purse, a plasma screen TV or a fancy cup of coffee?

I'm not suggesting that we pay off corrupt slave owners; that would only compound the problem. But it should give us pause when we realize that the same amount of money we spend on dinner at our favorite restaurant could spare someone from the horrors of slavery.

There are organizations like International Justice Mission that, for the price of a Red Wings ticket, can secure someone's freedom from a slave owner or a brothel. They can conduct an investigation, and gather the evidence necessary to put a trafficker in jail. All for the price you or I would spend for a night of entertainment.

We have the means to end slavery and human trafficking in our lifetime. But first we have to consider whether freedom is more important than a latte. Will we look back and regret all that we could have done?

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