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Slavery and True Freedom

The haunting Elmina slave castle reminds me of the terrible atrocity of slavery. It also sparks sobering thoughts about spiritual slavery—and real freedom!

In 1482 the Portuguese, needing a place to store and protect all the gold they were gathering, constructed a massive stone fort on the Atlantic coast of what is today the city of Elmina, Ghana. Within a few decades, however, this and other similar forts along the Gold Coast were turned into storage facilities for a far different commodity—human beings. This fort came to be known as the Elmina slave castle.

Today it stands as a museum—a somber monument to one of the most sordid eras in human history. The Dutch ousted the Portuguese in 1637 and took over the lucrative slave trading business, but they were not alone. Other European nations competed heavily with them, their steady supply of slaves coming primarily from Africans who captured and sold their fellow man.

As a New York Times article reported, “By the 18th century an estimated 68,400 slaves were exported from Africa each year, of whom about 41,000 came from West Africa, according to published accounts of the times. Of those, 10,000 left Elmina’s shores when the castle was operating at full capacity, according to Ghana’s Museums and Monuments Board.”

The Elmina slave castle

I’m writing this from Elmina, and looking across the bay, I can see the castle dominating the skyline about a mile away. Until my first visit here in 2012, I knew nothing about this. But after you tour the museum, you can never forget it.

Several things usually stand out to visitors. Standing in one of the dungeons, the guide closes the door, and with only tiny shafts of light piercing the darkness, you can scarcely comprehend how hundreds of humans stood here for days, enduring the squalid conditions he describes.

In stark contrast, you later tour the luxurious accommodations above—where the officers and clergy lived—and the church dominating the courtyard. The religious institutions of the day, sad to say, were often complicit in these deeds.

The door of no return

The most haunting view for most visitors is what was called “the door of no return.” It was the portal through which all these poor people passed to board the slave ships bound for the New World. Many, maybe the luckiest, would die at sea. Most would die only after enduring the physical and emotional pain of lifelong bondage.

The slave trade was officially abolished in the early 1800s, but going through an airport on my way here I saw posters telling travelers how to recognize the signs of human trafficking. Why? Because slavery has never really gone away.

Slaves of sin

But one poster you’ll likely never see is one instructing us on how to recognize the greatest scourge of slavery that exists today—the bondage of sin!

Jesus once told a crowd, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” They argued that they were never in bondage, to which He replied, “Whoever commits sin is a slave to sin.”

Sin has taken all of us through the spiritual door of no return. We are destined to live under the cruelty of our taskmaster, Satan the devil, unless one thing happens. We can be “bought at a price,” as Paul described it, and be set free. The price was Jesus Christ’s life.

You will see several articles in this issue of Discern that explain God’s teachings pertaining to spiritual freedom and how to attain it. I hope that you, unlike those who blindly denied Jesus’ words, can look around and see how we are indeed a world held captive to sin.

In the Elmina slave castle is a plaque with this plea: “May humanity never again perpetrate such injustice against humanity.” It’s a noble quest. It will take each of us turning from sin, and turning to God in truth and obedience, to make it come true and to find true freedom!

Clyde Kilough
Editor

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