Slaves to Bricks

So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor…. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly. They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly. (Exodus 1:11-14)

I had no idea.

It’s the dry season in India. Temperatures soar well over 100° F. Low caste men, women, small children workers sit in the hot sun making bricks by hand., scooping up wet clay with rough, chapped hands, slapping it into rectangular molds, hauling them to the kiln, stacking them on pallets. They may earn as much as $1.50 for a twelve hour day. Others are paid a pittance to keep the kiln fires burning, working two six-hour shifts in every 24 hours, seven days a week, six months of the year.

A report by the BBC … discovered children as young as four smashing coal to fuel the kilns, and stories of labourers having their hands cut off when they tried to leave their jobs. The report found workers forced to produce over 1,500 bricks every day, paid in advance and only able to leave after six months, along with children suffering from severe respiratory problems. (The Guardian)

Some are here by choice. Many are virtual slaves. And there are over 150,000 such factories in India and Pakistan, employing an estimated two to ten million people.

Our church’s “Global Outreach” Sunday school class is amazing. We get speakers from all over the world, updating us on how God is working through their particular ministry, and often offering ways that we can get personally involved. (God used this class to send me to Swaziland back in 2013.)

Recently, the speaker was Adnan Sandhu, founder and executive director of The Pakistan Sunday School Ministry. The goal of this fast-growing organization is “the Bible in the hands of every child.” They are one of several ministries reaching into the communities of bricklayers, offering the hope of the gospel.*

As heartbreaking photos flashed on the screen in front, Adnan explained how these people become trapped in hell. The brick companies make loans to the bricklayers. To pay them back, the families—mom, dad, even young children—work making bricks. But earning so little and with exorbitant interest rates, they will be working off the loan for the rest of their lives—and their children will inherit the debt. It’s indentured servitude. It’s slavery.

My first reaction—and I wasn’t the only one—was that the ministry should simply raise the funds and pay off the loans. Most of the loans are small, a few hundred dollars, and the class was clearly ready to pass the offering baskets, right then and there.

However, like so many justice issues, it isn’t that simple. Adnan explained that living in slavery offers a false notion of slavery. Freedom can be frightening. Once the families are rescued, they have no means of supporting themselves. How will they survive? All they know is how to make bricks. It’s easy to convince them that they were better off as slaves, and most choose to return.

That, too, reminds me of the Israelites. Moses led them out into the desert, and they immediately begin pining for the leeks and onions of Egypt. God’s provision wasn’t enough. They wanted the security of slavery.

Do we? What are we slaves to? Are we willing to risk freedom—to let go of the comfortable and familiar and completely trust God? Think about it.
* Due to security issues, there is no ministry website. If you want to support this work, contact me.

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