Harriet Tubman grew up a slave, so severely beaten by her masters that she endured seizures and debilitating headaches throughout her life. In 1849, she escaped to Philadelphia.
Although free from the reach of her brutal owners, she determined to return to the South, and did so time and time again to rescue members of her family. She eventually helped more than 300 individuals escape the horrors of slavery.
Tubman accomplished this as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, a community of anti-slavery abolitionists. There were conductors who guided “passengers,” or slaves, to safety along intricate networks and routes. There were “stations,” or safe houses, and others who provided wagons, boats and transportation to help slaves get to “free” states or to Canada. The work was extremely dangerous and as Tubman’s success and fame spread, owners and slave hunters searched relentlessly to capture and put her to death as a warning to others who might consider joining the cause.
Tubman not only oversaw at least 19 Underground Railroad missions but during the Civil War she worked as a Union cook, nurse, scout and spy. On one raid alone, into South Carolina, she guided Union forces that liberated more than 700 slaves.
Tubman was a devout Christian who never lost any slave she conducted. She explained that her incredible success was the result of prayer and listening and depending on the guidance she received from God.
This past week, I attended the Historians Against Slavery Conference, fittingly held at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. The museum promises a powerful experience to all who visit, poignantly detailing the history of slavery in the United States. Equally as powerful is the exhibit on contemporary slavery — men, women and children enslaved in our day in forced labor in mining, factory work, agriculture, domestic work or sexual slavery.
The conference was informative and troubling. Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe special representative and coordinator for combatting trafficking in human beings, was the concluding speaker. She explained that conservative estimates put the number of individuals in forced labor today at 20 million. I was stunned.
In April LDS Church's general conference, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve said in his talk titled "Redemption," "Among the most significant of Jesus Christ’s descriptive titles is Redeemer. Redeem means to pay off an obligation or a debt. Redeem can also mean to rescue or set free as by paying a ransom.”
He explained that mankind’s “great redemption (was) accomplished by Jesus Christ through his Atonement.” Additionally, there is “a very significant temporal aspect” to redemption as well. "Jesus is said to have gone about doing good (see Acts 10:38), which included healing the sick and infirm, supplying food to hungry multitudes and teaching a more excellent way. 'The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister '" (Matthew 20:28).
Elder Christofferson encouraged members of of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “under the influence of the Holy Spirit, (to) go about doing good helping people with their problems befriending the poor and the weak, alleviating suffering, righting wrongs, defending truth, strengthening the rising generation help(ing) others grow and achieve their just hopes and aspirations.”
If 20 million people in the world today are enslaved, the number who suffer rises exponentially when we add those who are poverty-stricken, lonely or in pain.
“As disciples of Jesus Christ,” Elder Christofferson called for each of us to engage in “individual acts of kindness and support — gifts of food, clothing, money, care, and a thousand other forms of comfort and compassion — by which we may participate in the Christlike work of redemption.”
At the Historians Against Slavery conference, I quoted the words of the great Nephite prophet Jacob who condemned those who had “obtained many riches,” who were “lifted up in pride and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they.” Jacob warned, “Before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.” Use your substance “to do good — to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted” (Jacob 2:13, 17-19).
I left the conference and the Freedom Center in a somber, reflective mood. I came away humbly grateful for my myriad blessings, and with a heightened awareness of the depth and breadth of suffering in the world today. I came away knowing of the need to provide to others practical, temporal assistance. I came away knowing how desperately the world needs to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As Elder Christofferson attested, “As disciples of Jesus Christ, we ought to do all we can to redeem others from suffering and burdens. Even so, our greatest redemptive service will be to lead them to Christ. Without his redemption from death and from sin, we have only a gospel of social justice. That may provide some help and reconciliation in the present, but it has not power to draw down from heaven perfect justice and infinite mercy. Ultimate redemption is in Jesus Christ and in him alone.”
Kristine Frederickson writes on issue-oriented topics that affect members of the LDS Church worldwide in her column “LDS World." She teaches part-time at BYU. Her views do not necessarily represent those of BYU.