Ten years ago, if you had told me our organisation would in the past year have reached 71,953 children through our work, brought home 1,014 children to their parents or family-based care, seen 5,513 women empowered through Self-Help Groups, trained 12,234 people globally, and made 7,917 interventions by our Advocacy Team for survivors, I would not have believed you.
You see, I am an opera singer. Yes, one of those guys with vibrato voices and standing in tights. I never saw myself as an abolitionist. I have learned that I don’t necessarily fit in a particular mould but I’ve also learned to fight like me. In my new book, Relentless Pursuit, I have tried to explore what that has meant for me and for a number of leaders. What does it mean to “fight like me”?
The story of David and Goliath is one of my favourites in the Bible. Did you know that David wasn’t even supposed to be at the battlefield? He hadn’t been invited. His brothers were there, and the king and his army were there, staring across the field of battle at the Philistine army. But David wasn’t supposed to be there. His dad had sent him to take some bread to his brothers and some cheese to their commander and find out how things stood. I can see the soldiers saying, “Oy, cheese boy, have you got any gorgonzola?” And David says, “I’m all out of gorgonzola at the moment, but I’ve got some cheddar.”
When David got to the battlefield and heard and saw what the situation was, his conclusion was different from everyone else’s. David saw what everyone else saw, but he had a different perspective. Everyone was talking about how big Goliath was, how tall, how mighty, and how he was undefeated—and all of that was true. But David knew a different truth. He said, “Who is this … Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam. 17:26). David saw the same giant across the valley, but he thought differently about what to do about him. (Read 1 Samuel 17 for the whole story.)
Leaders have to think differently. Oh, for a generation of people who think differently about the world’s problems! Who think differently about how we can combat them and about how to do it more effectively and more efficiently! That means thinking differently, too, about where we are with our leadership and our organisation and in the pursuit of our vision. Sometimes we’re in the middle of a massive frustration, and we have to think differently about that too. Perhaps for you it’s not right to keep pressing go on it so that you double down to get it done despite all odds. Sometimes you’re called to other things, to different things, and that’s OK.
But at other times or for other people, you have to push through those obstacles and pain points. Sometimes you have to keep going. You have to continue the relentless pursuit of your dreams. You need to push through so you can break out into that new territory, that new era, that new legacy that you are creating. Nothing great happens through ordinary acts. I’m a firm believer in the idea that there’s always pain involved with excellence.
You may need to put down a responsibility that isn’t really you. It’s hard enough to carry all your responsibilities, but to do something and feel as if it’s not really allowing you to be who you are … that’s when it may be time to lay it down.
In the story of David and Goliath, one of the most poignant moments for me is when Saul learned that this boy, David, wanted to fight the giant. Saul brought David into his tent and put his own armour on this child. Can you imagine this young man being asked to fight in an old man’s armour or according to an old man’s way of doing things? Saul’s armour was clunky, heavy, and so burdensome.
I think my favourite bit of the story is when David plucked up the courage to say, “This isn’t me. I don’t fight like this. I can’t carry all this weight if I’m going to be me against this giant.” So he took off the armour, and I imagine it felt so good for that burden to just fall off him. David realised—and this is something all of us need to learn—that the best way to fight is to fight like you really are (see vv. 38–39).
My friend, as you are reading this right now, consider, are you carrying a burden that isn’t letting you fight like you? Our world tries to create us. It tries to ram us into a certain way of thinking or being. It tries to say, “No, this is who you’ll be. This is how you’ll act. This is how you’ll develop the business.” Until, just like David in Saul’s armour, you’re weighed down and you no longer feel like you. Is that where you are right now? If so, then you need to listen to that small voice that’s shouting out, “This is not me!”
Maybe you need someone to tell you it’s OK to start being you.
My friend, that permission is fully granted. You can be you.
You know why? Because you are the greatest gift to your world. When you are healthy and you are fighting like you, you are precisely what your family needs. When you’re free to be you, you are precisely what your business needs—you are precisely what this world needs. The world is desperate for people who are wholly secure in who they are and in what they have to give.
Whether or not you are facing setbacks and discouragement and whether you decide that you’re on the right track or you decide to go in a new direction, you will be most effective when you’ve thrown off everyone else’s armour and are unleashed to fight like you. I want to take the words and wisdom from all the people I spoke with for Relentless Pursuit and add to them to my unique view of the world. Whether your greatest project is the dream to end human slavery or the dream of restoring your family, you have the best chance of doing it when you’ve evaluated your experience and the experience of others and you’re fighting like you.
When people first hear about human trafficking and the millions affected, they’re often overwhelmed by the statistics, they are heartbroken by the brutality and the violence, and they literally don’t know what to do about fellow human beings being exploited for profit.
One survivor we worked with a few years ago told us: “I didn’t need someone to cry about this; I needed someone to do something about it.”
And that’s what we’ve built in Hope for Justice: a thought-through, professional response to the issue of trafficking. Wherever it exists, we are committed to stamping it out.
The best way to do that is preventing exploitation from happening in the first place. That’s why we work with women in some of the poorest parts of the world, giving them the tools and education they need to protect their families.
Our staff work with street children, who are so vulnerable to predatory traffickers. We give these children the support and schooling that they need and get them back safely to their families.
We rescue victims. Our specialist teams identify victims of sex trafficking, of forced labour and domestic servitude. We build bridges of trust and get them to safety.
But rescue isn’t an event; it’s a process. It’s where restoring lives begins, at our aftercare facilities where highly trained staff provide trauma-informed care, from immediate crisis intervention to long-term education and vocational learning. For our adult survivors, we advocate on their behalf to get them the support that they need to make the most of the new opportunities that freedom brings. The goal is always restoration and reintegration.
Abolishing this modern-day slavery for good depends on reforming society. We are working with businesses, with governments, with citizens; raising awareness, improving legislation, training thousands to spot the signs and to respond. Creating nations and societies hostile to trafficking, where it will no longer be tolerated.
Our team are changing lives: investigators drawn from prestigious law enforcement agencies like the FBI and Greater Manchester Police; lawyers and social workers with years of experience who are with the survivor for every step of the journey towards restoration; educators who specialise in trauma-informed care; outreach workers who engage directly with those who are the hardest to reach.
All of them share one aim, because Hope for Justice is part of a movement of people who refuse to live in a world where human beings are treated as commodities and sold in front of their own eyes….forced to work, made to cook and clean as domestic slaves or pushed into the sex trade.
We want to provide hope for people like Tirunesh.
Her step-mother had encouraged her to become a domestic worker to help the family’s finances. Work was found for her with a family and she worked for them for four years, until one day, one of the older sons of the employer raped her.
She told her employer, but was ignored. “She told me that ‘these things happen’ and that I should get used to this as every other woman does… She didn’t seem to take it as a big deal,” Tirunesh recalled later.
When it became clear Tirunesh was pregnant – still only a child herself – she was taken back to her own family. On the day of labour, complications arose and her baby died while she was on her way to the hospital.
She was saddened by her loss but her family supported her and tried to take care of her for a while. But her family’s economic problems had not changed, so she decided to find work in Addis Ababa, the capital.
The huge city was new to her, she was confused and quickly became lost. Police found her wandering around a bus station, and fortunately brought her to one of our Lighthouses.
It was life-changing for her. She loved getting a real education for the first time (she was aged 16 when she came to the Lighthouse) and started opening up to her counsellor as time went by. Her social skills, confidence and self-reliance grew.
Eventually she felt confident enough to return to her father. On the day of reintegration, Tirunesh was very happy and hopeful to go back home again. Her excitement was matched when she was reunited with her father. He too was very happy and thankful to see his child again.
Tirunesh is now living with her family and is hopeful about what the future has in store for her.
We believe in the power of when we use our voice for things that matter: we believe it echoes out into the darkest places.
Ben Cooley is the CEO for Hope for Justice, which exists to bring an end to modern slavery by preventing exploitation, rescuing victims, restoring lives, and reforming society. Ben’s new book, Relentless Pursuit: Fuel your passion and fulfill your mission, is available now at www.bencooley.com or on Amazon.