From Refugee Camps and Prison Cells to the Halls of Congress

Kristin Wright | Open Doors USA | Wednesday, October 19, 2011

From Refugee Camps and Prison Cells to the Halls of Congress

For decades, Rep. Frank Wolf has been a tireless advocate for human rights and religious freedom in the halls of Congress. Originally elected to work on issues related to local transportation, Wolf quickly caught a global vision that led him to influence legislation on modern-day slavery, religious freedom and humanitarian aid. For Chuck Colson, who wrote the foreword of Wolf’s newly released book, Prisoner of Conscience: One Man’s Crusade for Global Human and Religious Rights, Wolf’s legacy is one akin to the legacy of William Wilberforce, the 19th-century British parliamentarian who succeeded in abolishing slavery in England.

“The parallels between their lives are amazing,” Colson writes. “Wilberforce, a great hero of mine, was the 19th-century British parliamentarian remembered mainly for his decades-long battle against the slave trade. Frank Wolf, an American congressman, has fought long and hard against modern slavery.”

Colson points out that while other members of Congress have been known to take “fact-finding tours” to exotic destinations such as Bermuda or Paris, Wolf has divided his trips between Soviet gulags, rebel-held Sierra Leone and bombed-out villages in Sudan and Chechnya.

“His life story reads like a fiction thriller, but it is all true,” Colson says.

From Camps to Congress

Rep. Wolf wasn’t always at the forefront of campaigns for human rights and social justice. But in the early 1980s, at the urging of fellow representative Tony Hall, a Democrat from Ohio, Wolf charted a course through famine-ravaged Ethiopia. Of that first trip to the destitute nation, he recounts: “I climbed out of the plane – and was met by the most terrible sight I’d ever seen. Some 50 thousand people were living on an open plain, or at best, in tents or huts. Children, covered in flies, were dying all over the place.”

Wolf was as moved by the tragedy as Rep. Hall was – moved enough to get to work on designating relief dollars for suffering Ethiopians. As he explains in his book, “The reality of life in Congress is that if you want to get anything substantive done, you have to partner with someone on the other side of the aisle.” Wolf’s own collaboration with Hall illustrates both men’s insistence on creating a strong coalition for human rights on both sides of the aisle.

Upon Wolf’s return from Ethiopia, he and Hall supported legislation which increased funding for aid to Africa. For Wolf, it was just the beginning of decades of targeted efforts to aid the helpless and protect the vulnerable, all over the world.

A Focus on Justice

In 14 chapters spread over more than 300 pages in his new book, Wolf recounts his experiences with prisoners of conscience in Eastern Europe, his personal visits to those unjustly imprisoned in China, his memories of working on humanitarian issues throughout Sudan and other parts of Africa. Rep. Wolf has engaged both sides of the aisle in his ongoing efforts to increase funding for international aid, pass legislation to halt human trafficking and build a growing coalition of individuals committed to tackling issues of human rights and religious freedom, regardless of political stance.

Some of the problems that could bring the Right and the Left together, according to Wolf, include “human trafficking, world hunger, genocide, religious persecution and the lack of medical care in the developing world.”

In his foreword to Prisoner of Conscience, Chuck Colson highlights Wolf’s relentless battle against sex trafficking, an issue affecting more than two million women and children around the globe. “During his 30-year career, Frank has dared to go where few members of Congress have gone before – often in defiance of authorities, and frequently in disguise,” Colson writes. “As one reporter wrote, ‘[Wolf] is the ubiquitous, not-famous face that pops up in places where bullets fly, babies starve and thousands of people suffer in obscurity.”

Propelled by Faith

It is evident in Prisoner of Conscience that Wolf draws his vision and strength from his faith.

“Some people have fallen into the postmodern belief that there’s no such thing as good or bad, no difference between vice and virtue, no transcendent standards of right and wrong,” Wolf writes, “If you’ve been to the places I’ve been, you wouldn’t fall for that nonsense. Who could look into the eyes of a gang rape victim in Darfur, or of a young Thai girl who’s been sold to a brothel, and tell her there’s no such thing as right or wrong, good or evil? She knows better.”

When it comes to politics, Rep. Wolf feels certain about the relation of his faith to his work: “Some people criticize the faithful for getting involved in politics, but it’s important to remember that down through the centuries, people motivated by their faith have done important things. Wilberforce – motivated by his faith – brought an end to the slave trade. Bonhoeffer – motivated by his faith – stood up against the persecution of the Jews. Martin Luther King, Jr. – motivated by his faith – brought an end to segregation in our country.”

Wolf remains convinced that the church should be speaking out against the modern day evils of sex trafficking, slavery and religious persecution. “The Americans who fought child labor, opened orphanages and worked for the abolition of slavery were mostly Christians, and the church should continue this noble tradition, speaking out against the evils of our own day,” he writes.

For Rep. Frank Wolf, his humanitarian efforts are linked to his faith, but transcend religious and political views.

“We are a nation of a hundred different races and religions,” he writes, “But we can and should find common ground with matters that ought to be important to all of us.”

Kristin Butler is a contributing writer at, where she covers topics related to human rights, religious freedom and refugee resettlement. For further articles, visit her website at or email [email protected].

Publication date: October 19, 2011