How You Can Rescue the Oppressed
Q. Why did you found the International Justice Mission?
A. In 1994, a group of Christian lawyers in Washington began to discuss the growing problem of injustice we saw around the world. Christian missionaries and other relief workers were constantly finding instances of abuse and oppression. They felt helpless because they had no training for such matters and exposing them might jeopardize their ministries. Peculiarly, no North American ministry vehicle seemed to be confronting all this suffering. In a 1996 survey some sixty evangelical ministries representing about 70,000 workers overseas gave us a list of twenty-one categories of abuse they had witnessed. In only one of the categories religious persecution was there work being done against injustice. We began to see that, while the evangelical church in North America could plant churches, dig wells, and share the Gospel they could not rescue the oppressed. Yet, this is not a small theme of Scripture.
Our idea was to develop within the Christian community a corps of people with specialized training to which these kinds of cases could be referred lawyers, criminal investigators, government relations workers, and international business people. It turns out that a huge capacity exists within the North American church to do the work of justice. It's about information, power, access to the truth, uncovering the deception hiding the abuses, and intervening on behalf of the victims.
Q. What kinds of cases have you been involved in?
A. Illegal detention - when government authorities throw people in jail is one of the most fundamental abuses of power. In Northern Thailand fifty-six men and boys were imprisoned without any charges or trial to take the blame for a group of businessmen who had logged off a large section of teakwood illegally. They had no recourse to justice. IJM was able to work through the local church and other organizations to free the men.
Kanmani represents many Indian children who must become bonded laborers, which is illegal in India. She was sent to work to pay off a fifty-dollar family debt. She worked ten hours a day, six days a week, in a cramped room making 2000 cigarettes a day. Her wages about seventy-five cents a week.
IJM was able to get videotaped admissions from the moneylenders and, working through a powerful Christian district official, got these debts extinguished. IJM also found a Christian ministry who will provide training for these children and offer micro-credit for the families so they will not be pushed to the wall of bonded servitude again.
"Jaynathi" (not her real name) was fourteen when she set off for her home village with money saved while working as a domestic servant in a distant town. Four women drugged her and had her transported to Bombay, where, like thousands of other girls, she was sold into a brothel and locked away in a hidden room.
By the time she was seventeen she had been severely beaten several times and had suffered through three abortions. Yet, Jayanthi prayed to Jesus to save her. IJM worked with local law enforcement partners to get her out and to have the brothel owner arrested. Thanks to a Bombay church and supporters here in America, she was placed in a wonderful home of refuge where she continues to receive care. She has even expressed an interest in returning to Bombay as a witness to girls like herself who fear they have no future after the abuse of forced prostitution.
Q. Why has the North American church not gotten involved?
A. An older generation of Christians felt that social and political matters were not their business only saving souls. Some were also happy to franchise this kind of work to government organizations. It was clearly not seen as the mandate of the church in spite of the huge amount of biblical data to support it.
Even though God's Word repeatedly calls us to the task, we have almost no vision of how God could use us to bring tangible rescue of the oppressed. How do we get the girl out of the brothel, how do we set the prisoner free, how do we get the child slave released?
It is perhaps more accurate to say that, as people committed to the historic faith of Christianity, we have forgotten how to be such a witness of Christ's love, power, and justice in the world. The great leaders of Christian revival in North America and Great Britain were consumed by a passion to declare the Gospel and manifest Christ's compassion and justice. In earlier historical eras, evangelical Christians were very involved in societal issues, but somewhere in the 20th century we Christians took a hiatus from that. IJM is trying to encourage the evangelical community to recover the heritage of engagement in the work of justice.
Q. Are you raising the consciousness of American Christians?
A. Yes, tremendously so because it's a new day in the evangelical community in America. Theologically, most evangelicals no longer separate the spiritual aspects of the Gospel from the social. Now they know that Christ wants us to reach out to the poor and oppressed. Also, the end of the Cold War has given Christians a much greater freedom to be involved around the world without worrying about repercussions in foreign countries.
Q. Are there any obstacles?
A. Yes. The greatest of them, especially in the Christian community, is a loss of hope. People have just stopped believing that one can actually do something about injustice in the world. The suffering we see is simply too overwhelming, and it sends us into the same paralysis of despair as those who don't even claim to know a Savior. In some cases we manifest even less hope.
Second, if things could change, people don't know how they could be involved in that change. So we are showing people how these problems can be broken down into bite-sized pieces one can actually do tangible things like rescue a child from a brothel, free a child from slavery, get a husband released from prison.
In the future we want to empower local Christians in these countries to fight injustice on their own. We want to provide them with training, encouragement, resources, and technical assistance so that they can take these matters on directly in partnership with an international body.
Q. What can Christians do to help?
A. Some of us with specialized skills, especially the public justice professionals, can go. Through IJM, such professionals travel to other countries as full-time staff, contractors, or volunteers to carry out investigations, interventions, or training. But behind every professional who goes stands a small army of faithful Christians who send them, contributing toward the cost of project expenses. For many Christian business people and professionals, one of their greatest joys is seeing the way God uses their resources through the work of other Christians to rescue children brutalized by the abuse of power.
Finally, for those who can neither go nor directly send others, there remains the most divine portion of the work-intercessory prayer. IJM has a Prayer Partner Ministry in which participants can receive monthly updates on specific prayer requests. Every Christian can bring before the Father the urgent needs of a prisoner illegally detained or the wounds of a torture victim.
What an enormous difference we could make what a witness we could be if even a fraction of the Christian community in the Western world took up in earnest the ministry of seeking biblical justice in the world! If even one in ten Christians did so, there would be a witness of justice in the world that history has yet only yearned to see. Of course, He waits for you and me to turn our hearts toward Jesus and say, "Here I am, Lord. Send me."
Reformed Quarterly, Volume 18, Number 4