Often when I talk about injustice, I think about it as an international problem. And injustice is rampant internationally, but it’s a very local issue as well. My work for a locally focused community youth work organization – Greater Vancouver Youth Unlimited – reminds me of this in beautiful ways. At Youth Unlimited, our mandate flows out of the mission of Jesus. We relationally engage in holistic work with vulnerable youth in partnership with the Church and the community. In other words, we work with some pretty rough around the edges youth, journeying with them towards God’s healing love.
I often tell people that in my role I get to work with the cream of the crop — the leadership-minded youth of Youth Unlimited. However, many people looking out at the faces at one of my program’s meetings may not recognize just how amazing these youth are. Instead, they may be distracted by the blue hair… Or the multiple piercings… Or the green lipstick… Or the sarcastic remarks…
October 17th was the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Eradicating poverty – a lofty goal that those of us at JustUs are passionate about, but there are some very important caveats. What is poverty? Who are the poor? What does “non-poverty” look like? How do we get there? And what is my role in the process of eradicating poverty? How you answer each of these questions will have a big impact on how, or even if you will choose to engage in poverty eradication efforts.
The other day, Andy, one of the other JustUs team members, forwarded me the cartoon manifesto shown on the right.
I think it is a great reminder that in the story of getting rid of poverty in the world, we are not necessarily the main players that we sometimes like to think we are. We need to deal with the poverty in our own lives, and humbly walk beside and support others who are seeking to deal with the poverty that they experience. We are sidekicks! Not only are we sidekicks, at JustUs, we also believe that God is author and orchestrator of all poverty eradication efforts. He’s already in the process of restoring all things, and we get to join Him in that. God’s in charge and we all get to be sidekicks. In the face of the overwhelming problem of poverty, that is a humbling and freeing reality. One that motivates me to be the best sidekick I can be!
If you are interested in issues of poverty and justice and want to know more about how you can get involved, check out our JustUs workshop in Surrey on November 26th. Click here for more information and to register.
Click here to see and sign the original Sidekick Manifesto.
(Retrieved from: http://sidekickmanifesto.org)
Some friends and I were chatting this weekend about politics and current events. While each of us voiced a few particular concerns about our new government (“Where’s the money going to come from?” and “He could be a little less flashy…”) across the board we all agreed that we are quite proud to be Canadian right now. Our government has been working hard to set a tone that highlights Canada’s diversity as a strength. This new “positive and ambitious and hopeful” agenda is especially refreshing when viewed in comparison with the racist rhetoric surrounding Brexit in the UK and the election campaign in the United States. Having just celebrated Canada Day, we were all reminded of how grateful we are to be living in this country. And yet, there is still much work to be done for justice and equality, right here in Canada – especially in regard to our colonial history and the injustices that continue to plague indigenous Canadians.
I read a blog yesterday by Sarah Bessey that I really connected with. It was about a time during her second maternity leave, when she spent a good portion of a morning picking up Rice Krispies from the floor where her young children had spilled them. I really connected with the experience that she described, but not because I could relate to her context; while I make plenty of my own messes, my life does not involve much cleaning up after little ones! I connected with it because the “spiritual awakening” that she experienced through the Rice Krispie incident resonated with some things I’ve been mulling over lately. And I think it has great relevance to the purpose and aims of JustUs, as well.
Sarah writes about her realization that God is present in the ordinary and the regular (like cleaning up spilled cereal) in a way that surprised her. She writes about how Christians are often “fed a steady diet… that we [are] meant to change the world, to be heroes, to be different than the rest of the world, to be radical, to prepare only for the mountaintop!” And about how this can cause us to miss, “the beauty of daily following Jesus into a whole life redemption.”
I grew up going to Catholic school, and while I’m not Catholic, there are many things about the Catholic tradition that I like. The way the church marks the liturgical seasons is one of the many things I grew to appreciate through my Catholic school experience. At school, the beginning of Lent was marked every year with a big pancake feast on Shrove Tuesday and mass on Ash Wednesday. The whole school participated in the mass and everyone had the opportunity to have their foreheads marked with ashes. As a child, my understanding of why we did these things may have been somewhat limited, but the traditions marked in my consciousness the importance of the season of Lent.
As I grew in my own faith, I began to incorporate different practices into the way I observed Lent. Mostly it revolved around fasting from something – sweets or TV, and later on things like coffee or wine. Each year the hope was that through the practice of fasting, I would draw nearer to God. I guess the idea was that by sacrificing something important to me, each time I thought about what I was missing, I would be reminded of my weakness and turn my attention towards God.
The word “charity” has almost become a four-letter word in many social justice circles. And rightly so in many ways, as many so-called acts of charity, even those done by well-meaning, good-intentioned people, can often work against a more just long-term solution. Think for example of the millions of dollars worth of used clothing shipped from North America to developing countries every year. What starts as an act of charity by a well-intentioned North American donating their used clothing to people in need, has been credited with about 40% of the decline in apparel production and around 50% of the decline in apparel employment in the average African country, effectively hampering those countries’ efforts at development.
Or, on a smaller scale, think about a group of, again, well-intentioned and good-hearted, suburban teenagers bussing into the inner city once a year to distribute sandwiches. Their actions, while possibly immediately helpful to someone who is experiencing hunger and homelessness, may also be seen as a display of power and pity if not done well or in a way that by-passes local networks – effectively reinforcing the fundamental injustice in society that has caused the person they are helping to be in need in the first place.
In the book, “When Helping Hurts,” Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert write about asking thousands of Christians why Jesus came to earth. They reported that the majority of the answers they received were something like this: “Jesus came to die on the cross to save us from our sins so that we can go to heaven.” As Corbett and Fikkert point out, this is true and vitally important, but Colossians 1:15-20 tells us that Jesus’ mission is “even more grand and sweeping than that.”1 His mission is to reconcile all things to Himself.
What does “all things” include? Well, if you are visiting this site, you probably already include the material circumstances of the poor, marginalized and vulnerable. Many of us realize that it is impossible to separate our love for God from our love for people and wanting to work towards their greater flourishing and restoration. But something that even many of us social justice minded Christians miss is that “all things” includes our relationship with creation, as well. Continue reading
International Women’s Day, March 8, 2015
I’ve come to realize that the most important things in life are rarely all good or all bad. In fact, it seems like the more important something is, the more the good and the bad seem to mix together. To achieve the biggest triumphs you must take the biggest risks. The deepest joys usually encompass the rawest of pain. The most beautiful things almost always include profound brokenness.
The story of women and gender equality is no different.
Over the past number of years, I’ve been humbled and honoured to be involved in the lives of some pretty incredible women as a part of The Elevation Project’s partnership with our friends at Rwanda Youth for Christ. One of the women who has impacted me the most has a story that illustrates exactly what I mean when I say that brokenness and beauty often reside together. Her name is Delphine. Continue reading