Justice and Dignity in a Rwandan School

A few weeks ago I found myself in a school in Rubavu, a district of Rwanda, right on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. I was there because of a letter.

I received it from a group of parents who represented schools in the area. It was signed by 74 of them though it had been written by a parent of this school, GS Muhato. It’s a public school in one of the poorest parts of Rwanda, an area that among other issues, is struggling with sky high school dropout rates, high levels of gender-based violence and incidences of human trafficking. The school has over 1,300 students and is trying hard to provide an education with a lack of resources, in a system that to say the least, isn’t as functional as it should be.

But why had I received the letter?

Nearly two years ago the Wellspring Foundation, who I have the privilege to lead, had started working in the school to help them develop what we call a vibrant school community, one where no child is left behind in the quest for a quality education. As part of our work, we know we have to work with parents and engage them in their children’s schooling. Yet, in a place where there is a daily struggle to survive, this isn’t easy to do. Continue reading

Perfectionism Does Not Change the World

Greta Thunberg, a 16-year old teenager, carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders for the adults who refuse to. A 16-year old girl, addressing the UN. In a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos she said:

“I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act…I want you to act as if your house is on fire. Because it is.”1https://www.fridaysforfuture.org/greta-speeches

When I look out at this frightening global landscape, I desperately want to see change. But when I see the incredible people who are stepping up to the plate, dedicating their lives to taking on the world, sometimes it’s hard for me to see how I can even be a part of that. I don’t feel like I’m that strong, or smart, or eloquent, or dedicated. Sometimes, when I think about it all too much, I feel like I can barely get out of bed in the morning. It’s overwhelming. What can one person really do?

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. https://www.fridaysforfuture.org/greta-speeches

Being Part of the Change

To conclude our series on Poverty & Justice, we now celebrate that God’s Kingdom extends to us, and through us, to powerfully address global issues. As we consider how we can be part of the change, Romans 12:1-2 provides some practical steps to live out what we’ve learned. It says,

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.” (MSG).

When we get to the heart of the matter, we discover that being part of the change requires a posture of humility. When Paul says to “take your everyday, ordinary life…and place it before God as an offering,” He is calling us to surrender. Humility is birthed when we come to God with empty hands. Change can’t begin with us. It has to begin with God. We can only offer ourselves up to God and allow Him to transform our hearts, minds, and everyday lives. And then, from this inner renewal, we can begin to be part of the change. Continue reading

Joining God’s Work

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the call for justice and reconciliation? Have you ever felt swept away by the multitude of opportunities to act for the Kingdom of God? Don’t worry. You are not the only one. Working towards the Kingdom of God, acting for justice, and raising awareness for the marginalized can seem like a mountain impossible to move. Simultaneously, it is easy to fall into an activism that is fueled by self-righteousness. Don’t get me wrong. It is good to be active and fight the injustice that is happening all around us. However, it is important to realize that we are not working for our own cause. We cannot establish the Kingdom of God out of our own strength. God is building His kingdom. God is the one who is inviting us to join the kingdom work. Furthermore, God entrusts us with the mission to make disciples and become ambassadors of Christ. Continue reading

The Fly in the Eye

Where do our ideas on poverty and justice come from?

As we’ve discussed in our last few posts, addressing and engaging in a problem all begins with how we define the problem in the first place. So, when we talk about tackling poverty, we have to begin by pondering what poverty means to us and to the rest of the world. In the western world, our ideas of poverty largely stem from the media. The picture of poverty portrayed, both local and global, is often oversimplified and inaccurate. When we fail to think critically, we can easily end up with unhelpful and even damaging solutions.

I touched on this in a past blog entry, The Stories We Tell:

The perception that many people have of developing nations, especially in Africa, is extremely inaccurate, and has been for most of history. The narrative that is commonly communicated about the developing world is horribly misleading, and sometimes blatantly false. Most people are genuinely ignorant about the realities of life in developing nations, and see them only through the narrative of poverty and instability. Continue reading

The Lenses We Wear

During my time at Seminary I took quite a few courses on missions. There is a saying that “Missions is the mother of Theology”. It all starts with God’s love for us humans and his invitation to participate in his mission of reconciling the world. The questions and challenges around how to communicate the Gospel in the context of a global world excited me. How do you share the good news of the fullness of life found in Christ with business people in Manhattan? And, how do you work for justice and peace in a society that is shape by the cast system? How do we share the freedom in Christ with people who live in constant fear of being punished by evil spirits? Honestly, I learned more just as much about my own beliefs and views on the world as I learned about different worldviews. However, what I also learned is that one key to effective communication of the gospel and poverty alleviation is understanding worldviews.

Everyone Sees The World With Their Own Eyes.

So what is worldview? In our video series we talked about how worldview is like a set of glasses through which we see the world. Continue reading

It’s Okay To Treat You That Way. You Are The Other.

I used to think that as the world evolved and humans began to look at the destruction we have caused one another over the centuries, we would begin to come into line with Martin Luther King’s famous saying “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I still believe that. But it doesn’t take a seasoned look at the world today, to see that that arc is a lot longer than I at first believed.

My newsfeed is filled with images and stories of depravity and soulless cruelty from across the world. A father and child dead in a river after trying to find a better life in the USA. Children in cages being told to drink from toilets in Texas. Ships full of migrants not being allowed to dock in European ports. Ebola ridden bodies being thrown into clinics in the DRC. “Send her back” being chanted at political rallies

The Problem of Dehumanization

And of course, these are just the stories that make the news. It seems injustice and cruelty towards our fellow humans is more or less endemic to our modern society. Continue reading

Poverty Explored

How we define a problem impacts how we try to address it. Our mission at JustUs revolves around addressing the problem of poverty. Today, I’d like to take a few minutes to explore that concept.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines poverty as the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions or debility due to malnutrition. This is a material or physically focused definition. In fact, this is the way most people in the North America define poverty when asked. But according to a study done by the World Bank in the 1990s, if you ask people who live in low-income countries, they by and large describe their condition in psychological and social terms. While they recognize their material lack, they talk more about things like shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation, and voicelessness.1Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor … And Yourself, (Moody Publishers, 2009) p. 53 

Dimensions of Poverty

The inclusion of the psychological and social dimensions alongside the material aspects of poverty leads us to a much fuller understanding of what poverty means. Continue reading

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor … And Yourself, (Moody Publishers, 2009) p. 53

The Concept of Shalom

Poverty is the problem we are trying to address at JustUs. Basically, we are working for the opposite of poverty! We define poverty as the result of broken relationships. Therefore our focus is on being part of the restoration of broken relationships. The word shalom is a word that goes a long way in describing this concept of restored relationships. So, I’d like to focus on the Hebrew concept of shalom for this blog.

Shalom is a Hebrew word indicating a state of completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety and soundness. Furthermore it means tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony and the absence of agitation or discord.

Defining Shalom

We often think of peace when we hear the word shalom, but the English concept of peace does not quite capture what shalom encompasses. Continue reading

Diving Deeper Into the JustUs Video Series

Welcome to our new blog series: Diving deeper into the JustUs Video Series!

A few years ago we launched the JustUs Video Series “Explore Poverty & Justice”. In five short videos we introduced several concepts related to Poverty and Justice. Our goal was to strike up conversations with young people toward a better understanding of what poverty is and how it is related to justice. Furthermore, the series challenged us to think about our views on this pending issue that is visible all around us. What is our role in alleviating poverty? How can we be involved in doing justice? There are plenty of ways to be engaged in working toward justice in your community and around the world. Yet, in the series, we always come back to God and his heart for justice. He is the only one who brings true peace and justice into the world. He is doing the restoration work in the world and generously invites us to join him.

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