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Here are some brief thoughts for those of you in youth work to share with your students if you see fit. You're the professionals, so you will best know how to go about this. But from my background both in youth ministry and African studies, I thought I'd throw out some discussion questions and thoughts that might help tie things together for your students. This could be paired with watching something like the Kony 2012 video or another film highlighting issues in the developing world paired with how we as Americans can help or how sometimes we must realize that it's out of our hands. Some suggestions include War Dance (also on the Acholi of N. Uganda), God Grew Tired of Us or The Lost boys of Sudan (both stories of Sudanese refugees). I've checked all of these out from my local library so that's a good place to look. I would suggest screening these before you show them to your youth--they all include varying levels of detailed descriptions of violence and atrocities and you'll need to determine what ages of your group they are appropriate for.

Here we go.....

I once heard Brian McLaren define justice with the following metaphor. Imagine that you're standing by a large, rushing river. You hear someone yelling and see a man headed downstream fast, struggling to stay above water and clutching for the shore. You are able to reach in and help the man out of the river, saving him from imminent drowning. In a few minutes, you hear it again--a woman rushing down the river, grasping for her life. Again, you reach in and pull the woman out. This happens several more times and you successfully continue to pull people out of the river, saving their lives.

By doing this, you are showing a great amount of mercy, but you are not employing justice. If you want to see justice, you would head up river and stop whatever is causing people to fall in the river in the first place. True justice is not putting a band-aid on the issue, it is working toward righting the root cause of the wrong.*

*Of course, mercy is never a negative thing and in many cases in our lives mercy is the only option that we have. For example, if I meet someone in need of food or other basic necessities, showing mercy on them and helping them is a good thing. In a case like this, I have no idea what got them to the place of being in need so there's no way I can turn back time. Mercy is never bad, it just depends on the circumstance as to whether we even have the opportunity to work toward justice.

In our daily lives here in America, we are given countless opportunities to show mercy to people around us, and justice too. But when it comes to the rest of the world and all of the issues of conflict and poverty, it is not so easy to exercise. Many situations in the developing world are extremely complex and can't always be measured as a simple good versus evil plot. And in many cases, no matter how much one wants to get to the root issue of what is causing a problem like violence or famine, it's impossible to tell because it is never just one thing. It is never just one evil leader in the government or in a rebel army. It is never just one climate issue or economic factor. If you remove said evil leader, he has likely trained hundreds with the same mindset as he who are certainly next to take the throne. If you  provide food for thousands of people in one famine, there's probably a new one looming a few countries over.

Nonetheless, actions or good intentions toward these efforts are not bad, but it's important to see the big picture and trust that not only are we in the world to enact God's justice, but God Himself is moving too. One of the mantras of many development professionals and aid-workers is "good intentions are not enough" when it comes to aid in the developing world. Good intentions are great and useful in many areas of our lives, but when we're working to change the lives of other people--real people with real emotions and families and jobs and struggles and joys--we need to think beyond simply "doing it for the right reason" and make sure that we're actually doing it right.

Here's an example. A few years ago, a man named Jason started a project called "One Million T-Shirts for Africa". He thought that surely people in Africa needed clothes, and it would be so easy to collect a staggering number of one million shirts and ship them to Africa. He had good intentions and surely thought he was doing the right thing--and so did half a million people who gave up a couple old t-shirts. And that's okay. But, here's the thing--African people don't need t-shirts. Acquiring clothing is generally not a hardship in most parts of the developing world. Not only do they not need t-shirts, but having that mass of t-shirts dropped off in the bush for free actually harms the economy. Millions of people in the developing world make their living based on selling things at the local market, like clothes, shoes, soap, toothbrushes, toys, radios, cookware, and much more. Most people, even in the farthest out places, have access to markets like this. So when a ton of free goods are given to a community, then suddenly those community members stop buying from the local market, the market suffers and the economy lags. Basically, it goes into a recession (yes, even out in the countryside with only a few small markets, there can be an economic recession). In the same way that we've seen here in the U.S., a recession can lead to lost jobs, lost homes, lost livelihoods. All because someone on the other side of the world wanted to help.

Women at a lively market in central Sudan.
In the same way, doing things like signing a petition or posting a video about something important on your facebook or twitter are not inherently bad, and in most cases, unlike the example above, it won't hurt anyone. But the important thing is to realize that God's work in the world goes far beyond t-shirts, petitions, posters, or facebook posts. And our work in the world cannot be done alone, and what's more it must be done with an understanding of what we're trying to do.

If you want to change the world, be educated. Find a project or idea that you are passionate about and learn about it--read books, blogs, watch movies, consider interviewing someone who knows more about it than you or taking them out to coffee. Talk to the experts and find the best ways to get involved. Don't take everything at face value--when you hear about something, research both sides of the issue and decide what you truly believe to be the best option. For instance, take my example about the One Million T-shirts idea--don't take that at face value--if you think otherwise, google it and read about it and see what others have to say.

In closing, I want to share this quote that I recently heard in a sermon at my church:

"But all the wickedness in the world which man may do or think is no more to the mercy of God than a live coal dropped in the sea." -William Langland

When you are thinking about the evil in the world that you want to stop, like a man like Joseph Kony or other violence or conflict throughout the world, remember this quote. Remember that while this kind of evil is horrific and is a tragedy in God's eyes and ours, that it is not a power that is equal to God. God commands us to "do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). As teens living in the U.S., it is not in our power nor our responsibility to stop an evil rebel soldier in the bush of a country we've never been to or possibly never heard of. Rather, it is our responsibility to love God and love others, and pray that that love will spread. It is our responsibility to bring God's Kingdom to earth through our daily words and actions to the people around us so that many more of His people see His love and His justice, and that over time evil would decrease. And it is our responsibility to be humble, to realize what is in our power to do and in what we should rest and encourage and pray for others who can do it and do it more effectively.

Now, here are some discussion questions:

  • Remember the metaphor of people falling in to the river. When in your life where you have been given the opportunity to show this kind of true justice? Like discussed in the river story, when have you pulled people out, and when have you gone up river?
  • Have you ever had to say, "I was just trying to help!" in defense of something you'd done wrong, or something that had hurt someone? When you truly had good intentions, but it ended up being damaging in some way to yourself or someone else?
  • How often have you heard the phrase "Change the world." What would you think if you heard "You alone cannot change the world."?
  • Is there a part of the world, continent, or country that are passionate about? Or an issue here in the U.S.?
  • When you are passionate about a project, especially in a different context or culture, how can you ensure that you are respecting the people of that place and not degrading or minimizing them and their lifestyle?
  • In the same way that God has the power to defeat evil in the world, it's also important when it comes to international issues to remember that the very nations we are trying to help also have resources and ways that they can help their own people, and sometimes it's not up to us to interfere. Share some example of how poor nations have had successes without outside help (this obviously might take a little research, but you as the youth worker might look up some examples based on areas/countries that your group is connected to or interested in, or have this as a homework assignment for them to report back on next time).
  • Are there experiences in your life, people, quotes, or bible passages that remind you that God is working in the world despite all the evil that we see?


Anti Money Laundering said...

Justice that love gives is a surrender, justice that law gives is a punishment.