Step into Lent and work toward Slavery’s End

Why would anyone knowingly commit to a lengthy period of abstinence? Well, in a culture that hardly wants for anything, purposefully engaging in self-denial can be sobering. We only have to have the wifi drop out for 30 minutes and it’s like the end of the world. Our affluent existence has fast food, express lanes, rapid transit, priority post, and apps to jump the coffee queue. Not waiting has become such a phenomenon in our connected age that Michael Harris has written The End of Absence, exploring the social impact of never having to wait for anything.

Generations past observed Lent as guided preparation for the celebration of the astounding redemptive victory of Jesus Christ. The 40 days of Lent drove people to hunger for the relief Jesus had brought in his death and resurrection. Their waiting was a living prayer that they were longing for a better world: the new heavens and the new earth.

And us? Maybe we can use the season of Lent to remind us – who have just about everything – that “a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of their possessions” (Luke 12:15). In our age, that alone would be a lesson worth learning.

But we can go a step further. We can use a time of “self-denial” to prompt our prayers for the people who go without just about everything, every day. We can pray for those who have no freedom, whose lives are bound by violence, whose daily existence is blood, sweat and tears. Who cry out to God for justice, and who long for relief.

I have a friend who has decided to cut out food between their morning and evening meals for Lent. From Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday they will skip midday food and snacks. Sure, they’ll get hungry, and when they do, they’ll be prompted to pray for the millions trapped in modern day slavery, who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness. My friend’s tummy rumbles will be a gut-level reminder that their world is not right – that our world is not right. That a large percentage of the world “goes without” every single day.

And you might be amazed how self-denial lets you step into solidarity with those in slavery

Why not join my friend? You could fast from food, from social media, from coffee, from alcohol – lots of things, really. And you might be amazed how this intentional, focused self-denial allows you step into solidarity with those trapped in the violence of slavery and forced labour.

You could use the physical reminders to

petition God, that he might bring freedom to those who are trapped in slavery
pray for the protection and provision of IJM workers in the field, that they might continue to bring freedom to the captives
ask God to open your heart to how you can support IJM’s work, and so share the burdens of the world’s most vulnerable people

All the while, you can also take comfort in the fact that the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus is God’s ultimate statement that he will end all slavery. Until he does, the Victory won by Jesus is his guarantee that he will continue to do his work through us.

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8, NIV)

(This post was originally published at www.ijm.org.au )

Violence: Primary Cause of Poverty in the Developing World – #LocustEffect

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The reality of poverty in the developing world seems ever present. Which week goes by without television or web based news reports showing us thousands of people in refugee camps, or poverty stricken communities coping with natural disaster?

There are also many wonderful non-government organisations seeking responding to the plight of the global poor. Child sponsorship programs like Compassion, World Vision, and others do a tremendous amount of good to develop world communities.

Recently I have read and reviewed The Locust Effect, by Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros (Oxford University Press). This ground breaking book exposes a dimension of global poverty that we simply have not seen: the primary factor perpetuating poverty for the poorest and most vulnerable people on earth is violence. Violence accounts for the reality that despite the generous international aid provided by wealthier nations, and despite the wonderful work done through child sponsorship and other compassionate programs, the plight of the developing world’s poorest people has not changed in any meaningful sense.

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Law enforcement and justice systems in the developing world are generally broken and dysfunctional. Worse: The Locust Effect cites case after case where police, far from protecting the most vulnerable people in the developing world, actually perpetrate violence against them. The justice systems which are supposed to restrain evil are so broken that they often intensify the violence and suffering of the poor.

The Locust Effect shows us that ending the violence and transforming systems of justice is the missing piece of the puzzle in assisting the poor of the developing world. We need to realise that in terms of our compassionate response to the plight of the global poor, all our efforts will only have limited value if we cannot stop the plague of violence tearing away at the life and hope of the world’s poorest.

There are important implications here for Christian and denominational aid organisations. We certainly need to continue what we are doing to assist good mission, grow Gospel ministry, and to address the needs of the communities we are working with. At the same time, Christian aid and mission organisations need to partner with agencies like International Justice Mission. As they do, they can assist in the reformation of justice systems long broken and dysfunctional. This will also provide much needed support for those who have suffered, and continue to suffer, at the hands of violent perpetrators.

If this is any interest to you, I urge you to buy a copy of The Locust Effect. The authors are deeply Christian men, and the organisation they work with, International Justice Mission, does profound and valuable work coming to the aid of the world’s poor. The Christian worldview evidenced in IMJ’s work harmonises wonderfully with a Christian reformed heritage. There are many opportunities for collaboration.

In future posts, I will examine some more specifics of why violence is likened to a plague of locusts. Until then, please order a copy of The Locust Effect.

While the book is published in an academic format (footnotes, etc) it remains exceptionally readable. For me, it was an eye opening and, in places, confronting read. It has been incredibly valuable in deepening my understanding of global poverty, and how we should be responding as Christians. I heartily recommend it to you.

All copies of The Locust Effect sold during the week of Feb 03 will attract a $20 donation to IJM from a very generous friend of the organisation (US buyers only). So, for those of you in the US, buying the book is like making a donation to this very important work! Brilliant!

All general book royalties go straight to IJM