Friday, May 1, 2009

Social Justice

Recently over the last few weeks I've become exposed to the need for social justice. For years I thought social justice was merely a "liberal" thought or tactic for people to gain money and recognition for themselves or their organization, or it was for people who had nothing better to do with their time...people that wanted to help but had a few lousy ideas that sounded good, but weren't practical and realistic. Or maybe it was just for people who wanted to look like the "church," rather than just BE the "Church."

Straight up, social justice just wasn't for me.

I didn't understand the issues, I didn't understand the importance. I didn't know the facts, and I didn't understand the heart of the matter. But a lot of things have changed over the last few weeks. I ended a year of spending time with the homeless in downtown Atlanta every Sunday, I've been following a lot of stories from Heidi and Rolland Baker in Mozambique, as well as Compassion International. I've also gotten plugged into Exodus Cry...a group based out of IHOP Kansas City that deals with raising awareness and building prayer momentum for the sex trafficking industry. All of these things have shaped my view and my heart on what social justice is really all about.

On our last day at Taskforce for the Homeless, the poorest and least-equipped homeless shelter in Atlanta, we discovered something that might have changed the way we did ministry all along. We learned that even this poor, dilapidated shelter provided the homeless men with MARTA cards, bus passes, ids, access to computers, telephones and beds. Churches came in every day of the week serving 3+ hot meals a day and delivering clothes to the men and women. The homeless were not without at all. They receive social security checks and welfare checks every two weeks...some checks are for even more than Patrick and I get week to week. But for some reason these men are still homeless. They have access to just about anything they need, but they are still homeless. No amount of government money or aid is going to encourage them to get out of their situation. The streets of Atlanta are comfortable and familiar.

So what's the problem?

After reading through some blogs of those on the Compassion trip to India right now, and hearing stories from Mozambique and Thailand....there are some significant things that I've started noticing. 
One: There are many countries that are so poor that there is no option to work harder and make more money. When your crop fields are flooded, and so is your entire country...there are very few resources. Even the government can't do anything. When your town doesn't have roads to it, it's hard to bring relief in. When everyone in your town lives in mud shacks, it's very hard to find the money or resources to live in something different. 
Two: Those that have nothing are the most hungry. The homeless in Atlanta are not hungry. I'm not talking about physical hunger, I'm talking about spiritual hunger. The kind of hunger that can linger on one simple Truth about Jesus for months. The kind of hunger that searches for answers when there are no answers. The kind of hunger that burns deep and won't stop until something inside is satisfied. 

The thing is, we can't change people's hearts or mindsets. We can do things to call forth dreams and creativity, but we can't stir up someone's hunger. And the people that aren't hungry, don't want answers. But there are countless people that are hungry, but don't have access to the answers. Like the poor in Mozambique, or India, or those involved in the sex slave trade. Even some of the homeless. It's our responsibility to provide answers when there are none, even if the people aren't hungry. 

Sometimes you don't realize how hungry you've been until you have eaten and gotten full. 

So we can't withhold answers just because someone doesn't "look" hungry. Because deep down, they are probably hungrier than they realize. Hungry for love. Hungry for Truth and for grace. Hungry for honesty and generosity.