Posted in Learning

Faithfulness and Foolishness

I recently started reading Good News about Injustice. It was the founder and president of IJM, Gary Haugen’s first book. Written in 1999, when IJM was just a infant organization which had barely opened its first field office. What has stuck with me most about it is not the stories of grave abuse of power and injustice against the poor, or even the powerful scriptures Gary invokes to describe the way God acts on behalf of the oppressed (between 2 internships, reading 3 books, attending a conference, and months of support-raising, I’m pretty comfortable in my knowledge of IJM’s work and spiritual foundations). What strikes me is God faithfulness.

The book makes a lot of pretty big claims about how God will intervene on behalf of the poor, and that God has “miracles saved up for those who seek justice in His name.” With the perspective of just 15 years, I can hear the prophecy in those words. Because we have seen miracles. I, the intern of a combined time with IJM of less than 6 months, have seen miracles, and those that have been in it from the beginning have seen much greater ones. To paraphrase this book: I thought “miracles” sounded over-dramatic, then I got out more.

Last week, I was jotting down praises and prayer requests in the office, and asked one of our CSA staff if she had heard anything from the judgment of a perpetrator that was that morning. When she answered “20 years, 6 months” – I literally asked her to repeat it at least 2 or 3 times, we’re normally thankful to get a sentence of 3 years. As I scribbled it down, I found it hard to think of it as anything less than a miracle.

We have seen miracles of rescue, with over 300 slaves being freed at once a couple weeks ago. Miracles of justice, precedent-setting convictions all over the world. Miracles of restoration and bravery, with former sex trafficking victims busting back into the brothels that once held them with our teams to show the police where the other girls were being hidden. Miracles of awakening, what was once an unknown issue, be declared by the President of the United States as “the great human rights fight of our generation.” I volunteered at a student conference hosted by IJM last fall, and met hundreds of leaders, representing thousands of students, who were committing their time, and some of them, their entire college careers (and possibly after) to the fight for justice for the poor. We have seen miracles of transformation not just of lives, but of whole societies, IJM and partners have freed thousands of slaves in South Asia, but we have also have heard reports of hundreds more being released by their captors of their own accord because all the arrests have led them to conclude them that it is no longer worth the risk to keep slaves because they really could get caught. Now that is “light breaking forth like the dawn.” (Isaiah 58:8) 

Now I don’t want to give you the wrong impression – the fight against injustice is in fact a fight. And I’m an intern in a small field office and probably know far less about that fight than any of the staff that have been in this work since I was in grade school. More than there are exciting rescues and tear-jerking stories of restoration, there are court delays and tip-offs, and months of work for incremental beauracratic victories towards citizenship, and overturned judgements, and and the monotonous banality of the evil of apathy in those around us, and in ourselves. Which is what makes it all the more striking when, after months of years of working on a case, there is suddenly a conviction, or an official changes his mind and grants citizenship to 500 people all at once.

God promises in scriptures that He will take up the case of the poor, and that if we follow his call to “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow” that our “light will break forth like the dawn” and that we will be called “Repairer of Broken Walls, and Restorer of Streets with Dwellings” (Isaiah 58:6,8,12). And He has followed through on that promise. He is faithful. Through our longest nights, and in the darkest places on earth, He is faithful. In those places and fights that are the most hopeless, He is the closest.

I have had a taste of this faithfulness. I was originally assigned to be a Communications Intern in South Asia, in one of IJM’s largest offices, telling the stories of those once held in forced labor slavery. Instead, I am the Aftercare Intern for one of IJM’s newest projects in a small office in Northern Thailand. After months of prayer, confusion, joy, brokenness, victory and loss, I have no pithy explanation for what God intended me to learn from this. It is not super clear or obvious to me why this had to happen the way it did – why I had to spend months prepping for a place I would never go, and then sit anxiously for another two, and then all of a sudden be sent somewhere completely different to do something I knew nothing about, at no small inconvenience to the office I arrived in.

God is not so simple to reveal it all to me. And although I do not know what I am doing, I do know that He is good. I know I have learned much and found a deep joy and hope, and my heart of stone has been broken and rewoven into something better, and that I am more deeply God’s than I ever been. Even if I do not always feel His presence, or understand His work, or have mountaintop highs, I know Him more. I have found a firm belief that God is at work and that He will answer prayers. Things are not all roses – I have fought loneliness, anxiousness, anger, and a subtle, deep sense of discomfort that being outside of your own culture can give you. I have cried and stared at my ceiling and my Bible has sounded empty and hollow. I have felt the slow cheesegrater-to-the-soul effect that this job can have if you let it. But I have believed, and I have fought the good fight, badly, but I have tried the very best I can. And I will keep trying. God has proven Himself to be faithful throughout the whole history of mankind and I am not vain enough to think myself the exception.

It’s in the knowledge of all this, in the serious business of God’s faithfulness, that I am drawn into an interesting, and perfectly unexpected conclusion. In the face of God’s perfect faithfulness, we must have the faith and the courage to be kind of foolish. To believe in things that don’t seem like they could be true and dive wholeheartedly into things that don’t seem like they will work. I think of Joshua telling his troops as they head towards the city of Jericho that they aren’t actually going to be using weapons, they’re just going to walk around the city playing trumpets and breaking jars and hope it works out. They must have looked RIDICULOUS.

In the view of God’s faithfulness, where really is the room for human wisdom? A glance back at the scriptures and at God’s faithfulness in my own life and all the perfectly reasonable arguements that say things like “be realistic” seem rather, well, unrealistic. Because reality is, we have a God who if He is with us “nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.” That is either true or it is not, and there’s not really a whole lot of room for “wise” things like hedging your bets, or keeping a plan B. If it is true, we should have the courage to live in a way that reflects that, and if it is not then this is all a waste of our time. For when we meet God, and he asks us why we kept Him so confined, and lived such conservative, comfortable lives, and we answer “well God, I believed in You but I just didn’t want to risk too much, in case you let me down or didn’t turn out to be real” I doubt He will respond by praising us for being so wise.

So, in the great knowledge that God is faithful, may we have the courage to be foolish for the sake of the Gospel. I, in what has been undoubtedly one of the hardest things I have ever done, have found myself increasingly stuck on the GOODNESS of God. On the JOY He has in us, on the HOPE we have in Him, on His FAITHFULNESS, and now, on how FOOLISH all of that empowers us to be. Check out this video by one of my favorite bands, an Irish worship band called Rend Collective Experiment, which sums up this great truth. May you be encouraged, brothers and sisters! And in view of God’s greatness, may you find a joy and a hope and a foolishness and a life you could never have imagined.