Because it strikes me there is something greater than judgement. I think it is called mercy.
– Sebastian Berry
I apologize now – this post is a little scattered, but there’s something I think God wants me to say somewhere in here.
I mentioned in my second blog post, when I had been here 2 or 3 weeks, rather vaguely, that being here was reweaving something deep in me, but I couldn’t place it. Its been 8 months and I now think I can start to.
Coming to work for an organization called International Justice Mission, I naturally thought I would learn about God’s work of justice. I had (this is embarrassing but I’ll admit) grandiose mental images of myself as some kind of warrior for righteousness, that I would actively take down the evil around me. I thought I would see amazing images of God’s power, His righteous anger, I thought I would meet God the conqueror, God the lion, God the defender and protector. I was going into battle, Team Jesus.
I think back to where my head was at when I got here and it feels like a lifetime ago, not a year. Its gone by so fast, but when I read thoughts I jotted down in notebooks a year ago, I feel like someone else wrote them. In a way, someone else did.
I thought “dying to self” was my decision to move halfway across the world and live a unglamorous lifestyle. It never occurred to me that it would be the dying of the way I had defined myself, a hallowing out of all of those things I thought I was and a stripping down until all there was left was Jesus. I thought of “dying to self” as a one-time choice, a martyrdom. Turns out that death to self is a slow and, at times, painful, one.
I went to see a judgement issued for a child abuser my first week. I was shocked by the quiet reactions of the staff, their level-headed lack of celebration, the way they just moved on to the next case. Last week, we got 4 convictions in a trafficking case. I heard the news from our team’s lawyer and I closed my eyes and exhaled deeply in a short prayer, thank You, Jesus, may this honor You. And then I started hashing out the details of which charges applied to which perpetrators and figuring out some inconsistencies in sentencing.
My desire for celebration was gone. My desire to tell the world about all the cool work my team was doing was muted. This was God’s victory, and it was for His glory.
It is not about the defeat of human evil, its not about winning. I didn’t feel victory, because there is nothing to celebrate about very broken people, caught in the very deepest of evil and sin, being punished for the hurt they’ve caused. If we celebrate, it is for the children who are no longer vulnerable. But it is not because the perpetrators deserve punishment. Of course they do, but so do all of us. It is not ours to avenge, because if we really wanted justice, we would all be in serious trouble. I am no better than them. And when I think of them, all I feel is a pang of sadness, and I’m brought back to prayer for them and for myself, because we all need mercy in equal and infinite measure.
What I have learned working for International Justice Mission is not the value of justice but the value of mercy. Our God is a God of justice, and He uses His people to create justice on this earth of His example of His perfect justice. And I thought I was supposed to be one of those people, a fighter.
And I’m not. I did not understand why I was placed in Aftercare when I came to IJM – I’m not exactly the social work type. Confrontational and short-tempered, I am not cut out for the slow, patient, emotionally-draining selflessness required of social workers. But now I can see so clearly, what the job and the people have taught me about mercy. About faithfulness. About patience. About gentleness. About joy. These are the fruits of the spirit. Not my self-righteous desire for big, visible wins.
THIS is God at work. THIS is our God. I stood in the yard of a young client’s house as she passed around her baby to be held and coddled by the aftercare staff, and joined in their complete joy at how beautiful he was. I looked up and saw the blue-gray rolling mountains, a stunning backdrop to this moment of unhindered and simple joy. THIS is our God. The God that is the Creator of the universe, and yet delights in the laughter of infants. The God who made the stars, and who knows every beating of our fragile, fickle hearts. God is in the quiet, in the stillness, in the every day. And He looked on us and smiled, because this joy and love honored Him just as much if not more than any conviction we might get against her abuser and father of the child. This was redemption, salvation, a glimpse, just for a moment, of a day when there will be no more tears, when forgiveness and justice and mercy will all be perfectly fulfilled in Jesus, and in the mysterious “already-not yet” way they already are.
I finished a book this morning by IJM’s CEO, Gary Haugen. It tells the story of one of IJM’s first big operations, that led to 12 arrests and the rescuing of 37 minors from sex trafficking in Svay Pak, outside of Phnom Pehn, Cambodia. Most of the book is dedicated to explaining the investigations, build up, legal case, basically how this kind of thing is pulled off. Most of that information is not news to me at this point. The book also talks about the brutal reality of the sexual exploitation of children. Also, unfortunately, not news to me. There was exactly one moment in the book though that overwhelmed to the point of tears, and actually is what inspired me to write today.
The book explained that immediately after the rescue, the girls were brought back to a transitional home. As young as 5, they were terrified and confused. But on the porch of the house sat 37 colorfully wrapped baskets with toiletries, essentials, clothes, and a teddy bear for every one of them. When the IJM staff managed to explain to the girls that the baskets for them, they lit up and ran for the baskets, with the unabashed delight of children on receiving presents, magnified by the fact that these were girls who had learned not to expect them.
Gary Haugen echoed something I had seen, but couldn’t explain, when he wrote about this moment in the book – it wasn’t indicative of anything, it wasn’t a miraculous moment of healing, and it spoke nothing of the long, slow rode to recovery for these girls or the struggles that lie ahead for them. It didn’t mean anything, but it was real, and it was true. And it was an amazing gift from God for the children, and for the staff who had helped rescue them. It was a moment where everything was good. A glimpse of life as it was meant to be. A glimpse of heaven, when all will be made new. It was a moment of mercy from God.
These moments, the one Gary described with the baskets, the one I saw with the baby, others, aren’t why we do it, and they aren’t normal, but man they are a gift. And as tears rolled down my face this morning while I was reading, it was so obvious to me that, despite my great weakness and brokenness, that God really had done a great work in me, and continued to do it.
I’d always assumed the “softer” fruits of the spirit, like gentleness and kindness, were a little outside of my wheelhouse, and excused myself from developing them. Looking to those Godly attributes that seemed more valuable to me, like strength, courage, and wisdom, I’ve been frustrated recently by what seemed like a stagnation in growth. Laughing at myself crying over baskets of teddy bears, it became pretty clear to me that I had just been looking for growth in the wrong direction. It also became pretty clear to me that those “softer” fruits came from a place that was maybe even stronger than the courage and resilience I had always admired and wanted.
All of this is to say is that this soul-reweaving? To summarize it, God has killed off much of the bitterness inside me that I thought was “righteous anger” and replaced it with and endless appetite for mercy. Just mercy. God has brought me to my knees in simple moments of teddy bears and babies. I understand so little, but I know God is good, that Jesus covers us, and that mercy, the blood of Jesus, will be my ebenezer.
Man’s desire to be judge of good and evil was what got us into this mess in the first place. Jesus’s life, death and resurrection proclaimed that we are all enemies of God, and that in Him, we are all perfect and forgiven and made new. In the Gospel, there is no room for us place judgement on others, in the Gospel we are all sinful and we are all forgiven. There is a line between good and evil, but it is not between us and them, but inside ourselves, and between the goodness of God and the brokenness of the world. God will create justice on earth and He will use His people to do it, but not because we are good and others are not. Not because we have any authority to decide who deserves punishment. Our work towards justice must drive us over and over again back to the point of thanking God for His mercy towards us through the gift of His son. It must drive us back to realizing that we are all wretched, those we prosecute no more than us. It must drive us back to realizing that we are all made in God’s image, us no more than them. It must drive us to prayer for them. It must drive us to mercy.
This is Jesus, this is Gospel, and this is the way the lamb, the suffering servant, shut the mouths of kings. In love. I still have so much to learn, but I am so thankful that He hasn’t given up on me yet, and will not. That is one of His greatest mercies.
Thank you for your continued prayers and support as I head into the last third of my time here. I couldn’t have done any of this without all of you.
God, may Your Kingdom come, may Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.