Seeking Justice and Rescuing the Oppressed (8/28/16)

Please answer the following question- Three areas where injustice and oppression is happening in our country are…?

It’s fairly easy to name areas where injustice and oppression are happening in other parts of the world, such as Syria, Iraq and Nigeria, where brutality and human rights violations run rampant. Can we do the same for our own country?

As Christians, we should be able to it. God expects us to be aware of these areas. Isaiah 1:17 tells us to

“Learn to do right; seek justice,

encourage the oppressed.

Defend the cause of the fatherless,

plead the case of the widow.”

We have to know where there is injustice if we’re going to seek justice for the victims. We have to be able to recognize oppression if we’re going to free people from it. The truth is most of us can’t identify these situations unless we or someone we know is a victim. Plus, we live in a rural, white area that doesn’t have all of the problems which plaque diverse, urban areas.

While visiting Vietnam and Cambodia, God clearly revealed examples of severe injustices and oppressions. I’m still trying to process what God wants me to do with these revelations. It’s been over three years since that trip and I still don’t have a lot of answers. However, because of that trip, I’m going to ask you to step out of your comfort zone and go on an unsettling  journey with me.

Some areas of injustice and oppression are very easy to identify. When we were in Phenom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, we went to headquarters of the International Justice Mission, or IJM. The organization was founded by Gary Haugen in 1997. Gary was a human rights lawyer for the U.S. Dept. of Justice who served as the director of the United Nations investigation into the 1997 Rwandan genocide. While working there, he asked, “What would happen if we were able to get into these countries before these types of events happened?” This led to the creation of IJM, which is now in 18 countries working to rescue victims of injustice.

IJM began working in Cambodia in 2004 to free people who were victims of forced labor. They emphasized rescuing underage victims from the sex industry. The age for consent in Cambodia is 15. When IJM started, over 30% of the workers were underage, with the youngest victim they rescued being a 5-year-old girl. They had gotten the percentage down to under 1% when we were there in 2013.

We hear reports of human trafficking in poor countries around the world on a regular basis. As terrible as this is, it’s easy for us to ignore because that’s “over there.” But what’s happening “over here” in the United States of America?

According to modern-injustice.com, each year approximately 800,000 people are trafficked globally and between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. 

Bob Sanborn and Steven Goff of Children at Risk, a Texas non-profit focused on the well-being of children, said that young girls and women are forced to sell their bodies for $250 to $500 and are “nothing but a product.”

Most domestic minor sex trafficking victims are runaways who’ve fled an abusive home in hopes of finding a more secure, stable environment.  Traffickers prey on vulnerable women and girls, and use coercive techniques to lure women and children into the commercial sex industry.  It’s estimated that 1 in 3 runaways will be lured into prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home, and the average age of entry into prostitution in the United States is 12-14 years old.  Although sex trafficking is the largest form of domestic human trafficking, domestic labor trafficking affects thousands of Americans as well.  Victims of labor trafficking are frequently found in restaurants, traveling carnivals, peddling/begging rings, traveling sales crews, and in the agricultural industry.

It’s easy to get upset about issues like this because stopping them will not affect our lifestyle. I certainly hope that none of us are involved in anything like this.

Other issues of injustice and oppression can be much more complicated because addressing them might affect our pocketbooks. Do you realize that when we go clothes shopping and the tag says “Made in Cambodia,” the worker who made that garment for us makes $61 – $63 a month?

I know what some of you are thinking. $63 is a lot more money over there than it is back here. That’s true. However, when we were going through Phenom Penh, I saw a KFC. The prices there were cheap compared to what we pay here. A two-piece meal with sides was only $3. That’s a good price – for us. However, $63 a month averages out to around $3 a day. The next time you eat out, would you want to pay a day’s wage for each person in your family to have a meal? When we think about it this way, $63 a month isn’t much money.

Do you realize that many of the cheap Christmas decorations we buy are made by political prisoners in China? That’s why they can mass produce items so cheaply.

Do you understand that our desire for cheap goods are why many American manufacturers are in these countries in the first place? Many American Christians gripe about the influx of foreign goods and the loss of American jobs but they aren’t willing to pay higher prices so the American companies will stay in our country. We’d rather have lower prices, even if it means sacrificing American jobs and exploiting people in third-world countries.

It’s easy for us to dismiss any Christian obligation in these areas because we are active in so many other areas of our faith. We volunteer for committees and work hard in our ministries. We give our money to keep the church going and to help others. All of these things are good, and even necessary, but we must be very careful not to turn a blind eye to injustice and oppression.

Earlier we read Isaiah 1:17. Let’s look at the context in which it was written by reading Isaiah 1:11-17

11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—

what are they to me?” says the Lord.

“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,

of rams and the fat of fattened animals;

I have no pleasure

in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.

12     When you come to appear before me,

who has asked this of you,

this trampling of my courts?

13     Stop bringing meaningless offerings!

Your incense is detestable to me.

New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—

I cannot bear your evil assemblies.

14     Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts

my soul hates.

They have become a burden to me;

I am weary of bearing them.

15     When you spread out your hands in prayer,

I will hide my eyes from you;

even if you offer many prayers,

I will not listen.

Your hands are full of blood;

16     wash and make yourselves clean.

Take your evil deeds

out of my sight!

Stop doing wrong,

17     learn to do right!

Seek justice,

encourage the oppressed.

Defend the cause of the fatherless,

plead the case of the widow.

The Israelites had forgotten they were to be God’s instruments for good on earth. Unfortunately, they changed their focus from building God’s kingdom to building their own. Although they continued to offer sacrifices and observe religious holidays according to the Old Testament Law, God said “I don’t care. You’re not looking out for the welfare of others. As a matter of fact, you’re contributing to the injustice that’s oppressing them.”

If many of the cheap products we’re buying are made by people who are being exploited and can’t stand up for themselves, are we any better than the Israelites were? Is God impressed with our work and offerings if we and our nation are contributing to injustice and oppression around the world?

Some may argue that since this passage is in the Old Testament, we’re no longer bound by its laws and codes. We follow Jesus. OK. What does Jesus say about such things?

In Matthew 23:23-26 Jesus says,23Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

Although the wording is different, Jesus gives the same message to his followers that Isaiah gave to the Israelites.

I realize you were not on the trip to Vietnam and Cambodia with me. I can’t expect you feel the way I feel because you didn’t visit IJM and you didn’t see the garment factories in person. The problems of injustice and oppression are complex and a world-wide solution can’t be implemented by a small congregation in rural Bedford County. Nonetheless, God calls us to open our eyes to the suffering around us and to work at relieving oppression.

So, what is God calling us to do about the injustice and oppression in the world around us?

1) Become aware of what is happening. It’s easy to use the Internet and research what’s going on around us. In today’s world, simply saying “I don’t own a computer” is not a valid excuse. We have libraries, family, friends and churches who can help us gather information.

We also need to open our eyes to what’s happening in our own community. People right around us are victims of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. We have to care enough to start looking for the signs and then help the victims once we see them.

2) Search the Bible for scriptures about injustice, mercy, and helping the oppressed. There are more in there than we realize. God hates these things and that he commands us to be part of the solution.

3) Pray for guidance. God will show us what he wants us to do.

4) Be used by God. He shows us injustice and oppression for a reason. It isn’t just so we can say “Oh those poor people” and then go our own way.

5) Lean on God’s strength. Fighting injustice is mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically draining. Jesus Christ will give us the strength and abilities we need to persevere.

I realize this message made many of you uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable too. However, Jesus doesn’t call us to be content. He calls us to be faithful. He tells us to seek justice and help the oppressed. There’s nothing comfortable about any of this.

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