3 Ways Missions Stands Against InjusticePosted on Friday, August 20th, 2021
By David Gee
There’s an odd tension that we often walk in missions. Feed the poor, or proclaim the gospel? Granted, the most obvious answer is “both-and.” However, for one reason or another, there is an assumption that sometimes rears its head that Christian missions is too often about preaching the Gospel while not doing enough to feed the poor and hungry of the world physically. As William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army put it, “You can’t preach to a man who has an empty stomach and is shivering with cold.”
However, the longer I walk in missions, the more I realize that once a missionary moves to a place it is only natural that he or she begins to walk alongside the new host culture in its struggle for justice. Whether it’s systemic racism, poverty, educational gaps, or any other social justice issue, Christian missions can seldom separate itself from fighting these issues in conjunction with preaching the good news of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross.
The thing is, missionaries have been about the business of preaching the good news of the Kingdom AND fighting for social justice for thousands of years now, and in the spirit of remembering those who have gone before us, here’s a quick overview of 3 ways missions is fighting injustice today.
1) The Fight Against Global Human Trafficking
Modern-day slavery is real, and it’s more prevalent than most people realize. There are currently an estimated 40 million people across the globe being trafficked and held against their will. These people are often forced to work in environments they can’t escape, one of the most common being the sex industry. Many of these people fall prey to predatory manipulation and coercion and are often without voices and systems to advocate for their freedom and integration into a normal working society.
Human trafficking has been one of the issues at the forefront of missionaries serving both in the US and overseas in the fight for justice. Human Trafficking exists across the globe, often surrounding big events like the Super Bowl, and no matter where missionaries end up, they almost always have to come face to face with this issue in some way. Thankfully, Christian missions have not stayed silent, nor unaware of the injustices of the modern-day slave trade.
Human trafficking has been one of the issues at the forefront of missionaries serving both in the US and overseas in the fight for justice.
The fight against human trafficking is multifaceted and complex. It involves extensive campaigns to raise awareness and educating others on how to spot evidence of human trafficking in their communities, as well as an army of people working on the legal front to see the traffickers themselves brought to justice. Even once captives are identified and liberated, it takes a whole separate set of initiatives, systems, and training in order to equip those formerly trafficked to lead normal lives and find sustainable work.
Currently, there are Christian ministries and mission organizations working at the forefront of all of these spheres in the fight against modern-day slavery both in our own backyard and abroad.
Interested in taking two years to engage in the fight against modern-day slavery? Check out our global justice placements HERE.
2) The Refugee Crisis of Europe
According to the BBC, in 2015 more than one million refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers crossed borders into Europe fleeing war and economic poverty. This mass influx of people moving into Europe created political, economic, and cultural tensions the world had seldom seen the likes of before. It prompted panic and extreme responses throughout Europe as some countries even began to close their borders to stem the flow of migrants and refugees. The arrival of the newcomers, often from Muslim majority countries, prompted a rise in stark nationalism in many European countries. And as more and more people flooded into Europe various migrant camps began to form along its closed borders resulting in thousands of people living in makeshift villages and squalid conditions.
While national governments wrestled with bureaucracy and policy, Christian mission organizations, along with other humanitarian organizations, worked hard to welcome refugees and provide safe living conditions for Europe’s new migrants. Multiple mission organizations worked in tandem to set up support centers in Lesvos, Greece, which was the arrival point for many refugees into Europe. The journey to Lesvos was often perilous, and thousands of migrants drowned trying to reach it, but those that succeeded in reaching Lesvos were often first welcomed and given dry clothes and food by the Christians who saw them as the very neighbors Christ commanded them to love.
Beyond the welcome stations, churches and mission organizations continue to be the current focal points for much of Europe’s efforts to welcome and equip migrants for the challenges that face them in the difficult adjustments to life in a new country where they often don’t know the language nor the structures in place for them to thrive.
3) The Fight to Save Indigenous Languages
One of the lesser-known injustices today is the decay of indigenous languages. Past colonial movements, as well as the current globalized economy that operates almost entirely in just a select few languages, have essentially forced indigenous populations across the globe to shelve their native languages in order to survive. This alarming extinction of languages is affecting people groups from the jungles of the Amazon to the Outback of Australia. As the languages of indigenous people go dormant or die, so does a key part of its speakers’ identity and culture.
Of the 6,000 languages spoken today, roughly 42% of them are in danger of extinction (according to the Ethnologue). This means that not only are these languages no longer being spoken in the marketplace, they’re also not being passed on to the next generation.
These shifts have been happening for centuries, and have often correlated with oppressive colonial movements. One prime example comes from Canada in the 20th century when the government forcibly relocated children of indigenous populations into foster homes so that they wouldn’t learn their mother tongue. The result was a whole generation of people growing up disconnected from their roots and culture.
Ironically enough, one of the more consistent advocates standing in the gap for endangered languages has historically been missionaries.
Whether by intention or not, many missionaries often end up being linguists. This is usually the result of a deep love for the people God has called them to that, in turn, leads them to dive deep into the heart language of their host culture.
As a result, missionaries find themselves immersed in and understanding indigenous cultures in a way much of the outside world can’t. Granted, it would be dishonest to say that every single missionary ever has managed to be sympathetic to a new host culture, and missionary endeavors have at times erred in their desire to love indigenous peoples well. However, missionaries have also historically been among the great preservers of indigenous languages and advocates of indigenous people groups.
Missionaries find themselves immersed in and understanding indigenous cultures in a way much of the outside world can’t
The most well-known example of this is the formation of the Ethnologue, the world’s largest language database which has documented bits of every known language spoken on the globe today, including those in danger of extinction. The Ethnologue was birthed out of the work of Bible translators and now serves as the foundation of language revival and preservation. We’ve gotten to see some of this work come to fruition even in recent history, as seen in the Tuashiro language spoken in Ecuador, the Barngarla language in Australia, and even Hawaiian.
I should add that language documentation is a long, tedious process involving everything from linguistic nuance to government policy, and it is seldom done perfectly. However, much of what is being done regularly involves the work of missionaries who have given themselves to love and advocate for indigenous peoples and their languages.
Wrapping it Up
One thing you realize when you move overseas is that the world is full of injustice. It’s one of the by-products of living in a post-Eden fallen reality, and unfortunately, injustices merely take on new forms, contexts, and complexities as you move across borders. God’s invitation to us in missions means we get to advocate for the marginalized of society and fight for justice as we seek to see His Kingdom come “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” After all, we serve and follow a God who not only has a heart for justice, but it is ingrained into his character. He is a just God.
God’s heart for justice runs as a strong current throughout the New and Old Testaments. It was the foundation of his commands to the people of Israel as God began to form a people for himself that were after his own heart. In Deuteronomy 16:20, as they’re journeying towards the Promised Land, God tells them “Justice, and only, justice, you shall follow.” God’s call for justice never ceased, even as Israel began to disobey. He went as far as to call the women of Samaria, “cows of Bashan” in Amos 4, because they spent their time satisfying their own craving instead of caring for the oppressed among them.
A quick look at the life of Jesus is more than enough to show that the Son of God was in one accord with his Father as he healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, and welcomed those the religious and political systems of the day ignored. And who could put it more simply than the epistle writer James who declared that pure religion was to “visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27)?
To engage in social justice while walking out a missional lifestyle is to be aligned with God’s heart. It is the ability to both preach and embody the good news among people that is the ultimate privilege of following the Great Commission. If you would like to explore opportunities to fight injustice while also sharing your faith then check out the list of placements in the Compassion - Justice track.