In a previous post I reflected on the early stirrings of a passion for justice in my life as a young man.
After university, I had the privilege of going overseas with United Church of Canada, and serving with the Methodist Church of Brazil. Working alongside Brazilian friends was one of the richest experiences in my life. I can only hope some of their love for life and deep Christian faith rubbed off on me in the process.
I know my passion for justice grew through my time in South America. I worked in the Northeast of Brazil, the largest area of poverty in the Americas at the time. Families valiantly scraped by on meagre pay or piecemeal work. Sometimes they did not make it. Child mortality rates were amongst the highest anywhere in the Americas.
I learned from my Methodist colleagues how faith, love and justice were inseparable. Like the predominant evangelical denominations around them, saving souls was a huge priority for the church. But the Wesleyan heritage of the Methodist congregations ran deep in Brazil. Being the church, meant rolling up the sleeves doing something about the suffering and injustice around them.
It was also inspiring to work alongside Catholic brothers and sisters who sacrificed their own comforts to stand in solidarity with marginalized communities and help break years of dominance by the powers that be.
On one special occasion I was blessed to hear Dom Hélder Câmera speak, shortly before his death. Câmera was an Archbishop in the Northeast during an oppressive military regime.
When I heard him he was small and frail, yet his spirit came through large and strong as a champion of the poor and underprivileged. Câmera is perhaps best known for his line, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”
Taking the message of justice home
I returned to Canada with a greater appreciation of what it meant to stand in solidarity with others. It helped me to appreciate Christians advocating for justice in our country, whether taking a stand with the disadvantaged in their own communities or in First Nations communities, or standing up for respect and just treatment regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation.
And it was here in Canada that I had the joy of being part of Christian advocacy that helped move mountains, literally – as in mountains of debt.
At the turn of the millennium, some Christians got the idea that this would be a good time to implement the Biblical practice of Jubilee. In the Bible, the practice of Jubilee included wiping out the debts of the poor every 50 years.
Many developing nations were under crippling debt at this time. The high interest charges left little for education or heath care.
Between the Jubilee 2000 campaign and the subsequent Make Poverty History campaign, billions of dollars in unpayable debt were finally cancelled. Today, millions of children are in school and in good health because of those efforts.
I believe advocacy is an underused muscle in the church today. We are called to use every gift we have to love others. As Canadians, living in a free and democratic society, one of those gifts is our voice, our influence.
Perhaps, as was the practice of our Lord, it’s time to stand with the marginalized and the silenced of our day. As it was for Jesus, working for justice is our calling. It is what we were created for.
He (Jesus) stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”