people matter, justice matters adapted from a talk at ekg
People are valuable to God. God created people in His own image, so we need to treat people justly because they represent part of God. Too often, as Americans, we spiritualize this idea, make it all sorta up in the air and abstract. That it’s only about our eternal souls. But it is so much more than spiritual. God cares about the way people are treated here on earth. He cares about where they live and what they eat or don’t get to eat.
This summer Fara and I had the opportunity to lead students on a mission trip to the urban poor in Manila, Philippines. Our team was able to learn JUST a LITTLE about what life is like for many of the poorest of the poor.
Smokey Mountain is a garbage village where 30,000 people live and work by scavenging through Manila’s trash looking for recyclables – cans, plastics, anything that can be sold at a junk shop for a little money. It’s called Smokey Mountain because as the garbage decomposes, it releases methane, and often in the summer heat – these pockets of methane spontaneously ignite causing fires. There is often smoke rising from this mountain of trash. Children as young as 5 play and work at the dump site. The garbage is unstable and at times people fall in and die.
It was here, at one of the ministry sites that I met a boy named Jerome. He’s on the right in the picture – a beautiful 5 year old with lots of energy. Our whole team had come to Smokey Mountain to visit with some of the older children who are part of a priest’s ministry there – but I noticed Jerome because he was the only young kid there. I saw him sorta hiding in the corner behind some wooden slats, so I went up and started playing peek-a-boo between these slats, it was really fun. We then progressed to the game of “throw-the-empty-pepsi-bottle around,” he was very good at catch. Then we played the universal “spin the child around in the air by his arms until I get really dizzy” I was so dizzy, but he was fine. I watched him eat some skittles we had brought. Soon after, we had to leave, and we sent Jerome home.
I only hung out with him for a few hours, but I feel like he really gave me a gift, far more than I could give him. He’s given me a name and a face to all the statistics I hear. When I hear things like “30,000 children die from hunger EACH DAY” I don’t really know what to do with that. My small mind can’t understand that. But I can picture Jerome, and maybe lots of Jeromes, and I think my heart can try to start and understand. God knows each of those 30,000 children, and if I really want to know God’s heart, I need to start TRY to get my mind and heart around those facts.
What does it take for us to care? It takes us realizing that everyone is an image bearer.
There’s more than just knowing Jerome’s face though – because there is also systematic injustice – systems and structures that cause the problem. There are a lot of questions for me at Smokey Mountain:
How did the dump get there?
Why can’t these scavengers find any other jobs?
What can the Filipino government do that they aren’t already?
What has America (as a world power) done in the past to make the Philippines (a former US territory) the way it is now?
Big questions. I have started to learn and answer some of those. But the one I wrestle with most is how do these realities change the way I live?
These realities have existed for a long time, me knowing doesn’t change much, except that it should change me.
I think there a number of ways – one is EDUCATION – what would it look like to actually find out what’s going on in the world. There are plenty of websites and places to learn (try http://www.sojo.net ). I know it’s easy to turn a blind eye, because we can. It’s a lot easier to watch ESPN or MTV than to watch the news. Or to go to some random xanga site instead of reading the news online.
two is SPEAKING UP/TAKING ACTION – what might it look like to live more simply, skip eating out sometimes so you can give it to an organization, sponsor a compassion kid, eat less meat, recycle, start a compost pile, volunteer at a homeless shelter… wherever you’re at, try taking one step MORE. Jump in a little more, take another step. There are all kinds of poverty, racism, and injustice here in the states – find out about that, and speak up against misinformed ideas or ignorance… Do SOMETHING.
Of all the people in the world, we, the self-proclaimed “Christians” ought to be the ones who care. We say we love people, but our ignorance, apathy, and selfishness are despicable.
It takes work, it means getting outside our little selfish bubbles. But if we really believe in image bearing, if we really care what God says about it, we will re-evaluate the way we live our lives.
Whoever oppresses the poor insults their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.