Clueless

It Stays in Your Head

Why justice matters to you and your ministry

Global/Missional / Trends //

One of my earliest memories of “those less fortunate than me” goes back to when I was 3 or 4 years old. My parents and grandparents told me to finish all of my food at meals because there were poor children in China who didn’t have enough to eat. That stayed in my head, and I still clean my plate to this day.

My next recollection of “those less fortunate than me” dates back to the summer before fifth grade when I took a trip to Boston with my grandparents. We were eating lunch at Faneuil Hall one afternoon when I saw a grimy-looking woman picking through a garbage can. When I asked my gramma why she was sifting through the garbage, she told me the person was a bag lady searching for food. That stayed in my head. When Halloween arrived, I dressed up as a bag lady.

In high school, the topic of gangs intrigued me. I can remember not being able to wear certain color combinations to school because they were associated with various Chicago gangs. Movies and rap music portraying gang life were big hits. That stayed in my head. My English research paper that year focused on the two most notorious L.A. gangs: the Bloods and the Crips.

Fast forward to my senior year of college. God put this pull on my heart to go to Africa. That stayed in my head, and I soon found myself on a 3-week mission trip working with street children in Kenya.

What I didn’t know then was that God was using these experiences related to injustice that caught my attention over the years to show me His calling on my life. It is a passion that resonates close to His heart—a hunger and thirst for righteousness. This is now what propels me forward in my life.

Hungry children in China, a bag lady, gangs and African street children … what does all of this have to do with you? Everything, especially if you are a Christian.

Commanded to justice

The second commandment is to Love your neighbor as yourself.” Justice is embedded in that statement. As you read through the Bible, you see the call for justice among the people of God. The Israelite kings were judged on whether they ruled with justice. Their kingdoms fell or rose accordingly. Jesus had a lot to say about justice, and He often said it without words. How can we as Christians not pay attention to issues of injustice occurring in our world, whether overseas or in our own community.

Today’s young adults are some of the most passionate people about issues of injustice. They are tired of seeing the suffering caused by decade-long wars or diseases that could be treated if only the medicines needed were accessible. They stand up to say they won’t purchase products made by slave labor and instead buy from companies that give back, such as TOMS Shoes. They have the innovation to start fundraising campaigns that build schools for needy children and dig wells where clean water is not available. They possess a hunger and thirst for righteousness, and many of them aren’t even Christians.

We are often so focused on what is happening in our own lives, homes and churches that we miss the world going on without us. So how about taking a look outside the walls you’ve built around you to see who your neighbor is? And while you’re at it, bring the kids in your ministry with you on this journey.

How to begin your justice journey

There are many places to start on this journey. In a world with so much injustice, it is good to be educated on what is actually taking place. But you might want to pick out just a few cases where you strive to become an expert and focus on them. As a children’s ministry leader, you probably want to choose an issue where you can involve your children.

Here’s an example. There are over 14 million refugees worldwide today. They have fled their countries due to war and persecution. Many have spent an average of 10 years in another country waiting for peace to come so they can go home. Unfortunately, peace hasn’t come for many. These refugees end up being resettled in a new country.

The U.S. is one of the top destinations for resettling refugees. These refugees arrive here frequently not knowing the language or the culture. They often still suffer from trauma they experienced in their home country or the country in which they were seeking refuge. They may have been well-educated, well-paid professionals in their home country, but when they get to the U.S. they are only qualified to work in a factory or at a menial job making minimum wage and logging long hours. They come to a place where they know no one and an extended familial structure of support is no longer available.

Let’s say you are a pastor and want to see your children’s ministry reach out to refugees who move into your community. Take that desire and research to see if you have a refugee resettlement program in your area. If you do, find out how your church or ministry can come alongside refugee families that will soon resettle into your community.

This is a great approach to start with something you already like to do and take a stand for justice, too. Doing it as a ministry helps introduce children to situations of which they might not be aware. Or perhaps they have seen these foreign kids in their schools but never paid attention to them.

Supporting refugee families’ resettlement into your community will help the refugees assimilate to a new culture. Plus here are some ways you and your children will benefit.

  • You can learn where the families are from and expand your knowledge of a new country and people group.
  • You can learn about a new culture as you share about your culture through activities. Families with children in your ministry could cook meals for each other, share about important U.S. holidays (perhaps even Christian holidays) and learn about their important holidays, take them to different places like the zoo which may be totally new to them and just enjoy each other’s company.
  • If they aren’t Christians, you might be able to invite them to your church, bring their children into your ministry, share the gospel with them and help them understand what it means to be a follower of Christ. What a great opportunity to involve your whole ministry as ambassadors for Christ and His Kingdom.

A commitment to justice will enrich your lives and teach you and your children what it is like to take a stand for righteousness. You’ll also get kids outside of their comfort zone. You are shaping the worldview of your ministry’s kids and developing them into justice-conscious leaders for the present and future.

You know those street children I worked with on that mission trip in college? That experience stayed in my head. After college I went back to Kenya as a missionary to work full-time with street children. It’s amazing what God will do once you get outside your walls.

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About the Author

Shelley Welch is project manager for Awana International's Children-at-Risk Initiative. (Learn more at children-at-risk.awana.org.) Shelley served three years on the mission field in Kenya, Africa, where she worked with street children. She has also served in churches as a children's ministry director and organized, trained and led short-term mission trips.