By Scott Bessenecker
Scott is the Director of Global Urban Trek for Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, USA.
The heat of Cairo in the summer can be unforgiving. When that heat is added to the smells in the garbage village, zeal melts into lethargy. I remember climbing the hill to the monastery where we lived with a team of students from the USA inside this garbage-collecting community.
Next to me a team of donkeys suffered under an impossible load of garbage, struggling to reach the crest of the hill. Atop the garbage, the donkey-cart driver urged the beasts forward under the motivation of a whip.
My daughter Hannah, who has a huge heart for animals, looked at me with pleading eyes as the tormented donkeys struggled up the hill. As much as I felt sorry for myself, panting up the hill in 110-degree heat, I began to have compassion for the donkeys.
Why? I wondered. These weren’t soul-bearing creatures. They lived to serve. What could I do anyway? I couldn’t relieve their plight any more than I could relieve my own misery, climbing that insufferable hill.
Step by sweaty step we pressed on. My conscience and my daughter continued to trouble me. Finally, I gave in. Without a glance backward from the donkey-cart driver (nor, do I guess, much noticeable relief for the donkeys), I shouldered the back of the garbage cart and began to push.
What good is it, I wondered, to add to my suffering only to give some inconsequential relief to these beasts, without even the benefit of the owner’s thanks? Still I kept pushing.
At the top of the hill, I turned right toward the monastery and the donkeys turned left. Immediately, I came upon Romany who was sitting in his usual spot outside his butcher shop. He was waiting for enough business to justify another pig slaughter.
Every day we stepped through the blood and entrails that flowed down in little rivers from the hill outside Romany’s butcher shop. Romany was a Coptic Christian: one of the ancient Middle Eastern Christian traditions. He had been a good friend to our team and me since our arrival in the garbage village.
As I passed, Romany said three words to me that have changed my life. He said, “God saw that.” I had not been aware of Romany’s watchful eye from his perch atop the hill. He wanted to remind me that to serve the suffering counts for something in God’s eyes.
Acts of justice and mercy do not go unnoticed by everyone—God sees. How much more is that true when we seek the justice of people made in God’s image, in the midst of their suffering.
For many evangelicals in the West, personal holiness has been the focus of our spirituality. Sin becomes a highly personalized issue to be addressed only by the sinner. Righteousness is considered in individualistic terms.
Worship is centered on my actions or responses: Have I read my Bible? Did I hurt anyone in my thoughts, words, or deeds? But in Scripture, personal and social righteousness and justice are inextricably linked: “Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24). Leaving concern for justice out of our lives invalidates our worship. To focus on the personal to the exclusion of the social is not biblical.
In his book Good News about Injustice, Gary Haugen effectively substantiates the fact that confronting social evil is the thoroughly biblical calling of those who follow Christ.
In the selection provided below, “Champions of Justice,” Haugen supplies examples of everyday Christians who stood up for the oppressed and changed social systems.
Likewise, in Viv Grigg’s chapter “With Justice for All” from his seminal book Companion to the Poor, a convincing case is built for Christians to confront power holders, as they stand alongside those whose rights are being trampled.
God gives power, not for personal aggrandizement, but as a trust to utilize on behalf of those who have none.
For more info on Justice issues:
International Justice Mission – www.ijm.org
World Relief – www.worldrelief.org