Training for justice: Responding to the call of a new generation

Andy Harrington recently visited a boarding school in Burundi in which the girls were crowded together both as they slept and as they studied.

Andy Harrington recently visited a boarding school in Burundi in which the girls were crowded together both in their dorm and at their desks.

JustUs is all about justice. Wellspring and The Elevation Project are partnering to offer a JustUs Training Conference for young people who want to engage in justice issues, March 28 at First Christian Reformed Church of Vancouver. Andy Harrington, CEO of Wellspring, will be a keynote speaker.

Not long ago I stood in a room. Not just any room. It was in a dorm, in a school, in an impoverished village in Burundi, the second poorest country in the world. A room designed for 15 young women who would live there for five years as they studied in secondary school. 

Not a big room and not a big dorm. The building seemed pretty packed for the 80 young women who would stay there. That is until we found out that they would actually be cramming 50 in that one room; 320 in that building; 4 to a bunk; 100 to a classroom; 5 to a desk.

It sickened me.

Andy Harrington is one of two keynote speakers at JustUs.

Andy Harrington is one of two keynote speakers at JustUs.

The night before, some friends and I shared a meal with Josh and Nadine, a young married couple from Edmonton building a medical clinic for the desperately poor in a town nearby.

They didn’t have much, yet it was one of the richest meals I have had for a long time. They loved God with all their hearts, minds and souls and were living on the edge of existence in order to serve the poor.

Why would they do that? And why should we care about 320 girls crammed into a place that could easily become hell on earth for them?

Why?

Because Jesus tells us to.

And as Jeff from Community would say, “Here’s the thing”: A generation in Canada innately knows that we should care and they are calling us on it. For too long the church has focused on a definition of righteousness that is one-dimensional and focused on being right.

We have talked of personal salvation and holiness, of purity and forgiveness. And that’s good, it’s truth. But it’s not enough truth. One of the key messages of the Hemorrhaging Faith research that came out in 2012 – which looked at why young people are leaving the church in droves – is that we have alienated a generation that sees the church as argumentative and hypocritical, inward looking and judgmental.

justice1Instead, they want to see our words in action. It’s the ‘me to we’ generation and they want to see a church that cares for those outside its doors.

To be relevant again, the church must engage with the cause of justice that the Bible talks so powerfully about. Yes, tell people about the healing that Jesus provides and the way to forgiveness that we all need.

But understand that’s only one dimension of who he is. It’s righteousness and justice – and we fall into the trap of self-centredness when we forget that Jesus calls us not inwards, but outwards – to the homeless in our cities, to the single moms on welfare, to the girl about to be abused in a hellhole of a dorm and to the sick who have no one to heal them.

burundischoolgirlsTheologians talk of the quartet of the vulnerable: the widow, the poor, the orphan and the immigrant – those that are singled out in scripture for special attention. Every person is worthy of dignity and respect, full of worth and value. No one is loved by God more or less than any other. That includes 320 girls in Burundi, existing in that dorm as you read this.

It’s as we understand this truth and decide to do something, as we journey together in an attempt to intersect with God’s heart for the vulnerable, that change begins to happen in us. Mutual transformation occurs when we come face to face with our own poverty of spirit and when we work together to help overcome poverty in all its forms.

The call to be true citizens of the kingdom means we simply must serve our brothers and sisters, no matter what their circumstances, following the way that Jesus showed us. And in that serving may we find beauty in ourselves, the reflection of the heart of God that we so desperately seek.

Andy Harrington has been CEO with Wellspring Foundation since 2012; before that he was executive director of Greater Vancouver Youth Unlimited. The other keynote speaker at JustUs is Laura Solberg, who is Elevation Project Director with Youth Unlimited.

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