Report: The Justice Conference (2013)

Celeste Wyatt Lee recently attended The Justice Conference. I am thankful she accepted the offer to share her experiences with us online. –Jeff Boyd

Ken Wytsma founded The Justice Conference in 2010, with World Relief and Kilns College joining as convening organizations. This is one of the largest international gatherings on social and biblical justice. This two-day event promotes dialogue around justice related issues such as human trafficking, slavery, poverty, HIV/AIDS and human rights. I had the pleasure of attending The Justice Conference in February 2012 in Portland, OR, and again this year in Philadelphia, PA.

This year on Friday, there were five break out times, each having nine sessions to choose from. Beginning Friday evening and continuing through Saturday there were nine main sessions. Over 150 vendors filled the exhibit hall. The amount of information shared during this time is tremendous.

During one break out session, Max Finberg (White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships) said the government realizes that partnering with faith-based organizations is the best way to achieve common goals. He shared the example of how food shortage is an issue in the US; many children only eat at school. But what happens to those children in the summer when meals are not available through school? The Faith-based Initiative provided the funds, and a church in Texas prepared and served meals so these children could continue to eat while school was not in session. A lack of funds often keeps churches from doing outreach, and I thought this was a great way for churches to partner with the government while having a positive impact in their local communities. To visit their website click here. To receive a USAID faith-based and community initiative newsletter click here.

Brenda Salter McNeil is a powerful speaker and inspiring woman. She has over 25 years of ministry experience in the field of racial, ethnic and gender reconciliation. Her presentation on Esther titled “Who Me?” (and one on the Good Samaritan which I will share later) touched me deeply. She shared that there is discussion whether one is born or nurtured to be a leader, yet there is another element that factors into the discussion – being in the right place at the right time – and that is Esther’s story. We can manipulate a lot of things, but not time. That is in God’s hands.

Often people are disqualified for leadership because of what they have been through. Esther certainly was not qualified. Her ethnicity and gender alone would have disqualified her. But not in God’s eyes. We must not disqualify leaders because of race or gender, or because of what they have been through in the past.

There is a concept from East Africa that asks, “What called you forth?” It means, why were you born now, and not 20 years earlier, or later? Esther is minding her own business, while the world around her is plunging into crisis as the result of Queen Vashti’s refusal. Things go on in our world that will impact us, whether we want that reality or not. Esther just wanted to live a normal life after the drama she had experienced. And then the king’s officers arrived at her door changing everything. Mordecai advised her to hide her ethnicity. Esther was able to transform herself into another cultural partially due to being bilingual. What is the result when we assimilate into a different – racial or gender – culture? We stop bringing to the table what we have and who we are because we feel diminished. We disown parts of our self.

As the story continues Haman attempts to destroy a whole group of people based on his hatred for one. This is stereotyping and results in a political decision being made due to racial profiling. This still happens today. Later, Mordecai asks Esther to change her tactics. Rather than assimilate, he insists it is time to advocate now! As Esther looked outside the palace and saw Mordecai in sackcloth and mourning, her stomach was doubled over in anguish. McNeil challenged us that we must look outside of our churches, colleges, and palaces and see what is out there that doubles our stomachs over. Esther does what we often do – wants to send clothes to Mordecai so she won’t have to see him in that condition. He refuses them and then asks her to speak up. As Christians we need to stop covering up things we don’t want to see and start speaking up against them. She reminded us that faith is fear that has said its prayers. When we see something that turns our stomach we must ask, “What can I do?” If we don’t respond, God will raise someone else up who will.

McNeil’s two closing statements spoke directly to me. “All the hell you have been through positioned you for this. It is part of your destiny.” And finally, Esther’s response and what I pray will be ours. “I will not do this in my own strength, but will pray and then walk in faith toward what scares me.”

Another session was by Kim Yim and Shayne Moore who wrote the book “Refuse to Do Nothing: Finding Your Power to Abolish Modern Day Slavery.” Kim told how as soccer moms, it almost became a hobby for them to learn about modern-day slavery and the 27 million people enslaved. Then they realized they had to do something about slavery, and they became abolitionist moms. They had limitations and often said “if only”. Finally, they decided to use what power they did have to change this horror. These are the four powers they used and that we all can use to be abolitionists:

  1. Relationship power – use this to educate and find unique ways to do so.
  2. Purchasing power – boycott slave based products, redirect buying to “fair trade” businesses.
  3. Advocacy power – build relationships with elected officials from local to national, understand legislation that impacts slavery. Polaris Project is a great website for this.
  4. Prayer power – prayer is the most powerful tool we can use.

In part two, I will share some points from other speakers, including Gary Haugen of International Justice Mission and Sheryl WuDun who with her husband Nicholas Kristoff wrote Half the Sky.

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