Sabari, his pregnant wife Ammani, and their two-year-old daughter Chissa are the property of another person. They live and work in a rice mill in South Asia, facing brutal beatings, starvation, and grueling labor every day.
There are missionaries and thriving churches in their region. There are also ministries that provide food, shelter, and medical care nearby. There are Christian schools where children can receive education and have an opportunity to hear the gospel. But slaves like Sabari and Ammani do not have access to these opportunities and never will under their slave masters' violent captivity.
The last 60 years of evangelical mission has focused primarily on spiritual salvation with a growing emphasis on mercy ministries-efforts to provide basic needs like food, clean water, shelter, and medicine. But the past 10 years has also seen a surge of involvement in ministries that seek to bring justice to those suffering oppression-people like Sabari and Ammani, who cannot benefit either spiritually or physically from the church's mission until they are free.
The rising concern for justice is seen most dramatically among the younger generation in the church. Christians in college, high school, even middle and elementary school are putting extraordinary emphasis on justice as part of their Christian witness, and established churches and ministries are taking notice. Even ministries that have been deeply committed to evangelism through the spoken proclamation of the gospel have begun including issues of global justice. Ministries like Campus Crusade for Christ, Youth With a Mission (YWAM), InterVarsity, the Passion movement, and scores of church youth ministries are now leading the way in mobilizing students to not only proclaim the gospel but also to work for justice in the world.
Will this passion for justice continue, or will it fade like so many other trends? And will this generation be discipled so that their zeal for justice isn't a fad, but flows above all from their zeal for God himself?
From trend to training
Communications technology, travel opportunities, and the forces of globalization have meant that young people in the church today have had more exposure to the reality of suffering and injustice in our world than any previous generation. But as my colleague Wayne Barnard, International Justice Mission's director of student ministries, has said, "The needed solutions to address [students'] passion for justice require a long-term commitment, which is challenging for a generation who cut their teeth on convenience. We've not taught them to delay gratification, so why would we expect that their passion for any issue would last beyond the first taste of disillusionment?"
The opportunity is ripe for church leaders to guide this generation beyond fits of emotion-driven passion and the inevitable disillusionment that comes as the hard obstacles to bringing justice are encountered.
While some ministries may use justice projects as a convenient lure to reach a socially aware generation, there are some who are doing the hard work of spiritually forming these young adults for the long haul. Cathedral of Joy in Richland, Washington, is one example. They intentionally guide their students into a lifestyle of justice ministry through laying deep biblical foundations and intentional spiritual formation.
High school seniors at Cathedral of Joy enter an intensive study and action experience. Each Sunday they attend meetings led by fellow students to work through a book on the intersection of faith and justice, and the youth pastor teaches on subjects such as the role of prayer in justice ministry. The seniors are guided to take sermon notes, engage in weekly devotions, contribute to service projects in their local community, and write reflection papers on what they are learning about themselves, God, and the world.