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?
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.
Throughout the year they also lead events for their church community such as "The Justice Fast" and "The Weekend to End Slavery." Thus the students help the entire church understand biblical justice and create ways to take action. Their year culminates with a trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with IJM staff, provide volunteer help, and attend IJM's Global Prayer Gathering.
By incorporating justice into the spiritual formation program for their students, Cathedral of Joy is making justice more than a fad. By combining Bible study, spiritual disciplines, and practical experiences, they ground students' interest in justice more firmly. This means these students are more likely to bear fruit for decades as they lead the church's mission effort beyond their high school years.
Tim Keller teaches that "justification by faith leads to justice, and justice leads to people coming to faith." As we disciple this generation to embrace both justification and justice rooted in Scripture and the character of God, it will result in the advancement of the gospel.
Slaves like Ammani and Sabari need justice in the form of freedom before they can access the remarkable resources that exist all around them-resources that include the gospel ministry of the church in their region. Ammani and Sabari, and the 27 million other slaves in the world today, are why we must be intentional about making justice a part of discipleship training for this generation.
Bethany Hoang is director of the IJM Institute for International Justice Mission in Washington, D.C.
Copyright © 2010 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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