When I first arrived in Zimbabwe, where I subsequently lived for 11 years, I found my neighbour frying mice in a pan—mice she had caught in my yard! It was to be supper for herself and her family, while I enjoyed a substantial meal of rice and beans in my house, right next door. I was shocked, and thus began a search for justice in the world. My passion grew as I travelled and moved around the world and saw injustice everywhere.
The disparity of wealth has always been a way of life, more obvious in some places than others. I’ve been fortunate to visit and live in different countries with beautiful places and beautiful people. I’ve seen tall shining structures reaching high into the sky. I’ve visited lavish palaces and overfilled homes. But very close to those same places—often right next door—I’ve seen and visited miserable shelters where people struggled to live. I’ve walked through rubbish and rubble, through muddy ditches and past foul-smelling, filthy toilets.
The incongruity of it all often overwhelms me. Where is the justice in all this? How can I make a better world?
On my travels I’ve met amazing women, full of courage and making a difference in their towns or villages. In the alleyways of big cities I’ve met miserable, sad-faced women compelled to “overpaint” their faces and elaborately decorate themselves to entice unscrupulous men who will give them money for their services, just so these women can provide for their families. I’ve encountered beautiful young girls working in the gardens of their remote mountain homes with no chance of an education, while their sisters hide in their huts, dying of HIV/AIDS.
Where’s the money to help these women support their families, pay for their education or seek medical attention? There’s never enough money in my pocket at those times. But God has showed me that there is hope and that sometimes what I can do requires little or no money from my pocket.
Some people stand out as advocates for justice, speaking up for those who can’t speak for themselves, and actually make money go around the world to help those in need.
One such example is Nicholas Kristoff, a New York Times journalist, who together with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, wrote the best seller Half the Sky, in which they tell inspiring stories of women in poverty-stricken places. They even offer a three-hour online course to help people understand the justice issues of the world and how they can make a difference.
My friend Paula has been an advocate for poor and orphaned children in Africa. It all came about when she saw poor people on the streets outside her office window in Harare, Zimbabwe, where she was a secretary. With the little money she had in her pocket, she bought and gave them some old T-shirts and a little food.
Such was her passion that she was eventually asked to choose between her job and the poor. She chose to help the poor and at first lived among bags of clothing in a charity warehouse. Then she gave out small bags of powdered milk and jars of peanut butter. Thus began a 35-year ministry to the hurting and poverty-stricken people of a suffering nation. Her few dollars grew to thousands, and hundreds of children have received an education and hope.
Kim had been molested as a teenager. She never told anyone until she discovered girls in Kenya who were in pain because of female genital mutilation (FGM). Her own anguish welled up within her heart, and she decided to deal with it by helping these teen girls. She now manages a volunteer health clinic team that three times a year covers the wide area of Masailand to help these girls. She has built a safe home for them so they can escape FGM and an early marriage. Her dollar or two has grown to thousands, and her ministry is expanding rapidly.
While working in Thailand, my son, Marlon, discovered the horrible truth about why there were no young girls in the villages where he helped to install water tanks. They had all been taken to the cities to work as prostitutes and sex slaves in brothels and clubs, where they were often beaten and abused by their “owners.” Together, we helped set up the Keep Girls Safe project in Chiang Rai, where vulnerable girls can be sheltered from predators. The first donation came from an old man in Sydney who gave us hope that this project might grow, and it has.
Of course, not all of us are able to establish organisations or movements that will help inspire others to donate to the many worthy causes such as these. But even back home we can make a difference with the little amount of money we have in our pockets.
If we are touched by the world’s inequality and the suffering of the poor, we can buy products from suppliers who don’t exploit, enslave and disregard their employees. We can enjoy chocolate that doesn’t come from the cut and bleeding little hands of children who had to labour to pick and sort the cocoa beans. We can wear beautiful clothing made by women who aren’t paid a pittance, haven’t been raped or separated from their children.
Most of us in the developed world like to celebrate and give gifts on special occasions, such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays or Christmas. This is a great opportunity to buy from fair trade stores, ensuring that the money in our pockets helps thousands as a result.
The Christian imperative
Helping the poor has been advocated since Bible times. The Israelites were told to leave the scraps from their pickings in the fields where the poor could collect the gleanings (Leviticus 23:22); they were to help the refugee and the foreigner (Deuteronomy 10:18, 19); they were to care for the sick (Matthew 25:36); they were to entertain the stranger (Matthew 25:35) and provide for the widow and the orphan (Isaiah 1:17).
Justice is a strong theme throughout the Bible, and it promises that those who demonstrate it will receive a rich reward. After all, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous theologian executed by the Nazis for opposing their persecution of the Jews, said, “Real Christianity means sharing each other’s pain.”
To build a better world
Following are some practical ways you can show that you care about other people’s pain, stand for justice and help “buy” a better world:
- speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves
- keep an eye out for injustice
- buy ethically
- seek out fair trade and charity shops
- choose a charity and give to it regularly
- participate in a charity fun run
- live simply so that others can simply live
- if you’re a parent, teach your children to care
- volunteer at a soup kitchen or charity
- fundraising venture
- give, give, and give again.