Social Justice

By: Gabriela Degen De La Cruz

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My name is Gabriela Degen De La Cruz. For some I’m a nomade without a place to call home, and to others I’m a wonder-filled wanderlust soul. Although I come from a broken family with separated parents, since the age of 10, I was beyond fortunate to have been privileged enough to attend private International Schools in Cambodia, and boarding school in Thailand.

Having traveled since I was 5 months old, and the first time I traveled unaccompanied was when I was 11, I quickly learned to rely on my own senses to get by. I’ve developed skills to navigate through life, think critically, and act purposefully.

Although I have the capabilities to be a catalyst for change, I don’t always deem myself as best placed to do so. It’s not whether I can or can’t do it, it’s more my own perception in my ability to do well. And if I dig a little deeper, it’s whether I want to risk potentially failing and being wrong. Yes I am human too and not immune to insecurities. But as my father taught me from the young age of 8, you either learn to fail, or fail to learn. Isn’t it interesting how we learn more from our failures than our successes? So here I am, sharing with you the lessons I’ve studied so far - from the lecture halls of my Undergraduate and Master’s studies, seasoned with life’s lessons on a plane from one country to the next.  


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SOCIAL JUSTICE
Schools of Thought on Social Justice

Undoubtedly, when you delve deep enough to study what there is to say on “social justice”, there are many perspectives, school of thoughts, and theories you come across. Luckily for us, who don’t have hard copies of encyclopedias or paperback dictionaries, with only a few clicks away we can read a summary and be satisfied that we understand what it’s all about. Until we hear something in the news or start a conversation at a neighbourhood party, should the topic arise. But before we go further let us start with the basics.   

According to the Oxford Dictionary Online, social justice, is “justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society”. This leads us to take a closer look at the familiar term ‘justice’, which has its roots in the Latin word ‘justus’, referring to just behavior or treatment. However, an inquisitive mind like mine does not hesitate to questions “just behavior” or “just treatment”, because if there is one thing that I’ve learned from all the places I’ve been to, is that common sense is not common, and the same can be said about a “just” behavior or treatment. Different cultures understand justice differently, and therefore “just behaviors” are experienced differently by people from different backgrounds, religion, ethnic origin, gender, etc. the list can go on.

Nonetheless, if we continue delving deeper, the term ‘justus’ derives from the term ‘jus’ meaning ‘law’, ‘right’. This is where people and cultures find seemingly different applications of justice depending on their unique contexts. Hence, why we have a legal system that can enforce law and order, which nowadays can chime a strong cord with those who have lost trust in governing institutions to do so (more on this in coming posts). But it is in the legal terminology, that even the moral principles of Human Rights has evolved from. Today our human rights are widely accepted as inalienable fundamental rights to which a every person is inherently entitled to, simply because she or he is a human being. These human rights are enshrined in documents like in the Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

With this in mind, it’s not surprising that social justice is routinely coupled with ideas of equality -  since every individual has inherit rights merely by being human, and therefore entitled to equal access and equal opportunities. This is the bedrock of egalitarian thought. Egalitarianism, as a political doctrine that essentially advocates for everyone to have the same political, social, economic and civil rights.

From an economic perspective, egalitarianism is seen to be the driving force behind socialism and even communism. It is economic egalitarianism that seeks to remove the social barriers, due to economic inequality by means of redistribution of wealth. An obvious example of this is in social welfare programs, where progressive tax policies take proportionately more money from wealthy individuals to redistribute it to those who lack the same means, in order to raise their standard of living.

Among many criticisms, economic egalitarianism as a doctrine has two main problems. Firstly, the mistaken premise that the rich exploit the poor in order to get wealthy. Over the last 150 years most socialist literature promote this premise. This is most evident in Karl Max’s work when he wrote his “Communist Manifesto” published in 1848. Depending on where you stand on the political spectrum, you could still argue that it’s still the case today, or argue your way around this. Secondly, it has been extensively argued that socialist programs and welfare systems have the tendency to create more problems than they actually solve. For example, welfare programs that use tax revenue to supplement the income of underemployed or unemployed individuals, usually has the effect of creating a dependency relation, where recipients become dependent on the government’s support instead of being incentivised to improve their own situation. It has been observed by historians that in places where socialism or communism has been tried on a national scaled, it failed to remove the class distinctions in society. Instead, the distinction between the nobility - common man has been just replaced with the working - political class man (Kowalczyk, 2016).  

With the above snapshot, this leads me to wonder if different perspectives of ‘social justice’ simply encapsulate a specific time in history. And with time, and as society constantly changes, how we see social justice in practice also changes. Then, maybe we need a perspective that is out of time and place, to really be our standard for what ‘social justice’ should really be about.

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A Different Way of Seeing Social Justice

From all the philosophical texts and writings on social justice, I haven’t come across one that is so practical and explicit as the Bible. If you just read that and you had to gasp for air, please know what I’m about to touch on next will not be a sermon on the mount like preaching. Instead, it’s an invitation to consider an alternative perspective of social justice that is out of time and place from the assumption that God is exactly that, out of time and place. If you are quite familiar with the texts in the Bible or growing in your understanding, this will be another opportunity to compare how schools of thoughts on social justice compare to what you may already know.

What, then can we know about social justice from this alternative perspective that is out of time and place? Well, there are quite a number of things one can draw out from texts found in the Bible. One of the key findings, on which most, if not all, topics revolves around, is the source of social justice. However, for the purposes of this post, we’ll stick to discussing how this alternative perspective present social justice.     

Firstly, there is a strong emphasis to show concern and care for the plight of the poor, for those who are afflicted, and in need (Leviticus 25:35; Exodus 22:25; Isaiah 1:17; Isaiah 58:6–7; Zechariah 7:9-10; Jeremiah 22:3; Psalm 82:3; Proverbs 31:9; James 2:14–17), or less fortunate (Matthew 25:40). Most of these individuals are often orphans, widows, and what we nowadays call refugees and asylum seekers - individuals who do not have a support system or are able to fend for themselves within the systems of their society. The focus here, is still who society is to treatment those less privileged. Secondly, other accounts (Deuteronomy 10:18; 24:17; 27:19) also alludes to consequences if we treat vulnerable individuals unjustly, which we see nowadays when orphans are abused, widows violated, and refugees denied their right to seek safety.

Another text talks about reaching out to the homeless and loveless (James 1:27). Here too we see a reference of social justice as being a moral obligation to care for those less fortunate. Thus, these example can be said to be out of time as it shows that it’s not constrained to the moment in history in which it was written nor the context. In other words, because it is still applicable today, it’s safe to say that it’s past the “test of time”.

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Moreover, this perspective is out of time and place, as its exhortations to care for the poor are more individual than societal. Rather than delegating our responsibilities to our governments and social institutions to ensure social justice is carried out, we as individuals are encouraged to do what we can to help those in need. The notions of social justice we frequently hear of today replaces the individual with the government, who, through taxation and other welfare programmes aims to redistributes society’s wealth. Such policies very rarely foster compassion and encourage generous giving, but tends to harbor resentment in those who see their hard-earned money being given to someone who they could consider as undeserving. Thus, this alternative perspective of social justice, by focusing on our individual responsibility, surpasses the stance and political views of any government or school of thought, at any time in history, and in any particular place.

In conclusion, we’ve seen how social justice is often described as relative to a time and place. In turn, this provides an inconsistent definition, as its standard is constantly changing. A standard that is frequently evolving and flexible in its definition is not a reliable measure at all. Therefore, we looked at an alternative perspective that is out of time and place from a few references in Scripture offering a better definition of justice. This definition goes beyond social infrastructures and policies to how we treat each other on a day to day.   

Resources

Kowalczyk, H. A., (2016) Capitalism, Socialism and Communism. Huffington Post. Available at: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/henryk-a-kowalczyk/capitalism-socialism-and-_b_8523486.html


 

 

 

Appetite

 Photo Credit:  Vanna Dutch Photography

Complacency is an easy thing to slip into. When life is running smoothly, with perhaps some stress and over-booking happening, but nothing worse, I can get to a place where I forget my deep need for anything more. I get into the groove of checking off lists, reading bedtime stories, making dinners, going to church, and generally feeling pretty good about myself. 

When things hit the fan, however, I am reminded once again of not only my complete inability to work good into certain areas of my life on my own, but also my deep, heavy need for God’s presence, love, grace and forgiveness in my life.  When I am lying on the bathroom floor, crying out because my own inability is pushing down on my chest, forcing the air from my lungs, it’s quite natural for me to throw my hands up, close my eyes, and cry out to God. It’s almost a reflex.

But how do I bring that reflex, that appetite for God’s presence in my life, out from the valleys and into the hill-tops? How do I easily recognize my need for Him, even when everything is going smoothly? 

The Gospel very clearly tells us that Jesus is the doer, and we are the receivers. He has rescued us, died for us, redeemed us. Literally all we can do is praise His name, accept this great gift, and allow Him to work in our life. God will do what He does regardless of our knowledge of it, but if we want to bring our appetite for Him up, we MUST decide to be active participants in His relationship with us. We can do this through three surprisingly easy, yet surprisingly difficult intentional steps.

Conversation

Just like any relationship, our relationship with God requires communication. If we learn to be still and listen, we will hear His whispers throughout our life. We must get into the habit of answering. It’s easy to clasp our hands when we are watching our children get rolled into surgery, as I recently did. But when we can get into the habit of breathing out thanks and praise as we go about our very normal and busy schedules, we will find that habit bringing forth a deep desire to keep the conversation going.

Community

God is a God of community. He himself is a triune God, and when he created us to be in His image, this was definitely part of it. It was not good for Adam to be alone, not because he wasn’t capable, but because the God-image in us was meant to be in fellowship. Being an active part of a Christian community is an absolutely necessary part of growing our appetite for God. When we intentionally surround ourselves with other Christians who are also seeking God’s whispers in their own life, it becomes easier to not only do that in our own life, but to have trusted brothers and sisters in Christ to help us discern, learn and grow.

Contemplation

Let me just say this right here. When you first start, reading the Bible will never feel as important as the things that are jumping off of your to-do list. You will have to move intentionally towards this one, seemingly sacrificing ‘more pressing matters’ to do it. But I guarantee that setting time aside to dig into your Bible will prove to grow in you a deep desire to know God more.  We have a God that knew we would be a people of stories, a people who would want to know the God who breathed life into us. When you hold your Bible, you hold a giant story of God: who He is, what He has done, who WE are in relationship to Him. From the front cover to the back cover, you see His story, our story, you see Jesus being promised before we ever set foot outside of the Garden. When you do this deep contemplation, digging into the Word with commentaries and with your Christian community, you will start to uncover this wonderful, blessed story that we are indeed a part of. You will realize that those whispers that we hear from God are echoes of what is shouted in the pages of this great book.  

When we want to uncover or reignite our appetite for our Lord, we need but ask. But we need to ask everyday. We need to ask again and again, digging in His Word for answers, digging into community to see his community-driven nature in ourselves. We need to show up, eyes open, heart open, mouth… maybe not so open. And when we can do that, hold on tight. Our God is a big God. And even when the sun is shining, the kids are playing, the bills are paid, God’s presence can bring us to our knees.

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Find Your Purpose And Pursue It Boldly

 Photo Credit:  scvishnu7  via  Pixabay

Photo Credit: scvishnu7 via Pixabay

Whenever you meet someone doing what they are truly passionate about, it leaves an impression on you. They inspire you to look within yourself and ask the difficult questions. What matters to me? What is my purpose? What’s worth pursuing?

That is exactly how I felt about a man I met at the base of the Himalayas. How he found his purpose and pursued it, well, that is the extraordinary part. You could say it took a miracle… or two… but, that wasn’t the most important part of his story. What was… well, we will get to that later.

For now, let me tell you about my friend Biswa. 

A Journey Through the Himalayas

As I weaved through the Himalayan mountains, our SUV rocked form side to side. The road was a dusty path with an almost infinite number of blind turns. It shocked me to see a school bus almost hit us as it came around the bend — there were children (perhaps no older than 10) sitting on the roof!

To my right there was an endless cliff and the only thing keeping us from falling off were a few signs that said in Nepalese “Danger, sharp drop.” Heeding that warning was our trusted guide, Biswa, who was hosting us for 11 days in his country. After the bus barrelled by he looked back at me and said “don’t worry, these are the good roads.”

We were trying to get to a remote village as part of a Christian medical mission and we couldn’t have been more thankful to have him as our guide.

When we arrived — thankfully alive — the poverty we saw was astounding. Everyone from the village and surrounding area flooded to our ad hoc shelter to receive medical care.

The Limp Child

I remember one mother had carried her limp child five miles in her arms hoping that we could help her. The medical staff provided medication but it would not heal the boy. Unfortunately, he had an incurable disease and the medication would only help him cope.

As we looked into the mother’s eyes, a sense of despair crept over her. She could not save her baby and neither could we.

What do you offer a mother in this situation? Do you tell her to go away and lose hope? Or do you offer her the one thing that had changed all of our lives and could certainly change hers?

You see, we didn’t just have medicine to offer, we had Christ. All of us had deep and personal testimonies. We intimately knew how Christ had changed our lives, taking us from places of despair to places of hope and fullness. 

The Hindu Boy 

Just that morning Biswa told me a story of a Hindu woman who’s life was transformed 30 years ago. At the time she was barren and her inability to have children made her husband despise her. 

The woman was distraught and without hope. That was, until a Christian missionary doctor visited her village. The doctor did everything he could, exhausting all his medical knowledge to help her; but in the end, her situation was still hopeless.

As the Hindu woman began to cry, the missionary doctor looked her in the eyes and said, “I cannot help you, but I know someone who can, Jesus. He is my God who has delivered me from every trial and He can deliver you too.”

What happened next was remarkable. The woman put her trust in Jesus and became a Christian. Shortly after, she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. It was a miracle. The impossible had become possible.

When Biswa told me this, it took me a little off guard; yet, I believed him. I could tell by looking at Biswa that he had a deep familiarity with his story. It was as though he was sharing something very personal.

Although the woman became a Christian, her Son (the miracle child) was raised as a Hindu. This was because her Husband was a Hindu priest and the boy grew up admiring his father.

The boy became very zealous in his religion and was determined to become a Hindu priest like his father.

Then tragedy struck. When the boy was a young adult a car hit him while he was riding his motorcycle in Katmandu. He was immediately transferred to a hospital in critical condition. The doctors didn’t know if he would pull through.

As his health declined, the boy began to pray to each of his Hindu gods, but he wasn’t getting any better. He didn’t know if he would survive and he was running out of options.

That’s when he remembered there was one god who he had not prayed to yet. He didn’t pray to this god because he knew that praying to this god meant that he would have to reject all other gods.

This was the God of his mother, Jesus. Grasping on to life, the boy prayed. He rejected all other gods and prayed to Jesus. Then, once again, a miracle happened — the boy recovered.

He became a Christian and in the coming years began to host medical missionaries in Nepal. That miracle child was our local guide, Biswa. The one who looked back at me and said “don’t worry, these are the good roads” as he drove us through the tumultuous mountain passes of the Himalayas.

I knew then that Biswa was an extraordinary person. It was not by chance he was hosting us as medical missionaries in his country, it had become his life’s purpose and he was pursuing it boldly.

He wanted to bring the same hope that transformed his life to those who desperately needed it.

Back to the Limp Child

So we held the limp child in our arms with the mother and prayed. We told the mother about what Christ had done for us and although we could not do anything more for her child, we serve a God who can.

The mother accepted our prayer and the medication we provided. Then, after a short time of fellowship, she carried her son back home.

I don’t know what happened to that woman, or her son, but I know that the same God who had transformed each of our lives, could heal the limp boy.

I still pray for her and the boy and I know that God will restore them at His appointed time.

Find Your Purpose

Since that day I have reflected on those questions: What matters to me? What is my purpose? What’s worth pursuing?

I realized that If you can answer these questions honestly, you will know your calling in life. And if you can act on that calling then you will also inspire others to follow you.

The most important part of Biswa’s story is that his purpose was not for him, but for others. In fact, it was through his service to others that his purpose found meaning.

By Matt Russell

Returning Home

Every week we run a dance movement therapy sessions for women from the red light area. One of the regulars is a young Nepali woman who loved to dance when she was a child growing up in the mountain villages of Nepal. For two hours, she is free to reconnect with her physical-self in a safe, non-sexualized environment. She becomes childlike and playful, as though she has been able to step back to a time of innocence and wonder, a time before she was trafficked into India and sexually exploited. The hope is that, as she experiences these small moments of freedom, she will begin to question the acceptability of the repetitive trauma that she has normalized. At this point, we can actively work with her to achieve freedom. Until this point, at the end of the session, she will hide the little girl as far from the trauma as she can. The mask returns to her face as she leaves the place of safety and walks back down the street and past the other women standing on display in the brothel doorways. She enters her room which is just big enough for a bed and a few personal possessions. She lies on the bed, looking at the familiar damp walls and peeling paintwork and waits for her next customer. She is in the place that she has become resigned to call home.

But this cannot be her home. It is unacceptable on every level. 

Over the years, the organization I am working with have helped many Indian women leave the sex trade by offering alternative employment and restorative psychosocial intervention. Sadly, we have had very limited impact on the Nepali community, who account for approximately 10% of the women working in forced prostitution. Often this is due to the higher level of control placed on Nepali women from the brothel they work for. Nepali women are highly sought after and generate a good income for the people profiting from sexual exploitation. These people are reluctant to lose their income generating property.

 Photo by  Rohan Reddy  on  Unsplash

Photo by Rohan Reddy on Unsplash

More importantly, home really is where the heart is. The Nepali women long to reconnect with the place of their birth, the place where their cultural identity makes sense and they can speak freely in the language of their hearts. Even if these women could be liberated from the control of the trade and join our organization, their freedom would likely be incomplete. 

The Nepali women need to return to their true home, the place where their hearts live: Nepal.

Kolkata to Kathmandu

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Over the past year we, in collaboration with partners in Nepal, have been working to make this journey home possible. We have identified the barriers to successful return in both India and Nepal, as well as those associated with crossing international borders. 

Step 1: Kolkata

Our focus in Kolkata is on building relationships with the Nepali community and addressing their immediate health, psychological and social needs. By building a woman’s self-esteem through safe and trusting relationships, our hope is that she will begin to dream of a better future.

Step 2: To (travel)

Often Nepali women were trafficked as children and consequently, they do not have any proof of Nepali citizenship. This would limit their ability to live and work in Nepal. We are able to connect women with appropriate services to resolve this and other legal issues. Once a woman is ready to leave, we will support her travel costs and accompany her on the journey for safety and support.

Step 3: Kathmandu

We have set up a new transition home in Kathmandu, run by a Nepali family who will communicate love and acceptance. During her time in this home, she will be able to access trauma counselling, medical care and other holistic services to help her heal from the trauma. She will be able to develop her life skills, have access to education and a guaranteed job with one of the Freedom Businesses in Kathmandu. 

Our hope is that ‘home’ no longer needs to be a place of resignation for Nepali women, but rather, the place where their hearts have always belonged: Nepal.

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Me/Her: The Unknown Reality of the Unseen Woman

 Photo Credit By: Jordan Bauer

Photo Credit By: Jordan Bauer

Me

The kids burst into the room, much louder than any noise should be at this hour of the morning. I groggily look at the clock. Six AM. I groan inwardly, pull the down comforter over my head, and see if I can pretend to sleep convincingly enough that they would go away.  It does not work. I give in, scooting the cover slowly down the bed, and roll in between their jumping bodies, which are happily taking advantage of my pre-coffee state. I make my way to the bathroom, and then head downstairs, where the sweet nectar that is the coffee pot is already hot and full, thanks to my husband’s early departure this morning. I fill my cup, breathe in that beautiful smell, place it down on the counter and quietly murmur, “I’ll see you when you’re cold.”  And so the day begins.

Her

He bursts into the room, which is still dark. As he makes his way to my bed, I take note that the other bodies strewn across the floor and other mismatched furniture barely move, despite his lack of concern for the quiet that filled this room before he came in. I pull my blanket up, the wool scratching at my chin and the dank smell filling my nose. This scratch and that smell have become a comfort to me, because when they are there, he is not.  He shakes me briskly, assuming I was still asleep, and tells me it’s time.  He walks out the door without looking to make sure I get up. He knows I will. I always will.  I stop in the bathroom, and do my best to make myself look consumable, trying not to touch the dirty sink in the process. When I have done the best I can, I head downstairs, the smell of beer and cigarettes wafting around me like a welcoming committee. He takes my hand and leads me to the front, which is much cleaner than our side of the house. He puts my hand in the hand of a stranger. I smile. I know the drill. The beatings have made sure of that. He leads me into one of the bedrooms, and so the day begins.

Me

I finally am done. The kids are in bed, my feet are up, and my wine glass is full. My husband sits quietly next to me, looking at something obviously incredibly interesting on his phone. I don’t mind. I am in my happy place. The kids have been pawing at me all day. There’s no chance of any more pawing happening tonight. I am pawed out. I think back to my day and wonder why I feel like I am exhausted enough to have run a marathon, when really all I did was all of the normal Mom jobs. So much laundry. So many dishes. So many fights to break up. I look at the pile of toys scattered on the floor in front of the TV and shrug. I can get that tomorrow. I choose to be done. I take a sip of wine, click play on Netflix, and settle in. My day is done.

Her

I am finally done. He is in bed, and I am back in my bed. I tear pieces off of the sandwich I have been given, and wash it down with the questionable glass of tap water. I am not sure if the water or the glass is dirtier, but it doesn’t matter. I gulp it down in a matter of seconds. I wrap my scratchy blanket around me and pull it as tightly as I can, hoping to erase the feel of the dozens of hands that pawed at me all day. I close my eyes, trying not to think of it, but still the recap comes. Him on top, me underneath, squirming with apparent delight, knowing that if I don’t endure this pain happily, a greater pain will come after. Man after man, all different but all the same. My body feels as if I have run a marathon, stretched and pulled and twisted. I think of the life that came before this one, the one where I sat next to him on a couch, my hand in his, listening to his promises. I’m not sure if he loves me anymore, though. And I’m not sure if I love him anymore either.  But this seems to be it. This seems to be just how it will be. I close my eyes, and settle in. My day is done. 

It’s easy to forget that she exists in my day-to-day. It’s easy to only see appointments and school drop-offs and that small argument I had with my husband about me spending too much at Target. It’s easy to forget the incredible privilege I have to have avoided the awful people that she happened to cross paths with.  It’s so easy to forget.

But she doesn’t forget. She is reminded countless times a day, each time her body becomes a vessel for someone else’s pleasure. She is reminded as pain and shame are wrapped around her like clothing. 

What do we do then? We remember. And we talk. Because though she can remember, she cannot talk. We learn, we see.

We See. 

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