Thursday, October 2, 2014

On Justice and Grace Opportunities

main picLast week, I attended a Mission Leaders Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. I learned a lot. The kind of a lot that will take days and weeks to sift through the wisdom, to learn from the stories, to process the redemptive things God is doing in every fallen nation throughout this world and to think through how my small part in this can be done better.

But there is one conversation that I can’t get away from that I had with a man named Verne. He’s a man who spent over 20 years serving God in Papua New Guinea and Malaysia and is now the Global Mission Director for his denomination. Verne spoke highly of his wife, as he shared about how they are now attending a Spanish-speaking church in the States simply because they haven’t had much experience with Latin culture and would like to dive in and learn the language. He shared about how relational his wife is - how she is reaching women and opening their eyes to new perspectives. He’s a very soft-spoken man and one who is intentional with his words and with his life– the kind of person that you really want to hear more from. As my co-workers and I chatted with him over dinner, he started to share a story with us.

Verne told us about how his ipad was stolen at the airport on the way to the conference. Living in a culture where thievery is commonplace, I immediately felt compassion for him while simultaneously feeling anger and a desire for justice. He told us about how he was able to track the ipad and saw it going right by our hotel before ending up at a fixed location. He told us about how he sent a message on the ipad, asking the person who had taken it to return it, telling him that he knew the address where it was located. As I processed the story with him, I felt relief that he would be able to recover what was taken, that there would be justice. Verne told us about how he received a reply in broken English saying that the thief intended to sell the ipad and had asked if Verne would be willing to buy it back. At that point, my blood was boiling – was that guy serious? What Verne said next is what I cannot get out of my mind. He wrote back to the man and said “What do you need the money for? I would like to help you.” I was speechless as grace smacked me in the face. He continued to explain that his ipad was just a material thing but that he had the opportunity here to impact somebody’s life, potentially for eternity. In passing, he said that he couldn’t condemn this man and I was reminded about how it’s the Lord’s job to judge, not ours. What He has asked us to do is to love our neighbor.

exploitationI’ve been wrestling with Verne’s story this week. The desire for justice is so deep within me that it is often my first response to injustice. And certainly there are some areas where justice is needed, like in the story we heard at the conference where 514 slaves at a brick factory in India were freed with the help of International Justice Mission (IJM) a few years ago. When people’s lives or freedoms are at stake, there is certainly a call for action, a call for justice. But I can’t help but think that in Verne’s case, he was acting as Jesus would have. Verne knew the simple fact that human life has more value than his own personal things. He saw this grace opportunity and took advantage of it. I can’t help but wonder how many opportunities like this I have missed because of misplaced priorities. As I continue to think about and process this story, I hope that God uses it to change my heart, to release me from my self-assigned role as judge and to push me towards my God-assigned role of neighbor-lover.

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