Why I am attending the Justice Conference...

I can’t stop telling people that I’m going to the Justice Conference this week! I’ve wanted to go ever since I heard about last year’s conference, which was in Portland, OR, a skip and a step away from my brother and his family.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it all the way out there, but after downloading videos of the presentations given by Frances Chan, Rick McKinley, and Shane Claiborne (three of my favorite Christian authors), I was so moved I knew I couldn’t go another year without hearing what others had to say about living out Biblical justice.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been interested in social justice. In 5th grade, to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I wrote a story called “What Brotherhood Means to Me.”  Where I would wind up politically as an adult was foreshadowed in this line I wrote: “Brotherhood means that slaves and foreign people become free and/or equal.”  From a very early age, my parents instilled in my siblings and I the belief that all people are due equal respect and courtesy no matter where they come from or what they look like.

I remember relatives and family friends coming to visit, and I would sit at the kitchen table, intently listening to the adult conversations about politics and social issues.  I knew these were things that people had diverse opinions on and I was quickly developing my own.

Throughout my life I’ve had a heart for people and groups who are being oppressed or struggling, and have always supported equality, but have never done anything significant about it. 

Since I became a Christian in my early 20s, one of my biggest struggles has been trying to figure out how God wants me to serve.  Not just serve in a church, but also serve people in the world who are in need.  What is my role in doing justice? What is my role in helping the oppressed? How can I truly surrender myself to Jesus so I can properly love and serve God and others?

Everything so far has been cheap talk –I read articles and books, give my opinion in casual conversations, “like” the right Facebook posts, and re-tweet inspiring articles and links, and maybe donate a few bucks here or there.  I would argue that my initial contributions to help ease suffering in this world have been negligent at best.

Eventually I began serving in the Celebrate Recovery ministry at my church and was blessed with going through my own recovery process while also helping facilitate others going through their own. It was amazing to see God moving in people’s lives. Recently that ministry came to an end and I’m now at a crossroads in my spiritual journey.

I’ve been moved most recently by the writings of Shane Claiborne, Tony Campolo, Rick McKinley, Frances Chan, Eugene Cho and Rachel Held Evans. They all have a heart for the poor and the marginalized, and want to see the Church be what Jesus intended it to be, not what man wants it to be. Their wise words and love in action makes me realize there is so much more I can be doing to serve.

I’m determined to figure out how to move out of passivity and into engagement, and how to really live a life of justice...

Soong-Chan Rah, Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL, who will be at the Justice Conference this year, has already asked the question that I need to start asking myself, “What does it mean for me to journey over time with those who are suffering.”  Once I heard that, I knew that was at the root of “doing justice.” As I begin to pray and seek guidance from the Holy Spirit in preparation for the Justice Conference, this question will be the meditation of my heart. 

I will also be focusing on the one verse from scripture that continually tears at my heart and reminds me of what I should be striving towards as I try to follow Jesus. From the Gospel of Mark:

“Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

Jesus came to serve, to lay down his life for others, and He calls His followers to do the same.  It’s not enough to talk or just donate a few bucks. It requires true surrender to God; follow Jesus in every single moment of our lives. I’m still in the early stage of learning how to do that, and anticipate it being a difficult, challenging and at times possibly even painful, but I believe in a God of grace who will be with me every step of the way.  To truly surrender and live a life of justice, and follow Jesus, I need to begin by just being with people.  I need to step outside of my introverted shell and make building relationships with others, particularly those who are in need, the point of my life. Isn’t that really what the point of the Gospel boils down to? Love God – Love Others.  

This week at the Justice Conference, I’m looking forward to listening to people who have been working through this process much longer than I have. I’m especially excited to hear the stories of how they have been able to put their faith into real, tangible action, and love people every step of the way. In the end, I’m ready to hear God tell me what the next step is on my journey to live a life devoted to justice and how I can serve and love others to the best of my ability. 

I hope to provide updates from the Justice Conference on my blog over the weekend, so please check back soon. God bless!