I’ve struggled with whether or not I should share this post. With the dangers of a “single story” in mind, I think it’s important that I do. It does make me wonder though: to what extent are we (missionaries) allowed to show the world that we are human? How honest are we allowed to be that though the work is important and necessary and certainly life-giving…it’s also incredibly difficult and draining? So although it may not be the most uplifting perspective, I vulnerably offer my take on What They Don’t Tell You About Pursuing Justice. (Note: This is a metaphorical “they,” as I’m not sure who would be responsible for communicating this.)
1. It takes time
I completely live up to the stereotype that Millennials are instant gratification seekers. Like most Christians, I am well versed in mercy ministries. I knew how to donate money, clothes, food, or whatever the cause might be that week. I also knew to anticipate the warm and fuzzy feeling that came after helping someone with an immediate need. I knew that seeing someone transition from hungry to full before my eyes would make me feel like I had made a difference. And I knew that the act would leave me immediately satisfied.
I anticipated a comparable sensation when I began working toward justice. It did not take long to understand that pursuing justice was an entirely different sort of initiative. I had to tame that inner desire for instant gratification and settle in for a longer struggle. Working for justice can take decades, and even then not see success. Injustice is systemic, and changing a system does not happen overnight.
2. Be ready to harden your heart.
It seems counter-intuitive, really, but strengthening that heart muscle is imperative when pursuing justice. The first few months of my work were spent researching different justice issues, and I quickly became desensitized. Spending eight straight hours reading personal stories about human trafficking, coming to terms with the disgusting racial disparity in our nation, and hearing the truth about reasons for migration are a few ways I spent those first months as a Missionary. I spent more than half that time being shocked, heartbroken, and enraged. And then I realized that I was accomplishing nothing. I was learning, yes, and appropriately grieving for our broken society. But I understood that if I met every piece of new information with this reaction that I would never be able to move beyond my feelings to work toward solutions. Additionally, deeply feeling every one of these tragedies would have taken me out of the fight just a couple of months in. A person cannot carry that much anguish around every day without collapsing under the weight. Pursuing justice requires us to harden ourselves to the realities of this world, letting in only enough of the heartache so that we are inspired to act.
3. Mental peace may be difficult to access.
Granted, I am someone whose mind is constantly moving, but since joining the fight for justice I have been largely unable to keep my thoughts from spinning like a hamster wheel. I have learned so much in a relatively short amount of time that I do believe my brain has reached capacity. We work on everything from climate change to gender-based violence and sentencing reform in my placement site – with many, many pit stops along the way. I am by no means an expert on any of these, but I’ve taken the crash course, and it’s all stored away in the small confines of my skull just waiting to burst free.
It has made me incredibly socially-awkward. While munching on a piece of chocolate, I cannot help but mention how the cocoa industry has completely tainted these delicious little morsels with labor trafficking…as I attempt to avoid eye contact with the exasperated pair staring back at me. Nobody wants an unsolicited side order of guilt with their candy bar. But these issues, along with a dozen other injustices, are swimming in my head every waking moment and dominating my conversations.
When pursuing justice becomes a priority in your life and you learn how intersectional every issue is, you begin to see injustice everywhere you look. Self-care becomes more essential than ever before.
4. You may have to sacrifice relationships.
Inevitably, justice is politicized. And although something like human decency should not be a partisan issue, I found out very quickly how wrong that seems to be. As you become entrenched in your pursuit of justice, there will, without a doubt, be someone – or someone(s) in my case – who is not charmed by your cause. When you have essentially given your life to a cause, you do not take too kindly to harsh and possibly mean-spirited criticism of your work and your beliefs. Walls are erected by no one person but by the contrast of opinions. And then one day you realize it has been a year since you had an actual conversation with your father that did not contain hurtful words, and you have been disowned by half your family because your work and beliefs are a “betrayal”…at least in my experience.
To be certain, the work of justice is not all gloomy, and success stories are abundant. This work has changed my life in the most unexpected ways. No matter how challenging the endeavor has occasionally made things, I know without a doubt that pursuing justice has brought me closer to the heart of God than ever before. I can rest in knowing that pursuing justice is an opportunity to live out Scripture. “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] It may not be easy, quick, fun, or comfortable…But it is required. And no matter how difficult, the fight for what is right is always worth it.
General Board of Church and Society
Global Mission Fellow US-2, Class of 2015-2017