You Have A Voice, Use It

Raise Their Voice Against Injustice Foundation Red Deer is an official Society in Alberta.  Tonight is our first public meeting and we’re thankful that you’ve come.  Raise Their Voice exists to raise awareness about injustice, to help those who experience injustice, and to equip others to address injustice.

We’re inspired by the words of a wise woman, the mother of a King who lived more that 3000 years ago who advised her son to:

Speak up for those who cannot speak themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

And that’s what we want to do: loudly and creatively raise voice against injustice.

We live in a world where injustice is comfortably at home.  And it takes on many forms.  As you know, tonight we are focusing on the injustice of human trafficking.  The ugliness of human trafficking is uglier than you can imagine; the darkness of this injustice is darker than I can know.  It is dehumanizing and devastating, and reaches to every corner of the globe.

The number of trafficked people in the world is shocking, so outrageous it’s hard to believe it is true.  There are more than 27 million slaves in the world today. Close to 1 million people are sold across national borders every year and millions more are sold from city to city within countries.  75% of all people that are trafficked end up in some form of the commercial sex trade.

This isn’t just a problem that happens somewhere overseas, in countries and cities that you’ve never been to.  Did you know that hundreds of girls are trafficked through Red Deer every year?  Over 200,000 people are trafficked annually into the United States alone, and in Europe up to 500,000 are trafficked every year.

But when you look at how profitable the modern day slave trade is, it, sadly, makes sense.  Trafficking is big business: an industry that makes $42 billion a year, surpassed on the black market only by the sale of illegal drugs and weapons. Money makes injustice go round and around the globe.

Vulnerable women and children are especially targeted by men and women who prey on the weak.  More than 1.2 million children are forced into the sex industry every year.  A horrific new trend is emerging around the globe.  With the proliferation of internet technologies like Skype and other video conferencing software, predators are able to purchase air time through secure online credit card transactions anywhere in the world and can watch children be sexually abused, live, from the comfort of their homes.  1 million children in the United States, alone, have had their abuse recorded for such purposes.  The unspeakable evil of child pornography makes up 20% of the thriving porn industry worldwide.

And still, it doesn’t stop there.  Children are sold, or given, or stolen and forced into all sorts of manual labour, working too many hours in terrible conditions, often with threatening and cruel bosses who make huge profits at the expense of their lives.  Many more are kidnapped and forced to become child soldiers, to hold a gun or machete in their small hands, forced to maim, terrorize, kill.   These, too, are forms of trafficking.

What do we do with information and statistics like the ones I have just shared?  Cry, yell, scream, despair, weep.  These are all realistic options. Like I said, the darkness is far darker, the ugliness much uglier than you or I could ever imagine. And these statistics, these numbers represent real people.  Children.  Daughters.  Brothers.  So we can’t stop at despair or give in to the total sense of helplessness we feel when we get a sense of the scope of such injustice, because these are real people who need help.

Though the issues are more terrible than you and I could ever think, it is my sincere and abiding belief that hope – for change, for redemption – is much greater and much stronger than either you and I can imagine.

“There is a story of despair that does not end in despair.”

Eli Wiesel announced very those words in Calgary last year to a group of Canadian law makers at a conference focused on justice.   They are words of profound meaning. A Holocaust survivor, Wiesel had a terrifying encounter with despair in the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz. And I think they are words worth remembering tonight, because evil, however unimaginable and horrific does not and will not win.

But it does exist. So once we acknowledge it, what do we do?

G.K. Chesterton wrote that “There is, therefore, about all complete conviction a kind of huge helplessness.  The belief is so big that it takes a long time to get it into action.  And this hesitation chiefly arises, oddly enough, from an indifference about where one should begin.”

It is so clear that there are poor and needy whose rights we must defend.  We believe they have voices, and important stories to tell, but who is listening? How will we hear their stories if we do not go to them, and how will we have anything to offer them once we go if we do not pray, and how will we know what to pray if we do not learn about them in the first place?  There are incredible stories of redemption, real life stories, waiting to be told, and we are characters in those narratives.

I’m inspired by stories of people who lost everything and then had nothing, but overcame. People who face the most horrendous evil who are rescued or given grace.  I am moved by survivor stories like Eli Wiesel’s.  Though I may only have a sliver of suffering where others claw at devastating stakes through their hearts, yet I am able to identify with people who have suffered injustice by taking time to hear stories.

Valentino Achak Deng, a so-called Lost Boy from Sudan who somehow escaped the plight of the many young men forced to become child soldiers, was displaced for years by war and later transplanted in the USA after years in various refugee camps in Africa.  In a powerful passage in the story of his life, a life that has encountered and lived through so much horror and misery, he says:

Whatever I do, however I find a way to live, I will tell these stories.  I have spoken to every person I have encountered these last difficult days… because to do anything else would be something less than human.  I speak to … you because I cannot help it.  It gives me strength, almost unbelievable strength, to know that you are there.  I covet your eyes, your ears, the collapsible space between us.  How blessed are we to have each other?  I am alive and you are alive so we must fill the air with our words.  I will fill today, tomorrow, every day until I am taken back to God.  I will tell stories to people who will listen and to people who don’t want to listen, to people who seek me out and to those who run.  All the while I will know that you are there.  How can I pretend that you do not exist?  It would be almost as impossible as you pretending that I do not exist. [Source]

Just as we cannot pretend that the evil of human trafficking does not exist, so can we not pretend that these precious lives that suffer injustice do not exist: women, men, and children around the world. We must speak up.  We can use our voice to tell stories that need to be told, of real people.

How do we start?  I really do think the starting point is prayer. We need to raise voice in prayer.  But what do we pray? A woman of great faith once acknowledged that “It is difficult to pray if you don’t know how to pray, but we must help ourselves to pray.”  Mother Theresa said that the place to start in prayer is to listen, to what God has to say. Tonight we gather to pray with that intention.  To hear God’s heart.  His thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways.  It is wise, then, to create space, in this place, where we can stop and listen, hear God’s heart, and upon hearing it respond.  Only God can give us the strategy that will help us see the evil of human trafficking eradicated from the face of the earth.

Raise Their Voice has had the privilege of showing love to orphans in China, to prostitutes in Bangkok, to children orphaned because of AIDS in Africa, to single mothers in Canada.  And we’ve also had the privilege of helping to mobilize more than 85,000 people worldwide, on every inhabitable continent, in many languages, to pray about injustice.  And that 85,000 is not just another number.  It is 85,000 people raising desperate and earnest prayer.  85,000 children, daughters, brothers.  85,000 hearts.  And you are numbered among them, and that is another reason to hope.  All over the world, and here in Red Deer, God is speaking to people’s hearts about his desire to see the end of human trafficking, the end of injustice.

So tonight we want to extend an invitation.  We thank you for being here.  And we expect and believe that God is here too. He is the reason that the story will not end in despair. We want to remind you and encourage you tonight that you have a voice.  We invite you to worship in freedom and to pray in justice.  There is room set aside at the front to dance and move.  Around the sanctuary there are materials that you can use to write and draw.  We want you to have time and space to listen as we worship, and then after a time of worship to pray.

I want, also, to tell you that my personal journey into learning about injustice and addressing it started by listening.  Like all things in the kingdom, I expect that the way in is the way on.  I hear the heart of the Father, screaming violently like a hurricane over the abuse and injustice, the sin that causes the little ones he so loves to stumble.  I hear Jesus from the cross, through the pain and tears at his last breath shout, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”

And I hear the Holy Spirit blow on the coals of our hearts.  Slowly, gently.  Softly.  I don’t understand his patience.  I’m amazed at how close he gets to the embers.  The world seems so dark, like the light is almost out.  But I hear the Spirit whispering, so quietly it might as well be a shout:

Those who were in darkness have seen a great light.

And that light will never go out. The darkness cannot bear it.  God will continue to fan the embers of your hearts.  The embers will catch fire and flame, they will burn up the darkness as a refiner’s fire.  It will cleanse people of sin and light up the darkness.  For it is God’s light, and it will fill the whole world.  And it will shine brighter than the sun.

_ _ _

The words above are from the transcript of the public address given by Andrew Kooman at RTV’s first public meeting in Red Deer, AB on  30 November, 2008.

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