Combating Injustice Today
Updated: Nov 14, 2021
My family and I just returned from a trip to Santiago in the DR. We were privileged to partner with Stanley and Amarfry Philippe and their wonderful church – La Iglesia Comunidad Multicultural – which was our 3rd time to be able to do so. For years their church has been working with the residents of Pontezuela – a relatively poor community in the center of Santiago. Though amazing changes for the better have been taking place in Pontezuela over the past several years (e.g. the availability of electricity to nearly every family, potable water spigots, and trash removal to name a few), I still observe a startling paradox:
--Deep poverty. Children lacking shoes, homes built of sticks and scraps of metal, rutted dirt roads (though the main road in had recently been paved), open sewage etc.
--Alongside thriving plant and animal life. Lush beauty featuring a variety of fruit trees: banana, mango, lime, coconut, avocado, and so on. There were melon vines growing wild, and goats grazing on lush grasses. Chickens and pigs seemed to proliferate there as well.
The lushness of the vegetation and horticulture was set in sharp contrast to the visceral poverty of the people. It’s a puzzling sight. Here is a land that will grow nearly anything, year-round, on a beautiful tropical that attracts over 5 million visitors annually, and the people of Pontezuela have to scrape to survive. I remember making the same observations of northern Uganda after the civil war in 2006.
What forces are at work here? I read the following verse while we were in the DR, while I was pondering these thoughts, and it hit me like a punch in the gut. No telling how many times I have read this verse before, but it flashed at me in neon lights this time.
Prov 13:23 The fallow ground of the poor would yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice.
Injustice. Most of the time when we hear that word, we immediately recall images of brutal dictatorships, or corrupt political leaders, who use their power to oppress vulnerable people. And no doubt this is at play in the DR.
For example, a sizeable percentage of the residents of Pontezuela are illegal Haitian immigrants, and we learned most of them live in palpable fear of corrupt immigration officials who periodically raid their camps – beating, raping, imprisoning, and deporting their families at random. One of the Haitian ladies who cooked for us last week tells a story of how she had been in her home with her children late one night when a couple of Dominican immigration officials broke down her door and demanded her papers. When she provided a legitimate visa, one of the officials backhanded her across the face in front of her children and stormed out of her house. Officials carry on these abuses with impunity. Our friend has no legal recourse, even though she is a legal resident.
But political injustice isn’t the only force that subjugates the people of Pontezuela. Stanley – who is himself Haitian – speaking on the subject, highlighted three other injustices:
--A lack of identity. One morning last week our team went to a park in the center of the city across from the Haitian consulate. Hundreds of Haitians were lined up in front of the consulate, shielding themselves from the tropical sun with newspapers, waiting, mostly in vain, for the chance at filing for residency. One of our team members remarked, “they are literally lining up in hopes of getting an identity.” Stanley had recently mentioned to our team that at the root of systemic poverty is often a lack of identity and a lack of relationships. He recounted his own story for us, telling us that though he had grown up in deep poverty in Haiti, his parents repeatedly reminded him that he could become anything that he wanted to be. They gave him worth, purpose, and a sense of identity. Stanley is a force to be reckoned with today. But most children in these settings grow up in a vacuum, as it were. They are told, directly or indirectly, that they are worthless, powerless, and marginalized.
--A lack of relationships. In 2002 I did Mission Waco’s Poverty Simulation. Jimmy Dorrell and his staff did their best to make us homeless for a weekend, but even then, I was aware that it is nearly impossible to accurately simulate homelessness for someone who thinks the way I do, possesses a robust identity and can-do attitude, and has an abundance of connections. Relationships form a safety net. I know that if hard times ever hit our family, I mean truly desperate times, I have hundreds of people I can reach out to. I know that if I move, virtually anywhere in the world, I have connections who can help me get a job, get to know the lay of the land, and so forth. This is not true of people in poverty. They have very few connections, and therefore an inadequate safety net.
--A lack of education. Hundreds of years ago, educators coined the term, ‘the liberal arts,’ because they were the subjects deemed necessary to grasp to promulgate and sustain freedom and democracy. Thomas Jefferson said, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” Without papers, Haitian children in the DR cannot attend school. Even with papers, Haitians are often so caustically stigmatized that parents won’t send their children to school, concerned for their safety.
It may seem heartless, but I got excited when I learned this, because while political injustices seem beyond my realm of influence, I am part of the most powerful force on the planet when it comes to identity, relationships, and education. The church (read people, not institution) is equipped to give identity, belonging, and training unlike any other institution anywhere.
I can see the church working alongside groups affecting social change all over the world… the church offering, through the gospel, identity, relationships, and educational opportunities; while simultaneously advocating for justice and political reform, creating jobs and empowering entrepreneurs, servicing microloans and innovating to bring basic health and sanitation services to the world’s poorest, and partnering with scientists and other professionals who are working to mitigate problems like food, water, and energy scarcity. In fact, in places where the latter (addressing social issues) is tackled without regard to the former (identity, relationships, and education), well-meaning efforts do not have the desired effect. It’s like trying to build a house without a foundation. It might serve a purpose for a short time, but eventually it will all come apart.
This is something I can put my hand to right now, right here at home. Injustice is rife in every community around the world, and I am equipped as well as anyone else in the world as a follower of Jesus to affect change. And so are you. May we, together, reach into the forgotten corners of our cities and empower people with the tools necessary to fulfill their great destinies in God, to the end that God is glorified and the people He loves are endowed with dignity and honor.
Written by: Mick Murray
Originally posted at: https://www.mickrmurray.com/post/combating-injustice-today