Friday, September 28, 2012

Justice by Heart {Repost Plus Extra Notes} Advocating for the Vulnerable #5

Justice by Heart

{Repost from October 2008, with lots of extra notes at the end}

Dear friends,"The LORD spoke through his prophet Isaiah: "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. "If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings." Isaiah 58:6-12 New International Version (NIV)

I found this passage during my quiet time this morning and it is so relevant to me. I've been thinking a lot about justice lately -- how to live it, how to help make it happen for others ("the oppressed"), and how to teach it to my children. (Of course, that means learning how to treat each other better right here at home.) I try, but I come up short time and time again in applying these truths. So I seek insight and encouragement. A trusted friend at church commented recently about how a Christian book, 
Good News About Injustice by Gary Haugen, is totally rocking her world. I think a lot of us need to be challenged in this area. I know I do.

I read Isaiah 58:6-12 again to some of my children at the start of our home school day, stopping to define words like "oppression" and "yoke" along the way. Later, Ben found an old Bible alphabet puzzle in the closet and saw the Y piece with the yoke picture. Then he understand what I had meant, at least a little bit more. A yoke steals freedom. It is hard and unbending. It makes you do things that you would not otherwise do.

A simple picture like this is worth a thousand words. And pictures are sometimes what we need -- visual ones, verbal ones, relational ones -- to shake us out of our lethargy. The promises are profound: we shall live as well-watered gardens in the midst of a sun-scorched land, with light and healing, with guidance and protection. Isn't this such a comfort even in such a time of financial turmoil and global conflict? Our blessings are not always tangible ones like money and the tantalizing things it can buy. They are the essential ones of inner peace and joy, of the paradoxical wholeness that comes from being broken for others, of the knowledge that we have made an impact in the lives of precious human beings.

I searched the web for something about 
Bolivia this morning, and by chance came across a site mentioning a movie about the crime of human trafficking -- modern day slavery. I wept. What can I do? I don't know yet. Thad and I are going to Sara Groves' Art*Music*Justice concert two weeks from tonight in Tampa; it is a benefit for the International Justice Mission, which deals with this issues. I also rejoice to see folks from our church doing things like organizing a rummage sale to benefit a Haitian orphanage damaged by the hurricanes. This is Christian compassion in action. I want to be part of all of this, as busy as I am with my own large family. I hope I will breathe it until the day I die. I hope I will pass it to my children, not just in words but in my own example. That's how my daughters got involved in the pro-life movement at first. Then they stayed in it because they believed in it for themselves, even though I haven't been as directly involved for several years. Now it's my girls who decide to order the "Love Lets Live" T-shirts from the pro-life web site (Yeah, I ordered one, too -- I didn't want to be left out!)

I'll write more on the topic of justice later, I am sure. More and more and more, even as I have written in months past. You can see some of it in the category 
Do Justice ~ Love Mercy.

What about my blog title today, "Justice by Heart"? It was partly inspired by the novel, 
Words by Heart by Ouida Sebestyen, in which a young black girl (a Bible memory whiz) must painfully learn to apply the Scriptures about forgiveness when violence erupts against her own family. Then this morning, Ann Voskamp's Holy Experience blog mentioned Ann Kroeker's Mega Memory Month project where a challenge has gone out to memorize something substantial, something MEGA. I am personally choosing Isaiah 58:6-12, along with my own related poem, "Corpus Christi." It's not really really MEGA but it's enough for me right now. I have already written three of the Isaiah verses up on our white board in hopes that my family will join me in this challenge.

What will you memorize? And how will you then live?

"Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God." (See 


Extra Notes in 2012

I wrote this post about four years ago when I was starting to think more about the social justice movement.  While at the Sara Groves concert, I bought a copy of Gary Haugen's book Just Courage: God's Great Expedition for the Restless Christian, which was very challenging.  I followed it up a few years letter with Tim Keller's Generous Justice: Finding Grace in God through Practicing Justice.  I have subscribed to various blogs that often feature social justice themes.  I have also written more extensively on justice themes on my main blog in this category: Do Justice ~ Love Mercy as well as on this blog in the Advocating for the Vulnerable category.  I am particularly interested in the human trafficking issue right now.

So, I've been researching and writing.
Words.  Lots of words.
And deeds?
Well, I hope so.

I try to do the things that are in front of me and then beyond.
The things that are for me to do.
Julia in Bolivia, 2009
Small kindnesses.
Sticking up for the downtrodden.
Giving money to charitable organizations when I can.
Donating canned goods to the local food drive.
Sending money and stuff to Malawi.
Training and equipping my own kids to do justice and love mercy. (A long way to go here, to be sure, especially in our own home.  However, my 10 kids have been involved in foreign mercy mission trips, Operation Christmas Child, serving the homeless, standing for the unborn.  They do what I often can't in this season of life.)

So yes, deeds too.

Sometimes I feel guilty that my active deeds aren't enough.
That maybe social justice is just a fad to me, the "in" thing to write about in my circle of bloggers, but what am I really doing?

I haven't done anything huge.
I haven't adopted a child out of foster care or from a poverty stricken country.
I haven't traveled around the globe to dispense medicine or bust brothels.
I haven't even gone downtown to feed the homeless (at least since I was in college).

But then I also realize there is nothing wrong with my words.

I am a writer and a teacher. Whether it is writing a blog post about abuse of authority issues, or teaching my home school co-op students about human trafficking or homelessness, or giving a workshop on justice issues in American literature, or posting links to news articles on Facebook, it makes a difference.

That is what I do.
That is, perhaps, where I am most effective and most efficient.
These words are deeds.
Words have power.
Words shape lives.
Words motivate to action.
I am raising awareness, even my own.
I am letting people know so they can do.

What do you think?

Virginia Knowles

Monday, September 17, 2012

Dignity, Decisions, and Liberty of Conscience (Advocating for the Vulnerable #4)

Two black swallowtail butterflies
with freedom to fly!

Dignity, Decisions, and 
Liberty of Conscience

As I write on this Watch the Shepherd blog about the abuse of authority and advocating for the vulnerable, I often think of another underlying theme: liberty of faith and conscience. This applies to churches, marriages, parenting, education choices, and so much more.

Many of us are very passionate people with strong opinions. That is vital in an age of apathy; our zeal and vision motivate us to stay intimately involved with our families and communities. If we have found something good, something that works for us, we want to share it. If we have learned a solid Biblical doctrine, we want to teach the truth to lift others up. If we have a favorite candidate or cause, we join the campaign, donate the money, put up the signs in our yards, and promote our views with Facebook status updates. If we see someone engaging in unhealthy, questionable or destructive behavior or relationships, we want to help them break free before it is too late.

There is a time for firm intervention, especially when we are advocating for vulnerable people. It is appropriate to contact authorities about illegal activity such as human trafficking, child abuse, sexual abuse, drug dealing, or tax evasion. It is appropriate to stage an intervention, such as a trip to rehab, if someone is destroying his life with substance abuse and has lost the ability to reason. It is appropriate to warn someone who is doing something stupid, such as continuing in a violent “romantic” relationship.  Pastors sometimes need to disfellowship members who are engaging in serious unrepentant immoral behavior.  A parent certainly has the right to make decisions on behalf of a minor child, such as curtailing unwise friendships or the use of technology, although a wise parent also gradually releases hold of the decisions in order to launch the child to healthy independence. 

However, there can be a negative side to our attempts to influence others when we get so invested in our hot button issues that we seek to push our opinions, convictions and lifestyle choices in inappropriate ways.  We can have the best of motives and care deeply about others, but still miss the mark.  If we are in a position of leadership or influence (such as a pastor, boss, husband, parent, close confidante, or mentor), this can also quickly become abuse of authority. Our concern becomes a form of coercion, even if we aren't technically “forcing” somehow to go along with our plans for them.  

I consider myself to be “Reformed” in doctrine, but I would certainly distance myself from the 16th century Calvinists who persecuted Anabaptists to the point of death over the issue of believer's baptism. It's a good thing times have changed! Despite the fact that I do not believe in infant baptism, I can't even imagine my Presbyterian pastor blasting me over that issue. I respect his sincere views and he respects mine.  
I also shake my head at the 17th century Puritans who hanged my aged ancestor, Margaret Scott, during the Salem Witch Trials. Passion and superstition trumped reason and compassion, and the Puritans have tragically become a laughingstock of American history despite the lasting legacy of their many sterling character qualities. In my own 21st century experience, I left another Reformed-doctrine church denomination after many years of membership because of various issues. In good conscience, I could not stay, but I still love and respect my friends and family members who attend these churches.  And I'm not a fan of most preachers who are popular with Reformed evangelicals; Mark Driscoll is particularly disturbing.

One thing I do love about Reformed doctrine is the concept of God's Providence – that he is ultimately in control of what happens in our lives, that he is watching over us and bringing us through the hard times, the difficult days. If God is in control, if he can woo and change the hardest heart, then I don't have to pull all of the human strings to manipulate others into doing what I think is right. I can be patient with others and with myself, and not work myself into a frenzy when they won't change or I can't seem to change. Conversely, if someone is trying to manipulate me, I can take responsibility for my decision making, my own physical, emotional and spiritual well-being under the gracious guidance of God.  I can set boundaries of acceptable ways of relating to me.

What I am trying to say is that when dealing with others, we need to respect liberty of conscience and the dignity of making decisions.

Sure, go ahead and present your information persuasively and logically. Invite them to consider it. Set an example to match your words. But stay calm. Let the force of your argument be from your personal credibility and your reasonable words. Then back off and let them make them their own free choice. Pushing your agenda may be counterproductive anyway – the harder you try, the more they resist. None of us wants to be someone else's improvement project. None of us wants to be controlled. That is not necessarily rebellion (as it is often labeled by those who want to maintain power), but is often an expression of our God-given liberty of conscience.

Ask yourself, will this interaction improve my relationship? Do the people I want to influence know that I care more about them as individual people than I do about changing them? Do they know that I will love and accept them no matter what they choose?  Am I controlling myself as much as I want to control them?

If you have a tendency to control others “for their own good” there is still hope for you to change.  Learn to inspire your loved ones to gain the courage and confidence to face their problems rather than always trying to fix things for them. Learn to ask what you can do to help and then do it, even if it seems too insignificant, even if you think you know better what they need.  Learn to apologize when you have offended, without using that as an opportunity to launch back into the discussion in the same way.  Learn to listen well and long.

And may we always remember to pray for God to pour out his most abundant blessings on them, even if we don't approve of their actions or lifestyle. The man who once violently persecuted Christians – and whom God still saved in an unexpected way - penned these words in his letter to the church at Ephesus:

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:16-21

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. Ephesians 4:14-15

So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.” Romans 14:12-13

"Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires." James 1:19

The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.” Ecclesiastes 9:17

As Chris Rice sings in "You Don't Have to Yell":

Everybody take a breath
Why are all your faces red?
We're missing all the words you said
You don't have to yell
Draw your lines
And choose your sides
Cause many things are worth the fight
But louder doesn't make you right
You don't have to yell,
Oh, you don't have to yell!

Other related posts:

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

P.S. My friend Karen Campbell, of, post this quote from C.S. Lewis on her Facebook.

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals." ~ C. S. Lewis

P.P.S. I took the butterfly picture at the top of this post with my iPod while out on a walk in my neighborhood.  It is my submission this week to the P52 Photo Project for this week's theme "Birds or Flying."

P52 with Kent Weakley

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Identifying Child Trafficking Victims (Advocating for the Vulnerable #3)

Slavery in the United States in 2012?

Yes.  There is.
Right here in the lovely city of Orlando, the tourist industry has spawned a darker side: child trafficking, often for sexual purposes.
Earlier this year, I posted several links about human trafficking on one of my other blogs here: 27 Million Slaves Today
One of these links is for Florida Abolitionist (FA), a non governmental organization established to campaign against modern day slavery. FA’s approach is a focused strategy to educate, equip, and empower the faith community. Tomas J. Lares, the founder and president of FA is passionate about ending modern day slavery.  I met Tomas when he came to speak at Lake Baldwin Church.  He is collaborating with me on another post about human trafficking, which will appear sometime soon.  I wanted to go ahead and get this out now, though.
I think it is difficult to know how we can make a difference if we don't know what the problem is, what to look for, and what to do if we suspect that someone we see or meet has been trafficked.  It's easier to look the other way, to not notice.  But that isn't going to help at all. We need to be educated and prepared to be involved as necessary.
Fortunately, a couple of weeks ago I spotted a bunch of brochures about child trafficking tacked to a bulletin board in a Christian bookstore.  Though the target audience for the brochure is law enforcement officers, social workers, and health care providers, I think the information is something we should all learn.  The rest of this article is from the on-line version of the brochure. Perhaps the most important thing from it is the toll-free hotline: 1.888.373.7888.  I'm going to put that in my cell phone and iPod notepad, along with some other toll-free numbers on elder abuse and domestic violence to pass along to those who might need it.
Here is what the brochure says:
Human Trafficking is Modern-Day Slavery
Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery. Victims of human trafficking are subjected to force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor. Victims are young children, teenagers, men and women. Approximately 600,000 to 800,000 victims annually are trafficked across international borders worldwide according to U.S. government estimates. More than half of these victims worldwide are children, according to the U.S. Department of State. Child victims of trafficking are often exploited for sexual purposes, including prostitution, pornography and sex tourism.  They are also exploited for forced labor, including domestic servitude, sweatshop factory work and migrant farming.  

Child victims of trafficking can be found in:
• Commercial sex
• Domestic servitude (servants)
• Sweatshop factories
• Construction
• Farming or landscaping
• Fisheries
• Hotel or tourist industries
• Panhandling
• Janitorial services
• Restaurant services
Identifying Child Victims of Human Trafficking
  • Children who are victims of human trafficking may be mistaken for prostitutes, runaway youth, migrant farm workers or domestic servants.  By looking beneath the surface, picking up on the right clues and asking the right questions, you may uncover children who are being exploited.
  • Children exploited for labor are often hungry or malnourished to the extent they may never reach their full height or they may have poorly formed or rotting teeth.
  • Children exploited for sexual purposes may show evidence of untreated sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, urinary tract infections, and kidney problems .
  • Children who are victims of trafficking can also be identified by environmental factors, including whether the child is living at the workplace or with an employer, living with multiple people in a cramped space, or not in school, attends school sporadically or has a significant gap of schooling in the U.S.
  • Forced labor may expose children to physical abuse or leave signs such as scars, headaches, hearing loss, cardiovascular / respiratory problems and limb amputation.  They may also develop chronic back, visual and respiratory problems from working in agriculture, construction or manufacturing.
  • The psychological effects of exploitation include helplessness, shame and humiliation, shock, denial and disbelief, disorientation and confusion, and anxiety disorders including post traumatic stress disorder, phobias, panic attacks and depression.

Communicating with Child Victims of Human Trafficking

When communicating with children who have been exploited, it is important to remember child victims have special needs and may assume what has happened to them is their own fault. Often, child victims of trafficking may not establish trust easily due to their experiences. They may have been coached to answer your questions in a certain way.  With the guidance and involvement of a child welfare expert, asking some of the following questions may help you determine if you are dealing with child victims of trafficking:
• Why did you come to the U.S.?  What did you expect when you came? Were you scared?
• Do you have any papers?  Who has them? 
• Are you in school?  Are you working?  Can you leave if you want?
• Where do you live?  Who else lives there?  Are you scared to leave?
• Has anybody ever threatened you to keep you from running away?
• Did anyone ever touch you or hurt you?
While these questions provide a beginning to a challenging dialogue, it is vital to remember that the child should be approached in a manner that reflects his or her age, development, culture, language and what is known about the nature of his or her experience.
Understanding Child Victims of Human Trafficking

Understanding the mindset of child human trafficking victims is important to helping them restore their lives. Their reasons for coming to the U.S. vary, but consistently, children succumb to exploitation under the guise of opportunity—children may believe they are coming to the United States to be united with family, to work in a legitimate job or to attend school. 
Additionally, children may be subject to psychological intimidation or threats of physical harm to self or family members.   Child victims of human trafficking face significant problems.  Often physically and sexually abused, they have distinctive medical and psychological needs that should be addressed before advancing into adulthood.  Taught by those who traffick them to fear government officials—and in particular, law enforcement and immigration officers—they are often distrustful of the system.
Children have the most impressionable minds, and the road to recovery is long.  Understanding their mindset and building trust through open dialogue is the first step to rescuing and restoring their faith in a new beginning.  
Support for Child Victims of Human Trafficking
If you suspect a child is a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1.888.373.7888 to obtain information and to access supportive services through the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2006 (TVPRA). This hotline will help victims safely and securely rebuild their lives by connecting them to basic services related to:  
• Immediate shelter/specialized foster care
• Health care
• Immigration assistance
• Food
• Legal assistance
Child victims of trafficking may be eligible for the T visa, which allows them to remain in the U.S. and may adjust their status to lawful permanent resident after three years.   Through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), unaccompanied trafficked children also are eligible for the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) program, which provides a comprehensive  range of services for children and places them in culturally appropriate foster homes, group homes, or independent living arrangements, appropriate to their developmental needs.
For more information about human trafficking , visit
This post is the third in my Advocating for the Vulnerable series.  The other posts: 

"The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’" Matthew 25:40

"He has showed you, O man, what is good.  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

For justice and mercy,
Virginia Knowles

Homeless (Advocating for the Vulnerable #2)

Dear friends,

I had seen her before in the grocery store, her boyfriend pushing the wheelchair.

Now she is attempting to cross a busy street by herself, propelling herself with one leg.  She is not wearing her prosthetic leg, necessary after a childhood amputation.  One arm is in a brace, has been ever since I've seen her.  It is hurting her badly.  She has vision problems, a scar over an eye.  And I worry as I pull up in my van that she is going to get hit if she doesn't get to the other side fast.  I lean out the window.  "Do you want me to push you?"  She nods.

I pull over to the nearest parking lot, jump out, look both ways, run cattycorner to where she has made it to the opposite curb but can't get up the wheelchair cut.  Her purse is on the ground.  She can't reach it.  "Where do you want to go?"  The bus stop, another 20 or 30 yards. I lift her purse onto her lap, grab the chair handles and off we go.  

She asks, "Why are you doing this?"  That's easy: because people have been so kind to me, and Jesus loves us all.  We chat for a few minutes.   She is homeless, lives near downtown with a bunch of others next to a McDonalds.  She used to have a good job.  That must have been before her car accident.  "It's so hard to ask for help!" she replies when I ask if she has been to any of the shelters, but adds that a lady is helping her file for Medicaid. I tell her that next time I see her, I'll give her some information about resources for the homeless and disabled in our area.

I ask if she would like me to pray for her.  She grabs my hand, leans her head against my arms.  I offer a simple prayer for protection and provision and that she would know how much she is loved.

"Just leave me here under the palm tree.  I'll be fine."

It was just 10 minutes on the way to an appointment with one of my kids.

It was just opening my eyes and pushing a chair and speaking kindness and prayer and dignity.  Not much else I could do right then, but little bits count.

Now it's time to gather my resource list.  I'll start with what I already compiled here last March: Food, Health, Jobs, and Family Crisis Assistance Resources in Central Florida

My four adult daughters have all been involved in homeless ministry at some point, one even organizing a clothing and blanket drive and then driving down to bless over 50 people on a cold January night with their haul, others participating in public feedings downtown.  My nursing student daughter reminds me that many homeless people also struggle with mental illness and addiction issues.  Another daughter's Disney coworker/friend was murdered in his apartment by a family he had taken in.  There is a time for caution.  But it is also a time for prudent compassion.  It doesn't take much to fill some gallon size zip lock bags with nutritious snacks to hand someone who is living on the streets.  Homeless folks live in the woods less than a mile from our home.  I'm not going to set foot in their makeshift camp, but I still encounter them other places and no one has ever turned me down when I've offered them a little something to eat.  Sometimes it's a quick trip through the Wendy's drive-through and doubling back around to the bench where they sit.

What are ways you reach out to the homeless?

This post is the second in my Advocating for the Vulnerable series.  

The other posts: 

(By coincidence, the sweet homeless lady in this post was in the grocery store when the elder abuse story took place, though she may not have heard the conversation.)

Virginia Knowles

"The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’" Matthew 25:40

"He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Micah