In 1992, I took a small short-term outreach team to Cambodia (I work for an interdenominational mission agency, Youth With A Mission). We worked at an orphanage and in a home that housed people just returning from spending years in refugee camps on the Thai-Cambodian border. I had done my research into Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, and the brutal regime that killed millions and drove away millions more. The refugees, I knew, had been the lucky ones. Because they survived. The reality of all this did not hit me until I was sharing dishwashing duty with one of the recently returned Khmer refugees, a woman in her late 20’s. She had spent the past 12 years in a refugee camp. Her parents and her siblings all died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. And here she was, back in her home country, the country she fled when she was a teenager. Doing dishes. No idea where she could go, how to pick up the pieces of her life – and were there even pieces left to pick up?
I have seldom felt so humbled, coming from a life of such comfort – only because of the place I was born.
34 million displaced by war, including 8.4 million refugees. Sudan. Afghanistan. Myanmar. Iraq.
These trends deal with poverty. With sickness. But more than anything else: they deal with injustice. People being displaced because other people are fighting. Yet another expression of our sin, and the fallen nature of this world.
I had the hardest time narrowing down causes and organizations for today. When you close your eyes to it and live your life (and it is remarkable how easy that is), it seems like the needs are far away. But when you open them, even just slightly, suddenly the needs are there, they are clear, and they break your heart.
Think about injustice. It is no surprise that so many of our causes in this fast focus on children. Because children are often the innocent victims of the things adults screw up.
I read a story today of six teenage girls kidnapped off the street and forced into prostitution in Phnom Penh (Cambodia). Modern-day slavery. National Geographic Magazine in 2004 reported the mind-blowing statistical reality that “…there are more slaves today than were trafficked in four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.” Injustice in a modern society.
According to UNICEF in the last decade 10 million children were traumatized by war. In the last three years in Africa around 120,000 children were forced to participate in fighting.
Proverbs 31:8-9 says: “Speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
After the tsunami in South Asia in December 2004 I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the disaster for days - observing, praying, considering ways to help. And then, on day four, I realized at night that I had not thought about, or prayed for, the tsunami victims at all. I had already "forgotten", and I felt deeply ashamed. As a result, we wrote a song called Cry for Freedom - about our response to the "sorrow of this world". That, to me, is what this fast is all about: how do we respond? How do I respond? "When will this devastation get underneath my skin?"
My first organization for today: The International Justice Mission, an organization stands in the gap for victims when they are left without an advocate – child prostitution, widows whose homes get taken away, people sold into slavery to repay small debts. And the second one: War Child, a Dutch non-profit (I am originally from the Netherlands) network of independent organizations, working across the world to help children affected by war.
And finally, the Christian Children’s Fund, an organization similar to World Vision and Compassion International, headquartered here in Richmond VA (where I live). All three organizations do excellent work and they all could use all the help we can give them. Mostly, thought, they need us to open our eyes.
Today I will be fasting and praying for children affected by injustice – war, slavery, oppression. Throughout the day I will be blogging more – thoughts and prayers that come into my mind. I hope you will join me.
Day nine: mid-day update
12:30 pm - I have decided to spent some time today really reading some of the other blogs that are part of or associated with the 40 day fast - and continue building my prayer list with topics I want to start praying for on a regular basis.
I found a great blog this way, Amicus Dei, that just featured a post about "Why are we putting children in prison" about children asylum seekers and their families who are being detained at the T. Don Hutto Detention facility.
From the Amicus Dei blog:
Here's what we are doing to these little children:
1. Children are forced to wear prison uniforms.
2. Children over 5-years of age are kept in prison cells separated from their mothers.
3. Children are allowed recreation only 1-hour per day, and often are not allowed outside at all.
4. Children are being treated like prisoners in violation of federal law.
5. Children are being denied access to education, healthcare, and their families in violation of federal and international human rights laws and treaties.
Amnesty International issued this statement at the protest in Texas --
"The T. Don Hutto detention facility is a former prison for hardened criminals, now run by a for-profit corporation to detain child asylum seekers, migrants and their families. On any given day, Hutto holds up to 400 of these vulnerable individuals, as young as five months, who are looking to the United States for asylum or other protection from the full, awful range of human rights violations abroad."
It's almost 12:30, and I was starting to really get hungry. And then I read this post and realized, again, why we are doing this.
"Who will apologize to the hundreds of children held prisoner, here in the land of the free? We can do better than this as Americans. We must do better than this as followers of Jesus Christ. "
As for what we can do - besides pray of course? Ask your congressman, your senators, and demand that we stop this practice at once, is one thing, I also wonder, with all the prison ministries out there, is there a way to reach out to these people? That just moved to my list-of-things-to-do.