I remember very vividly the day I came home from my small Christian college and declared to my family that I’d figured out what I wanted to do with my life.
“I’m going to fight for social justice!” I proudly professed.
“What does that mean, per se?” My mom asked.
“I don’t know really, I guess it just means I’ll help people or something. Probably the poor, but who knows.”
Clearly my plan to become the next Joan of Arc had a few holes in it—holes that played themselves out for the next several years.
It’s easy for us to engage in charity, throwing money at a people group or a cause, while missing the true call for justice. We instead choose to educate ourselves just enough to get by, to appease our guilt and give us a conversation starter at our next social gathering.
So what can we do? How can we get involved? How can we really do as we’re called and seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly? (Micah 6:8) In my experience, there are four key factors that can be easily overlooked, but are vital when attempting to show love through action:
1. Know your passions and commit strategically
I have to be honest, I am very easily distracted, often emulating an excitable puppy. I will hear of a new project or NGO and immediately want to start volunteering for them. I will enthusiastically commit, imagining all the positive change I am going to make. And then, after a couple weeks, I realize I am completely ineffective because I don’t have the time or energy that is needed to make a real commitment.
It’s important to recognize that a little commitment goes a long way, but a failed commitment often does more harm than good. Look around, pray about it and take the time to really narrow down the field in which you desire to serve.
2. Educate yourself
Don’t assume. Ever. Learn the real needs of the people you are serving, FROM the people you are serving.
It’s easy for us to think we know what’s best for any particular group of people, but unless we ask, we can easily be misdirected.
I will never forget a story I heard years ago of a missions group that went overseas to do construction. The team built a beautiful new recreation center for a local church. At the end of the trip they sat down with the pastor of the church who thanked them profusely, and in passing mentioned that due to a recent illness sweeping the town the community was in desperate need of oranges for vitamin C. “Why didn’t you tell us that, we would have brought some!?” the trip leader asked.
His response: “You didn’t ask.”
3. Be innovative, but don’t reinvent the wheel
Oftentimes, I am approached by people who want to serve the poor in the Los Angeles area and they have fantastic ideas, but their ideas are not of great contrast to work already being done.
Partner up with local organizations, share your ideas. Often, NGOs have been doing this work for much longer and have seen what works and what doesn’t, but don’t let that discourage you from thinking outside the box!
4. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
Getting involved, fighting for justice, loving the vulnerable—all of these things can be terrifying and leave you a bit vulnerable yourself. It’s OK to be imperfect, it’s OK to make mistakes. Don’t let that hold you back from trying. We serve a gracious God who can turn our mess into something beautiful, and He’s not afraid to do so.
As followers of Christ, we are called to unbind the bound, to free the oppressed and mend the broken. Fortunately, we are called to do something—not everything. (And perfection is certainly not expected.)
More important, we are not called to serve alone. Pray, ask questions and look for ways that you can find your calling, your place in the realm of social justice, reminding yourself that from time to time, you too will need to be unbound, healed and freed.