I have two fairly normal, grade school-age American kids. They like Legos, comic books, candy, screens, The Dollar Store, terrorizing each other, and avoiding all manner of hard or boring work. They daily need reminders to be polite, generous, grateful, and diligent.
They have kind of a weird mom. One who spends her summer trying to sneak into their Red, White and Blue childhood colorful, abstract concepts like justice, abolitionist, commitment, overcoming obstacles, compassion, slavery, bystander, educational equality. At the same time I worry that both my kids will end up in therapy because they haven’t yet been to Disneyland.
Can you feel my angst?
We are educators and enjoy the challenge of making the abstract concrete and empowering children to learn and impact their world. This is what teachers do. Likewise, we ourselves never want to stop learning and impacting our world!
At the beginning of the summer, Heidi and I met and discussed how to help our book club kids’ hearts and heads get smarter and do something to help raise awareness about modern day slavery and funds for International Justice Mission.
The book we read with the boys this summer was “Snow Treasure” by Marie McSwigan.
In this story, children in Norway during WWII secretly transported over 1,000 bricks of gold bullion on their sleds past Nazi soldiers to a hidden ship ready to embark for America. It took the cooperation and teamwork of the entire village to ensure that the gold made it safely to America, away from the Nazis’ knowledge and hands. The book was full of Big Ideas like teamwork, bravery, commitment, perseverance, creativity, and sneakiness.
In book club, we set a big goal: Reading 1,000 books together as families during the summer. Stacking up (figuratively) 1,000 bricks (of the literature type) required teamwork and effort. The idea was to raise awareness and challenge friends and family to support our fundraising campaign.
On the other side of the world, on Lake Volta in the African nation of Ghana, there are thousands of boys who are trapped in slavery in the fishing industry. Just this year IJM started its first rescue operations and is in the process of working with the government and local law enforcement to put an end to impunity for slave owners. Putting slave masters behind bars prevents the continuation of the slave trade on Lake Volta and shows that justice for the poor is possible.
Latest figures from the Global Slavery Index reveal that there are an estimated 36 million slaves in the world today – more than at any other time in history. IJM has operations and casework all over the world, but it is these boys in Ghana that our book club has chosen to learn about, pray for, and advocate for.
The abstract became concrete to me and my kids when we read about the first rescue operations on the Lake last March. This summer we retold the story at book club using Lego minifigures. We showed the book club kids the note signed by IJM’s Office of Investigations for our book club’s advocacy and support: “Your encouragement means the world to us and to those living in freedom because of you,” they told us.
I love looking for and strengthening the connections between my little family and community and the wider world. A thousand gold bricks, a thousand books, a thousand dollars, a thousand prayers, a thousand slaves, a thousand ways a person, even a child, can make a difference.
On August 18th, I was a little worried we wouldn’t reach our goal – we were barely halfway to 1,000 books. I should have known that procrastination and fighting for justice are not mutually exclusive. By the end of August, we surpassed our goal of reading 1,000 books and surpassed our fundraising goal of $1,000.
Then, we celebrated. I have found that joy is a fruit of doing justice. Gary Haugen, President of IJM, once said to an audience of aspiring abolitionists, “Jesus wants to give you five things: extravagant compassion, moral clarity, sacrificial courage, persevering hope, and refreshing joy.” When we move in obedience to him, God has a way of showing up and moving in power on behalf of the powerless and oppressed. He multiplies our small offerings and equips us for the journey. It is only natural to celebrate and give thanks together when we see him move and big challenges are overcome.
A group of book club families and others who support our book club gathered together this month to celebrate meeting our reading and fundraising goals. We also invited Mike Hogan, an IJM director who lives locally.
Mike gave us a snapshot of IJM’s work around the world, and the many different types of people who skills and passions are needed to make the organization function (he all but guaranteed future jobs at IJM for our book club kids). He passed on greetings from the Ghana team who had seen our video last year, and gave us updates about their ongoing casework.
Currently, IJM’s focus in Ghana is to strengthen its ties with local and national law enforcement, help shape government policy, and restructure the justice system, so that Ghanaians themselves can bring rescue and justice to their own people. Based on IJM’s successful interventions in other regions of the world, it is estimated that the system of slavery on Lake Volta could be completely eradicated within the next 10 years.
Mike introduced us via a photograph to Benson, the Ghana team’s aftercare director who ensures that every child rescued from the lake is brought to physical, emotional, and spiritual health, educated, and when possible, reunited with family.
Mike concluded by giving the kids some action steps. He told them that one of the most powerful things they could do to bring an end to slavery is to tell their story. He encouraged them to tell friends and family about slavery in Ghana and what their book club is doing about it. Simple advocacy of regular people telling their story builds and multiplies awareness, which in turn becomes a grassroots movement that becomes loud enough to draw the attention of legislators, corporations, and philanthropists.
Ellie took his words to heart. That night after we came home, her fourth grade homework assignment was to write for 20 minutes on any topic of her choice. She chose to write about what she learned from Mike about slavery on Lake Volta. The next day at school, she volunteered to read her paper aloud to the class.
The words we speak, Mike told us, will have an even greater impact that the dollars we collect. I pray that these kids bravely use their voice and their pencils for good, for the rest of their lives.
We did end up collecting a few dollars for IJM, however. As of today, our fundraising total is $3,075 – three times our goal of $1,000!
And reading 1,000 books is not a bad way to spend a summer.
Mike asked the kids if they had any time to play with all that reading. Of course, they reassured him. They are just normal American kids. But they are also kids who want to make sure every child, everywhere has opportunity to read and play.
They are abolitionists.