Kid Abolitionists Read 1,000 Books

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?

My friend Heidi and I lead book clubs for kids and moms during the summer in which we attempt to impart these lofty ideas to five-to-ten year-olds.


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.

Snow Treasure

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.

book poster

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.

1000 book challenge

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.

Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 1.54.22 PM

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.

boys book clubgirls

They are abolitionists.

1000 books



What Legos and the Virginia Reel have to do with Justice

Last week we concluded our fifth summer of justice-related book clubs for kids and moms. Each summer I have met new people, discovered a new author, strengthened ties with the larger, global justice community, and been witness to God’s work in the world and in our family.

Last year I shared how I came to start leading book clubs for moms and kids around the topic of justice. This time, I want to process how I see the book club facilitates developing a heart and mind for justice in a child and a family.

~ A circle of moms, daughters, and sons: When we gather at a local park on summer mornings for book club, we form a large circle-ish shape. The moms sit on blankets with their littles and bigs huddled next to them or on laps. I love seeing all their faces – most of whom I know well. Some are friends of friends. Some of their children I already know and love, and all are loved intimately by God.

I heard an interview with Atinuke, an author of books we read last year. She said that her name means: You were loved before you were born. This is what I know about each child and mother in that circle: You were loved before you were born.

We gather together around a common purpose and each of us approaches the learning and activities differently. Each mom brings her own experiences and talents, each child brings her and his own readiness, attention span, and personality. We form connections with each other and to the larger world around us. Seeds are planted and watered in moms and kids, and the One who loved us before we were born will grow those seeds in time.


~ Books: Together, we read a book throughout the summer, one that was carefully chosen to stimulate our heads and our hearts. Our “head and heart” books have been vehicles for discovering different places, cultures, and perspectives that a child growing up in the sheltered environment most of us live in needs opportunities to explore.

readingSnow Treasure Ghana PosterNaomi Reflection

Justice Heroes: Each time we gather, we learn about a real justice hero – men, women, and children who have stood for justice and acted with courage and compassion in their time and place. These are people who were not bystanders, but acted in the face of injustice, and we are inspired to do the same.

~ Action: Sometimes we read, talk, and listen, and our heads and hearts get smarter, but then we keep that smartness to ourselves and never do anything with it. At book club, we encourage the kids to do something. So, they become abolitionists. They use their words and actions to raise awareness about modern day slavery, and support International Justice Mission, a global organization that protects the poor from violence in the developing world.

They write thank-you notes to encourage the rescuers, office workers, survivors, care providers, and investigators on IJM’s Ghana Team. They are encouraged think creatively about acting justly now as children and as grownups.

IJM letter

Together as families, we challenged ourselves to read 1,000 books and raise $1,000 for IJM by September! As of this week, we are very close to meeting our goal.

Counting books

~ What Legos and Dancing have to do with Justice: Engaged brains and happy hearts facilitate learning. But a lot of the content related to global justice issues is complicated and sad or frightening.

So we play with legos, or more accurately, use legos to teach about justice.


Telling the story of IJM’s casework on Lake Volta using Legos

We dance. I am so grateful to have a friend to whom I can say, “Hey, you know that one part in “The Year of Miss Agnes” where the village has a dance? Do you think you could teach our book club girls “The Virginia Reel?” I wish you could have heard the peels of laughter in the park that morning (scroll down to hear a sample).

~ Widening the Circle: We teach our children that being an abolitionist means speaking up on behalf of those who are oppressed. So the kids sent letters to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends. They answered questions and tried to speak up when a grownup asked them about the book club. They tell about slavery in Ghana and what our book club is trying to do about it.

And the circle widens. Five-year-old Genevieve’s grandfather in California received a letter from his granddaughter and shared it with his co-workers at an auto shop, who were encouraged by the little girl’s initiative and responded with a donation to IJM.


Ripples of relationships from each book club family grow ever wider, and more come to know about modern day slavery through the words and actions of small children.

Together, we grasp the outstretched arm of God who hears the cries of the brokenhearted and uses his children to bind their wounds and set captives free.

boys circle 2

We clasp the hands of those that go before us,
And the hands of those who come after us.
We enter the little circle of each other’s arms
And the larger circle of lovers,
Whose hands are joined in a dance,
And the larger circle of all creatures,
Passing in and out of life,
Who move also in a dance,
To a music so subtle and vast that no ear hears it
Except in fragments.
(The Larger Circle by Wendell Berry)

Thanks, Katie Jenks and Shawna Demaray for the photos and video!

What I’ve Learned from 300 Years of Marriage

Fifteen years ago, when John and I got married (as children, practically), our photographer gasped in amazement when he saw before him eight quite old folks and four sort-of old folks ready to flank the bride and groom as the still-alive, still-married parents and grandparents from which we had sprung. Us kids nervously held hands, eager to follow the sort-of old-looking photographer’s instructions for lining up for a grandparents shot. I guess that was the day I realized it for the first time – the combined 250ish years of marriage holding us up, spurring us on, was no ordinary thing.

And now, 15 years later, I sometimes gasp at the miracle of marriage – marriage that sticks and promises and stumbles and recovers and forgives. Those six sets of intact marriages supporting our brand new one sheltered thousands of yeses and I do’s that I could scarcely comprehend that day.

katie wedding

Is it even possible to know what you are saying “I do” to up there in front of God and everyone? Each couple gets its own soup of sickness, health, poverty, wealth, happiness and sorrow, but every marriage is comprised of two innately selfish people who need to figure out how to pour into the other. Even when you’re, like, tired and hangry (it’s a word).

With babies, I think the “pouring out” was a bit more obvious and therefore accepted. First, the nine months of a tiny human sucking life from me, followed by a year of absolute despotic neediness combined with unpleasant side effects (poop, spit-up, cracked nipples, screaming, sleep deprivation, to name a few). By then I was all in: Yes, little minion. You have conquered me, body, mind, and soul. My future is irrevocably tied to yours.

tired mom

great grandparents

So tiny, yet so powerful

But in a marriage, with a competent, grown-up spouse, the need to pour out is not as obvious, and the (usually) unspoken expectation to get one’s own needs met in exact proportion to the meeting of the other’s needs is always hovering in the heart.

Today, after the death of two of our grandfathers, five of the seven couples from our wedding day still remain, and the cumulative years of marriage is well over 300 years. During this week of pink and red and shades of grey, I consider the contrast between showy, syrupy, and disturbing Valentine maneuvers, and the year-after-year constancy and daily acts of love and service I have witnessed in our parents and grandparents.


~ Grandpa Jim and Grandma Mary, whose different personalities perfectly complement each other. They have served side-by-side in thousands of hours of ministry, and support each other in prayer and encouragement when apart (like when Grandpa serves as a camp counselor for boys every summer). Grandpa praises his wife up and down, and Grandma, well, let’s just say she has a never-ending well of patience and fortitude for her nearly 90-year-old husband’s never-ending well of energy and sprightliness.

jim mary

~ “Sexy Rexy” and “Barbsy Baby”, whose banter always ends with him squeezing out laughing tears and her trying to not to smile through her exasperation. I love how those two watch the Seahawks, Mariners, OPB, and Fox News together (Grandma yells at the screen when her team is losing, and Grandpa tucks away the more radical points of Fox News to bring up in polite conversation), and I love how each of them tenderly cared for the other following knee surgery, heart surgery, and annual flu onslaughts.

Rex Barbara

~ Grandpa Ruttle, who called his wife, “My Ginny”, and who not only celebrated his wedding anniversary, but gathered the whole family together in 2008 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of their first date. Those two lived a partnership of humble faithfulness and generosity rarely seen outside of missionary biographies.

Wes and Virginia

~ Grandpa Bob and Grandma Renee who danced – those two went through many highs and lows together, but year after year, decade by decade, they drew close for music and dancing and inspired their offspring to do the same.

~ Our parents, whose marriages at home were the same ones that showed up to church on Sunday and to sporting events and birthday parties on the weekends. Both John and I grew up with mostly stay-at-home moms and working dads. But both Mom and Dad earned and required respect, freely gave love, and together formed a united front that served to shape their children’s characters and provided a stable and warm landing for us that we still enjoy today.

jack and marilyn

frank lorrie wedding

I think of the women of these marriages who are strong and respected, create beauty, and who serve uncomplainingly.


The men love overtly, listen and voice thanks, work hard, and stoop down to let their wives shine.


Among these six couples, I have seen countless acts of sweeping up, tuning up, trimming up, nailing up, scrubbing down, folding down, taking out, and putting away performed without announcement or expectation. The only shades of grey are the hair on their heads.

grandparents on couch

I don’t really understand what the Bible says about submission, and I don’t like the hypersexualized, selfish picture of relationships in entertainment culture. What I have learned from 300 years of marriage is that a beautiful posture of a wife and husband is side-by-side. Both strong and capable, both serving and building up the other, both pouring into and in love with the other’s mind, body, and soul.

Frank and Lorrie


PS. Maybe some of you couples don’t plan on going out to a fancy dinner or seeing a just-released movie at the theater on Valentine’s Day. Maybe you are content to spend an evening at home with Netflix and a cup of tea or glass of wine. Here’s an idea of something you can do with all that cash you saved by keeping it simple: Fund a loan at Kiva! Don’t know about Kiva yet? Watch these two short videos while sipping your wine. Then, as part of your Valentine’s Date Night at home, pick a borrower together.


Or, how about donating to International Justice Mission, whose teams in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia protect girls from sexual violence?

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Because there is one more thing I learned from 300 years of marriage. When you’ve been given a good, strong love that fills you up, you don’t keep that to yourself. You pour out for others. Like empowering women and protecting girls from violence. Nothing grey about that.

If you decide to donate your Valentine’s Day dinner, I’d be so encouraged to hear about your Kiva loan or IJM gift in the comments. John and I are spending Valentine’s Day apart this year – my friend Lauren is feeding him something delicious while he spends another couple weeks in Haiti, working on expanding that school I told you about last year. I donated to both organizations in honor of my handsome husband of 15 years and all those spunky grey-haired grandpas and grandmas.




The Kid Abolitionists Meet IJM

A few months ago we created a video with the Lawson family to help introduce kids to the work of International Justice Mission in Ghana, where they hope to end child slavery in the fishing industry on Lake Volta.

We shared the video with moms and kids who came to our summer justice book clubs and with friends and family who support and encourage our book club fundraiser.

IJM’s work in Ghana is very new – they are just now forming an office in Accra, following an investigation led by “V” earlier this year. “V” (psuedonym for his protection) wrote up a report of his investigation, and IJM shared it with supporters through a mailing and on their website in May or June. This report is what influenced Heidi Kellar and me to focus our book club discussions on IJM’s work to end child slavery on Lake Volta. The report is what gave me the idea to create a children’s video and write a script to help our kids and others understand the issue better, which gave Julianna Lawson the idea of using shadow puppet theater in our video. The report is also what Heidi used to lead an activity at the boys’ book club, in which she had us pretend to be Justice Fighters like V, and role play the arduous (and sometimes boring) tasks of an IJM investigation, including rowing boats around the lake, traveling over bumpy roads to villages, and sitting still and watching for hours at a time. She explained to the boys that the work of justice can be dangerous, uncomfortable, long, and boring.

Well, that was that. It was a great summer – the video worked beautifully as an educational tool for families, and we ended up raising about $1,400 for IJM to help them open their office in Ghana. Summer ended, fall started and we were off to other responsibilities.

Then, God surprised us. Heidi went to a friend’s baby shower, and who would happen to be at that baby shower, but a woman from Washington, DC who works at IJM, in V’s office! She encouraged our kids to write letters to V and his partner to let them know we were praying for them and supported them. Heidi and I got our kids together, showed them the video again, handed them paper, pencils, and a word bank (“Ghana”, “slaves”, “Lake Volta” – yes, we are educators), and they got to work.

We mailed the letters, some photos, and a link to our video to V’s office. The kids got tired of asking when V would write back approximately 48 hours after mailing the envelope.

A little over a week later, I got a message from IJM’s Global PR Director, Mindy Mizell – they had watched our video, shown it to their headquarters office during their daily prayer gathering, and would like to meet the Kid Abolitionists. Could we set up a Skype interview? Uh…YES!

Julianna and I scrambled to set up a time that would work on short notice – IJM wanted the interview complete in time to promote it on Anti-Slavery Day, which was just a few days away, on October 18th. We gathered the kids together (minus the Kellar boys, unfortunately), and fired up Skype. Mindy coached us through a few particulars and started recording. First question, we froze up, started again, and then the three oldest Lawson children answered the questions with poise and intelligence. A couple minutes into the interview, Mindy surprised us with a special visitor on her side. We could see a man, visible from the shoulders down, holding a shuffle of papers. It was V!

He thanked the kids for their letters, the inspiring video, and their efforts to help IJM end slavery in Ghana. He answered a few of the questions from the letters while I sat there grinning like a teenager with a backstage pass to her favorite band.

You can read the article about the kids on IJM’s newsroom website here: “Kids in Portland Meet their Hero on Anti-Slavery Day”.

And a video of our Skype interview with Mindy and V here:

I just can’t even believe this happened. Four years ago, with a breaking heart, I learned about IJM and the gravity and extent of modern day slavery. I called out to God, asking him to show us how to join this work of justice. I never would have imagined how he would answer that prayer and allow our little family and friends to meet these people who inspire us so greatly.

I encourage you to read this updated report by V – his account of witnessing child slavery on Lake Volta: “What Broke My Heart at Lake Volta”.

At the end of our interview, I babbled something to V about him being our hero. Now that I think of it, I’m pretty sure I pictured his face like this:

Jean Valjean

Actually, I didn’t picture his face at all, but I am down-on-my-knees thankful for heroes like V who serve faithfully without any recognition in dangerous assignments for the benefit of the poor and powerless. We don’t know V’s full name and we don’t know the names of the boys on Lake Volta who are waiting for their freedom. But God does. And he chooses to use V and Mindy and others at IJM, and he chose to use us last week to further his purposes in Ghana.

C.S. Lewis said, “I have received no assurance that anything we can do can eradicate suffering. I think the best results are obtained by people who work quietly away at limited objectives, such as the abolition of the slave trade, or prison reform, or factory acts, or tuberculosis, not by those who think they can achieve universal justice, or health, or peace. I think the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can.” (The Weight of Glory)

Whether we tackle the evil in front of us with shadow puppet theater, letters slipped into an envelope, or a donation to an organization that is working quietly away at bringing children out of violence and poverty, we can make a difference. I think that is what I learned this week, and I hope those kids sitting in front of a computer screen learned it too.

Screen shot Skype

IJM asked us to re-open our summer book club campaign. If you want to support IJM’s work to end slavery at Lake Volta, you may contribute here: 2014 Summer Book Club Justice Campaign.

Doing Justice with Pens, Pages, and Needles

As I plan and lead justice-related book clubs for boys and girls, it is always a challenge to share examples of injustice in the world while developing awareness, empathy, and empowerment, without scaring or immobilizing the kids.

So this year, with help from friends, we created a kid-friendly video about modern-day slavery in Ghana, developed activities to teach empathy, and taught about real justice heroes who courageously stood for justice in their time and place.

We sought to improve our “eyesight”: our ability to spot what is wrong; and our response: how we use our power to make things right.

Some of these four- through 10-year-olds heard about slavery for the first time and were given tools to do something about slavery today.

They heard about William Wilberforce, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nelson Mandela, and Malala Yousafzai who used their words, their position, their power to stand against injustice.

They signed letters to members of congress and sewed Freedom Friends, which were sold to raise money for International Justice Mission – an organization which frees and restores slaves, brings criminals to justice, and works with local governments to transform broken justice systems.

Freedom Friends - Youm


They heard about how they can stand for justice at school, and in their community, country, and world when they spot the strong oppressing the weak (bullying, teasing, immigrants being verbally abused).

They practiced speaking up in front of peers and other moms about books and their thoughts about issues.

girls talking

They composed poems and shared these words with others.

Ellie's poem

We met other regular boys, girls, moms, grandmas and grandpas, whose love for Jesus inspires and empowers them to fight for justice in big and small ways.



banceus 2

Sierra 2

15-year-old Sierra stuffs hundreds of shoeboxes every year for Operation Christmas Child. The Horch family purchased Freedom Friends for Sierra’s boxes.

They learned that doing justice can be hard, boring, embarrassing, and uncomfortable.

painting toenails

They set reading goals and sold Freedom Friends, bringing in donations to our fundraiser.

freedom friends

They learned that by reading books, our brains AND our hearts can get smarter.


Naomi reading

They do justice with pens, pages, and needles – stitching and writing their little lives into a fabric of justice, which is God’s handiwork, prepared in advance for us to do.

Here are some more photos from book club this summer, along with quotations from justice heroes we studied:

"My bursting heart must find vent at my pen!" - Abigail Adams

“My bursting heart must find vent at my pen!” – Abigail Adams


“It’s a matter of taking the side of the weak against the strong, something the best people have always done.” – Harriet Beecher Stowe

"So let us wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism; let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons." - Malala Yousafzai

“So let us wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism; let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons.” – Malala Yousafzai

"I’m not concerned with your liking me or disliking me. All I ask is that you respect me as a human being." - Jackie Robinson

“I’m not concerned with your liking me or disliking me. All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.” – Jackie Robinson

"Be assured, if you walk with Him and look to Him, and expect help from Him, he will never fail you." - George Müller

“Be assured, if you walk with Him and look to Him, and expect help from Him, he will never fail you.” – George Müller

"You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know." - William Wilberforce

“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.” – William Wilberforce

"If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for such a time as this?" - Esther 4:14

“If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for such a time as this?” – Esther 4:14

"Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again." - Nelson Mandela

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” – Nelson Mandela

Sera with Freedom Friend

“Though she be but little, she is fierce.” – Shakespeare (not one of the justice heroes we studied)

“When our grandchildren ask us where we were when the voiceless and the vulnerable of our era needed leaders of compassion and purpose, I hope we can say that we showed up, and that we showed up on time.” – Gary Haugen, IJM President 

* Special thanks to Katie Jenks, Lorrie Donahue, and Amy Youm for photos