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.

Juliette

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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They are abolitionists.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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

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“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

Kid Abolitionists

Sometimes a couple of imperfect families can get together and creatively do what they can with what they have to give voice to his work in the world.

One day I was having lunch with Heidi, my friend who helped me start a boys’ book club this summer. She and I  were talking about Jesus, justice, kids, and what movie we might watch next. She asked if I had received the recent mailing from International Justice Mission, the one about the boys in Ghana who are enslaved working on fishing boats at Lake Volta. She spoke of their stories of violence and entrapment. We decided we would tell the book club boys about these boys from Ghana, many the same age they are – four years old and up.

Later that afternoon I got my mail and saw the heartbreaking photos and read the story of the investigation which is leading IJM to open a new office in Ghana, specifically to address child slavery in the Lake Volta fishing industry. I wondered how we could explain this to the book club kids and also how we could share this story more broadly with others who support our book club kids and love justice.

Enter the Lawson family.

Julianna Lawson is a lovely, grace-filled, and creative woman I’ve known since we were small girls. As we have grown up and become mothers, we have discovered an uncanny number of things in common. One thing we do NOT have in common is a love for dressing in costume.

(One time a mutual friend of ours was hosting an event in her home and asked each of us, separately, if we would like to help serve tea to her guests. Dressing in victorian-era costume was optional. I think I responded with an open mouth look of horror. Julianna was delighted to oblige and probably began planning her ensemble immediately.)

Jamie Lawson went to Haiti with John this year, partly to document some of the stories of God’s work in Haiti. He has a video production company.

Julianna’s love of costume and script, plus her husband’s videography work, plus their houseful of kids who also have a creative, sometimes theatrical flare, naturally led my mind to them when I thought of telling the story of Ghana’s boys through a kid-friendly, kid-produced video. Following the Haiti trip we had already been in conversation about bringing our families together, so this seemed like a good match.

The Lawson crew came over on a Saturday and we got to work, getting props ready, setting up equipment, and getting cozy with one another. Two Kellar boys also came over for much-needed boy shadow roles.

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The kids each had a part to play and followed directions with alacrity.

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We all got to experience firsthand the long, boring work of doing justice. Just as the IJM investigators at Lake Volta probably spent long days waiting and watching in the sweltering heat, our kids spent hours together, waiting, speaking lines again and again, quietly sitting between turns, and walking back and forth or posed awkwardly behind a screen, with a bright light heating the upstairs room like an African sun. The Lawsons also had the tedious work of editing hours of audio and video footage ahead of them. Perhaps unlike IJM investigators, our crew enjoyed Hansen’s soda, pizza, and chocolate chip cookies for refreshment when needed.

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The day was fun and fulfilling in the way that working together for a common cause can be. The only disappointment was that poor Jack spent the whole day curled up bed, quite sick. It was difficult for me to bear his absence from the project. He would have been such a cute shadow boy, and I wished he could have experienced the process.

I hope you enjoy the finished video project that our Kid Abolitionists and their justice-loving parents created. It has been a helpful tool for explaining an example of modern day slavery to the moms and kids at our book clubs. We pray that this small offering brings justice a little closer for Ghana’s boys.