So, I’m moving to Ghana in June where I’ll work for a year to fight child slavery, and I’m doing it pro bono. Specifically, I will be working for International Justice Mission (IJM). IJM is a non-profit organization composed of Christian attorneys, social workers, criminal investigators, and support staff. IJM carefully investigates situations of abuse and partners with local officials to free victims from their immediate situations of danger. After the victims have been freed, IJM seeks to address the root of the problem by prosecuting the perpetrators in local court systems and empowering communities to make structural changes that can prevent such abuses in the future. IJM also works with aftercare providers to help the newly freed victims adjust to a life that is very different from their past oppressive experiences. I encourage you to consult their website (www.ijm.org) if you wish to know more.
Why are you moving to Africa? I have been asked some form of this question many times over the past several weeks. The answer is somewhat complicated, and in this post I want to try to answer it in part. The first, and easiest answer is simply that I want to help other people.
I went to law school because I find fulfillment in helping others. I have spent a significant amount of time in prayer and meditation over the past few years attempting to discern how God wanted to use my legal skills for his glory. Over the last two years, God has laid certain verses on my heart and a theme emerged from them all. Isaiah 1:17 “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” Ezekiel 16:49 “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and the needy.” James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” These are beautiful calls to the believer, and more specifically to me, to seek justice and help those in need.
There are numerous places in scripture where God is portrayed as a God of justice. One of the most difficult searches in my life has been searching for how I might use my own skills to work for justice in the name of God. IJM describes itself in part as an organization that protects the poor from violence in the developing world. To me, this clearly echoes a lesson found in Matthew 25. Where Christ says: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Thus, to protect the poor is to serve Christ. This is echoed by Paul in Galatians, “do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5:13-14) Working with IJM is one way of loving my neighbor as myself.
Working as a legal fellow for IJM would not however, be a generalized love of neighbor. My time as a fellow would be spent serving the people of Ghana. I prayed intensely for quite some time that God would give me a larger mission in my life. That I might be called to something specific. In Jeremiah God says: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah 29:5-7. These verses are often cited to show that we as Christians are called to be concerned about, and serve, the larger society around us. I wish to do so with my life, and at least for a season, with IJM. So for a year, the ‘city’ whose peace and prosperity I will be seeking will be Ghana.
In addition to the scriptural call to seek justice, I also find purpose and motivation for moving to Ghana in people I admire. In “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” Martin Luther King Jr. wrote these words: “I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
Tellingly, Reverend King expresses that one of the major stumbling blocks in the fight for civil rights is the so-called “white moderate.” While the extremist out on the fringe is an obstacle, even more damaging is the person in the middle who gives lip service to justice, but does nothing to see it accomplished. While Rev. King’s letter was written in a specific context, his words reflect a profound truth that echoes through the ages. Indeed, Rev. King echoes Edmund Burke who said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” To me, human trafficking is an unspeakable evil that must be stamped out, however, it continues to flourish not because most people find slavery acceptable, but because not enough good people are willing to act to end it. When I look back on my life, I do not want to say that I did nothing. I do not wish to advise a child in chains to wait for a more convenient moment to be free. I want to be able to say that I used my time on this earth to reach out to my fellow man or woman in love and friendship. That along with thousands of fellow travelers, I was able to do some small part in helping them rise up out of oppression to stand in the sun.
Rev. King went on to write “More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.” From that I can conclude only that I have been called to a be a ‘co worker with God’ and to use my time to do right. Granted this might seem melodramatic to some, but to become cynical about doing right leads to a loss of hope and inaction.
Ultimately, my reason for taking a fellowship in IJM comes down to my relationship with God. Earlier this summer I found myself pondering where my life was headed. I liked my job, but did not intend staying in that position indefinitely. So, I began preparing to search for a new position. I looked at various law firms and government jobs, but nothing I found really piqued my interest. No one area of law practice really attracted me in a fashion that made me passionate about it. As I perused different positions I began to picture what my life would look like in ten years should I continue down the path I was on at the time. More than likely I would get a job at a firm making decent money. Buy a house, meet a girl, get married, and settle down. Maybe I’d buy a boat or a sports car or something. Perhaps even begin talking about children when the time was right. Now, I want to be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of that. However, that is simply never what I envisioned my life looking like.
That does not mean that I endeavor to be lonely and homeless for the rest of my life, but I never saw myself settling into a career and living the ‘American Dream’ with no calling or direction either. I always wanted my life to be a little more Indiana Jones, and a little less Ward Cleaver, perhaps that is bit childish, but it is the life I always wanted. If I ever live the ‘3.5 kid, white picket fence life,’ I want it to be something I was called to, not something I felt resigned to. Accordingly, I found myself in a moment of personal crisis. The only option I saw open to me was one that I felt no desire to pursue, and so I felt a bit stuck. At that exact moment, like he so often does, God came in and blew everything up.
I was sitting in the 9:30 gathering of Passion City Church one morning, minding my own business, when our Pastor, Louie Giglio, preached a sermon in the “PowerFull” series that changed everything. The series explored portions of the Book of Acts, specifically the Day of Pentecost and the ensuing rapid spread of the gospel. I remember Louie talking about the calling of the Apostles and saying specifically, “maybe today, maybe someone in this house, will hear God’s calling.” My heart leapt in my chest, because I knew immediately that at least one person in that house that day was hearing God calling, that person was me.
I knew at that moment, that this was my call-up from AAA ball. The next step was determining where God was leading me. I went home that day with the intention of looking for a place to serve. To find a good fit, I thought back over my life and my accumulated experience, and how I have always desired to live boldly, to take the road less traveled, and live a life governed by a mission to serve God. My search was short. I simply googled “Who needs Christian Lawyers?” or something to that effect. One of the links that came up was for IJM. A light bulb immediately went off in my head. I had been vaguely familiar with IJM from my time as an undergraduate, but I had been made more aware of IJM earlier that summer.
Gary Haugen, president of IJM, had come to speak at a gathering for college students at Passion City Church called “Summer in the City.” I worked the Summer in the City gatherings as a member of the parking team. After we finished parking cars, the parking team would come inside and listen to the message until it was time to head back out at the conclusion of the gathering. Gary Haugen came that evening to speak to college students, but he also spoke to me. Mr. Haugen is also a lawyer, and he spent some time discussing how the spectacular results achieved by IJM in setting slaves free, were achieved by month and years of careful, sometimes tedious, very hard work. This description of IJM’s work really appealed to me. As a lawyer I know that the real practice of law bears very little resemblance to an episode of “Suits.” In reality, the successful practice of law is a result of much careful, sometimes tedious, very hard work. Mr. Haugen was describing an organization and a mission that utilized my skillset.
Weeks later, as I sat on my couch and saw the blue link for IJM, I remembered that talk as I clicked on it. I did not know if IJM was hiring, or even if I was the type of candidate they looked for, but I had a feeling I needed to check it out. As it turned out, IJM has a fellowship program for experienced attorneys to go and work in their field offices around the world. The opportunity looked tailor-made for me. It involved so many things I love: foreign travel, purposeful work, my faith, and a sense of mission. It was almost as if God had been leading me there for sometime, and of course in retrospect I realize that he had. As I read about the position I felt a still small voice in my heart urging me to apply.
The voice did not promise I would receive the position, it simply requested that I take a small step of faith and see where it led. So I did. I told my parents about it, but chose not to tell anyone else as I waited. I put any other job searches on hold, and began praying daily about the fellowship at IJM. To be clear, I did not pray that I would receive the fellowship. I prayed that God’s will would be done in my life, and that I would be faithful to him and be ready to receive whatever it was he had in store for me. Evidence began to accumulate that the fellowship was indeed what he had in store for me. My mother prayed about it, and said that she was expectant. Before I was interviewed I prayed, as did my family, that both myself and the interviewer would get a clear sense that I was appropriate for the position at IJM. Thinking back on my life and experiences it seemed to me that so many disparate portions of my life had led me to this exact place. I have traveled extensively overseas, I have a law degree, I’m very comfortable in a cross-cultural context, I know how to take and follow instructions, and I’ve moved so many times that moving again barely registers with me. All of these factors made me well qualified for this specific position.
Yet, I was still nervous, I did not want to get my hopes up and be let down. So, I continued to pray and trust in whatever God had in store for me. In his faithfulness, God walked with me through the time my application was pending. When David Platt spoke at the Passion Global institute he said “God wants this opportunity for you, more than you want it for yourself.” I held onto that, because it made me realize that God was in control of my life, and I would be wise to trust in his provision for me. The next day Platt preached again, and he asked if anyone was ready to surrender their entire life to serving God. I raised my hand, I was ready to go. In my personal time I memorize scripture, one of the passages I memorized was Ephesians 2. A verse that God laid on my heart was Ephesians 2:13 “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Paul has just finished discussing the separation from God suffered by Gentiles before Jesus came. He follows that with the beautiful picture of us being brought near by the blood of Christ. I began to think of how far away individuals held in the bonds of slavery must feel, and how perhaps I would get a chance to bring them a little nearer. This is of course not what Paul is talking about, but the idea of those far away being brought near contained in the verse really stuck with me.
In November, Judge Herbert Phipps, a man I greatly admire, retired from the Georgia Court of Appeals. In a moving retirement speech, he closed with these words “[Dr. Benjamin E.] Mays was seeking to instill courage in each of us. And he did. His words of inspiration have never left me. Therefore, wherever he is today, I hope that he knows that his words did not go unheeded. I hope that I have done my share to fulfill the wish that he so often expressed to us when he would say: ‘[In the years to come,]…you will make my spirit glad if you are known in life by the quality of your work and the integrity of your character, rather that the quantity of your possessions.’ So, in this spirit, I would like to leave each of you with this final advice: Have courage. Have courage. Goodbye.” Two weeks after I listened to a speech that implored me to think of others and to have courage, IJM offered me the fellowship.
While I never had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Mays speak, I find the impact his words to be profound. We should not let our lives be defined by how much we can acquire. But what then should define our lives?
Question 1 of the Westminster Catechism asks “What is the chief end of man?” The answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Our lives, our very existence, our purpose, is to glorify God. I think that to use my legal skills to help my fellow man and in doing so glorify God, is what I have been called to in this season of my life. What that looks like after I finish this fellowship I have no idea. What I do know, is that my purpose is to glorify God. And for at least a year I hope to bring him glory by seeking justice for the oppressed. There is an old song entitled “May all who come behind us find us faithful,” I hope that in serving others, that those who come behind me will find me faithful. Furthermore, I hope that Dr. Mays is sitting in heaven where he stored up his treasures, marveling that the words he delivered at Morehouse College in the early 1960’s are still inspiring people today. So, ‘Why am I moving to Africa?’ To do what Micah says God requires of me “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” To glorify God and to seek his justice for the oppressed. Make no mistake my motivation rests in my desire to glorify the one who made me, and to seek his kingdom.
What truly amazes me about my journey is how God ordained it, planned it, and walked me through it. I wouldn’t be a very good legal fellow if I had no law degree. I would not have been looking for a new position if I had not been at the job I have currently. I would not have heard Louie’s sermon if I went to a different church. I would not have heard Gary Haugen speak if I hadn’t been on the parking team. For years I wondered why I moved around so much and never settled down, maybe it is because it made be better suited for this fellowship. Would I be nearly as willing to do a legal fellowship overseas if I hadn’t lived on a Kibbutz when I was 18, or joined the Army, or traveled any of the other places I went? My point is simply that portions of my life that I thought were unremarkable, or unexplainable, or even kind of terrible. In his sovereignty, God is using those to bring about his glory. What a God we serve!
Well, that’s my story. There are a lot more details I suppose I could add in, if you want to know them ask me in person, but those are the broad strokes. The short version: God has called me to go to Ghana for a year to fight slavery. In reading this, please do not think that I am holding myself up as some example to be followed, or that I desire credit or praise. What I desire, is that you too would seek God’s will for your life, that you too would live boldly, that you too would live a life with one goal: to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
I will continue to write about this next chapter of my life in the coming months. After I deploy to Ghana, in June I will transition to describing my journey in this assignment as it happens. Until then, I welcome your comments and questions.