"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me for he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that the captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord's favor has come" (Luke 4:18).He then made the controversial statement that this prophecy was fulfilled in their hearing.
Jesus passed on this mission to his followers, but Christians have often been selective about which parts they would carry out. Outreach to the poor has been well documented from the beginning of the church: food, clothing and shelter have been provided to the less fortunate in Jesus' name in every nation where there is a Christian presence. This "good news" to the poor provides for material needs as well as spiritual needs. The disadvantaged are often most receptive to hearing about God's love and rescue plan as their day-to-day existence leaves little room for hope.
The reference to the blind being given their sight represents all the efforts to assist a wide variety of medical needs that exist in the world. Medical breakthroughs allow surgeries to be performed that actually do restore the sight of those blinded by cataracts, that enables those with infections or birth abnormalities in their bones to be able to walk and move normally. Technologies, such as wheel chairs, hearing aids, leg braces, eyeglasses and so many more are available to allow flourishing for those afflicted by particular physical problems. Finally, medicines and vaccines can prevent and treat many diseases that would otherwise maim or kill their victims. Christian ministry that involves hospitals and clinics for those who would otherwise be unable to access such help also started early and have expanded in impact as medical knowledge has advanced from many quarters.
Release to the captives and freedom for the oppressed was another part of the mission Jesus outlined, but this part has not been as consistently pursued by his followers. We can point to movements where Christians have been at the forefront of opposing injustices, such as ending the African slave trade (led by William Wilberforce), the civil rights movement under Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., prison reform under John Howard and Elizabeth Fry and advocacy for the falsely imprisoned through Amnesty International. These movements took an incredible amount of effort and perseverance to achieve gains on behalf of the marginalized--effort measured in decades rather than in months.
Through reading Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros' book The Locust Effect, I have been convinced that good news for the poor and sight for the blind needs to be strategically accompanied by efforts to bring justice to captives and oppressed peoples. I had been blind to it before but as I think about it I have known example of how injustices in developing nations undercut efforts to help the poor:
- About 15 years ago we were sponsoring a child through a well-known international development agency. One day we received a letter informing us that this little girl had moved out of the district in which they were working in Guatemala. The reason? Her father had murdered her mother, so this girl would be living with an uncle and his family.
- When I went on a service trip to the Dominican Republic I was shocked to see private security guards with shotguns patrolling outside of malls and grocery stores. All windows on the middle class homes have bars on them to prevent break-ins, and locked gates secure the compounds of schools and other institutional buildings. The poor, just struggling to make ends meet, cannot pay guards or afford to secure their properties.
- Also in Dominican Republic we were made aware of a school that had bathrooms quite a distance from its single classroom. For safety reasons, they pleaded with our group to fund the construction of a secure and nearby washroom for the real safety of boys and girls otherwise at risk of being attacked.
- A gentleman I met at a music recital several years ago had traveled to Pakistan numerous times. He shared with me his observation that within the culture of Pakistan there is the presumption that little girls exist for their brothers to molest.
- Rates of girls attending school are less than boys attending school. I have heard this many times, with the explanation that when funding is limited they choose their sons to get an education. Another part of the picture is that parents consider the risk of girls traveling to school to be too great; they want to hold them close to home so that will not be attacked or raped.
Relief and development organizations do tremendous work. I have no doubts about that. They show compassion and bring economic empowerment to the people they care for, regardless of their beliefs. However, without a proper justice system, where laws to protect all citizens are enforced by honest police officers and where trained lawyers advocate for the poor, the poor will remain vulnerable and trapped in poverty. Haugen and Boutros explain that everyday violence: domestic violence, robberies, rapes, false imprisonment by police, beatings, bonded labour [slavery], and sex trafficking harm more poor people every year than those harmed by wars, floods, earthquakes and severe storms combined. Despite the magnitude of the problem, it remains hidden.
There are groups making local progress in targeted areas where the need is greatest, and that is where hope comes in. My daughter and I sponsor a young girl in the capital city of Dominican Republic so that she can attend school and be well provided for. When I learned that International Justice Mission has an office in that city to target sex trafficking, I knew that our little girl's future depends on supporting that initiative as well.
It's time for people of good will to take up this missing mission. Training local systems of law enforcement and providing funding for social workers to rescue those who have been abused can turn the tide. Such initiatives, in tandem with agricultural and vocational know-how, access to medical care and micro-loans, can be used by God bring about the fullest measure of "good news" for the poor.