Thursday, 28 July 2011

Justice in a Sun-Scorched Land

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been in South Asia now for over 6 weeks. In some ways, it’s flown by, but in others, it feels like I’ve been here for ages. Days are long and jam-packed, but weeks fly by at an unbelievable pace. Work has definitely picked up—I can’t believe there was a point where I was worried about not having enough to do. As the days go on, I am more amazed by the people that I work with and the work that we do. Over and over again, I feel so humbled to be here. I must confess that before coming, it was so easy to focus the attention on myself…to, in a sense, “pat myself on the back” for “giving up” a year of my life to serve in India. I’ve quickly learned that what I am gaining is far more than I what I have given up. The people that I work with have sacrificed far more than I have, often taking significant pay cuts, to be a part of this work. They’re not simply dedicating a year of their life, but an entire standard of living in order to truly follow God’s command to seek justice. What an incredible blessing to be surrounded by people with passionate hearts for God and for others.

As I’ve studied the extent of global injustice over the past few years, I’ve often found myself questioning, “God—where are you? If you say that you are a God of both justice and love, why are there so many people suffering from injustice and oppression? Why does it seem that You are doing nothing about it?” This is one area of my faith that has caused me to struggle with God’s love, goodness, and at times, even His sovereignty. On top of feelings of doubt, I also battle emotions of anger that God would allow people to be abused in such violent ways, people that He created and that He claims to love as much as he loves me.

Over the past several weeks, I have once again been brought back to this point through the instances of violence and oppression that I see affecting so many. Each day, I’m reminded of the darkness that exists in this world—a girl whose virginity is sold by her own mother, an entire family forced to work in brutal, slave-like conditions. “God, where are You? Why are You allowing your creation to endure such abuse? And why are those inflicting the abuse getting away with such injustice? If You say that You are a God of justice, then where is fair judgment?” During this period of doubt, I reach a crossroads where I am forced to choose which path I will continue down, one of faith, or one of disbelief. Oftentimes, the decision comes down to the simple truth that, for me, life without faith in God seems much more terrifying than a life trusting in His sovereignty over this world.

Two weeks ago, I feel like God truly rewarded me for my years of trusting Him as I was able to see first-hand what it looks like for Him to rescue His children out of violence and oppression. As I was sitting at work one Tuesday, my boss approached me and asked if I would like to be a part of a rescue operation the next day. Of course, without hesitation, I quickly agreed. The next day, we would head an hour and a half out of the city to a region filled with numerous rice mills that provide rice to most of South Asia and even other regions of the world. Our mission: to rescue 17 people who had been forced to work to pay back a loan of less than 4,000 Rupees (around $100) that they’d borrowed seven years earlier.

Laborers in a Rice Mill
Their story is tragic, but unfortunately, not uncommon. Even though it is illegal under the constitution, it’s estimated that there are around 40 million bonded laborers in South Asia alone; 10 million of these are children. Bonded labor is essentially modern-day slavery. A poor villager, unable to pay for a medical bill, wedding, or funeral, will accept an illegal advance, agreeing to pay back the loan by providing manual labor to the lender. Once the villager, including family members, has moved to the lender’s facility to work, they find that in addition to providing manual labor, they have also sacrificed their freedom. They cannot work elsewhere. They cannot leave. In reality, they are paid little to no wages and their initial loan actually increases as the owners of the facility charge them unreasonable prices for small amounts of food and “accommodations.” It is not uncommon for laborers to work for generations to pay back small loans taken by relatives many years before. In addition to being robbed of their freedom, laborers are often treated violently—including physical, verbal, and even sexual abuse.

Early Wednesday morning, I headed with a team of around 20 people toward the rice mill. Working together with government and police officials, the operation was a success and we were able to rescue all 17 people!! Praise God! I fought back tears as I watched the laborers and their families walk into the government office to receive their certificates of freedom. Out of the 17 rescued, 9 were children, and 7 of the kids had been born since entering the rice mill and had never even enjoyed lives of freedom. As they entered the government office, their faces were filled with fear and their eyes with tears. By the time they left the office, their faces were filled with smiles and their arms with Beanie Babies :) After several hours at the government office, consisting of multiple interviews with the laborers, we succeeded in securing the certificates of freedom, as well as initial government payment for the laborers to begin to rebuild their lives in freedom.

The highlight of the day, for me, was being able to escort the laborers back to their villages about 2 hours south. Instead of riding with the IJM staff, I climbed into the hot and crowded bus of laborers and was greeted with smiles from each of the children. It’s incredible how a simple smile can convey the powerful message of love, despite the language barrier that existed between us. Within moments of leaving the government office, one small girl was asleep in my lap, while 2 others slept against my shoulders. I sat drenched in sweat, tears streaming down my face, as I attempted to comprehend the reality of what all had taken place that day. That morning, 17 people had woken up to lives of bondage. That evening, 7 years later, they would return home to lives of freedom.

As I reflected on the magnitude of this transformation, I finally caught a glimpse of how God desires to rescue people from injustice and oppression—through His own people. Throughout the bible, God has called Christians to fight injustice. “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17).  “Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed” (Jeremiah 22:3). All along, I had been asking the wrong question when I cried out to God, “Why are You allowing so many people to suffer? Why aren’t You doing anything about it?” Instead, I should have been asking what we, as Christians, are doing to “seek justice” and to “rescue the oppressed.” Just as God used Moses to rescue the Israelites out of slavery in the Old Testament, He desires to use His people to rescue those suffering from injustice and oppression today.

It was after midnight when we finally arrived at the first village. Even after experiencing the reunion of my brother returning from 15 months in Iraq, I was far from prepared for the joyous reunion that I was about to encounter. We pulled in front of the first family’s home and were greeted by tired and confused family members who had been sleeping in the front yard. I’m sure they were wondering what a bus was doing pulling up to their house in the middle of the night. The bus doors opened, and their family climbed out, family that they had not seen or heard from in 7 years. Laughter and tears filled everyone’s faces and person after person approached us to say “thank you, thank you” over and over again. After just a day, it was hard to say goodbye to the laborers and children, but what an incredible blessing to know that they were now home, living in freedom. What a powerful picture that amidst the darkness in this world, God remains sovereign. He holds true to His word that, “when they cry to the Lord because of oppressors, He will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them” (Isaiah 19:20).    

I cannot thank you enough for your prayers for me and the work that IJM is doing. This work would truly not be possible without them. If you would like to read more about the rescue, check out this report from a local News Report:


“Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” (Isaiah 58:9-11)


  1. Love reading this so much! Glad to hear how you are being changed by the Lord and how he works in miraculous ways. I know you will continue to be challenged while you are there but can battle through it with the strength of God! Keep up the great work and excellent blogging as well!

  2. kyleigh, what an INCREDIBLE thing God has used to for!! i am so happy and full of smiles as i read this!!! i cant imagine how much you bless God's heart as you are willing to be used by Him in unimaginable ways! thanks for sharing, keep them coming :)


  3. Ok, tears are streaming down my face. Praise God for the incredible work He is doing, and praise Him for using you! I'm so proud of you, Kyleigh. And just thrilled that you are experiencing God's power and love of justice in such tangible ways. You sound so alive. And that's the point, isn't it? :) Praying for you dear, dear, sister.