Some of you may still be in the dark about what bonded labor entails and what IJM does to relieve the victim and hold the abuser accountable. This video provides an accurate account. The people you see in this video were rescued mid May and it’s these exact families that I’ll be working to help reintegrate into communities while I’m here! From what I’ve heard ’round the office Google, Microsoft, and Ebay are jumping on the IJM boat. Pretty cool, eh? Let me know what you think of the video.
After over 20 hours of traveling I arrive to the airport in south asia where I am the foreigner. You’d think this city would be asleep at 3:30 in the morning – not hardly. I gathered my luggage and made my way outside where I was greeted by a sea of people, probably 400+, all staring without batting at eye, packed shoulder to shoulder standing up against the metal gate waiting for their beloved families and friends. It was as if I were walking down a red carpet in Hollywood. I mightily pushed my four pieces of luggage through the crowd and they parted in a similar fashion as the Red Sea as I made no eye contact and kept walking forward – all the while still glancing for a sign with my name on it. I reach the end of the red carpet and there was no sign . . . cartoon-sounding horns are blowing, people are lying everywhere and packed in every nook and cranny of the alleyway beneath the canopy-looking airport exit and there I am with my cart of luggage and no ride. But have no fear, I had my handy-dandy guide and a taxi driver offered to allow me to call someone to find the IJMers. The ride home was a lot like being in the three-level bus from the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third Harry Potter movie.
The director of investigations gave me a security brief almost as soon as I arrived so I would be safe in Chennai. As he’s preparing me to live in the city he recalls their most recent operation on a diner that all the IJM staff frequent near the office. They still needed the documentation to prove the presence of child labor but it needed to be executed by someone affiliated with IJM who’s not yet known to the diner so he asked me to take undercover pictures of the boy working. I got the pictures and returned quickly. While I was gone he called a government official to be ready to do a raid; I showed him the evidence and he went in and rescued the boy. (In my mind I’m thinking, “Am I really witnessing this? … on my first day?) We took him up to the office and tried to gather as much indentifying information as possible and found bruises on his body. The staff sought to console him since he appeared to be terrified. All the while I’m watching all of this and almost crying! On the inside my jaw had dropped to the floor as I signed government documents and looked at this little boy. They took pictures to publish it in the press the next day and gave a freedom speech to the boy along with his freedom certificate. After taking the pictures with the Child Labour & Trafficking agent and the boy they handed me the certificate and said, “What’s on the back of that?” and it read: “Neesha Roberts, daughter of Tim Roberts. This is a prank.”
We all burst into laughter . . . and come to find out – they had someone taking pictures of me while I was “documenting” child labor. Farewells are a big deal here; I’m confident all these pictures will make it to my farewell video including the one where the government official is giving me bunny ears. They boasted of how proud they were of this prank since it involved every department. I met half of the staff after enduring this prank for a few hours. Hahahaha!
They got another girl too. They told her a new disease had broken out and since she didn’t have the vaccination she had to wear a bug net that covered her entire body. I saw the video and it’s HILARIOUS . . . they said all the Indians were staring at her wondering what was wrong with her as she walked down the main street in the city. These people are hilarious – I love this place already.
CULTURE & PEOPLE. When I first arrived in Arlington, I decided to go exploring to replenish my energy. What I thought would be a three-mile walk/run turned into an all-day adventure. I walked in the residential area and the W & OD trail for 3-4 hours–countless people were using the trail to ride bikes, have picnics, walk, run, and play sports. This city cares far more about health and intelligence than image; image is not a god in that city. What?! This exists?! Apparently, so!
Now on to the even greater joys not anticipated! When one peruses the IJM website it doesn’t take long to recognize the excellence and integrity of the organization, but it hardly taps into how incredible these people are in word and deed. Every presentation was filled with insight as to why they do what they do and how it fits into the mission and values of IJM; this is truly a value-informed and mission-bound organization. You’ll learn more about this shortly. On day one, I road the elevator with the infamous Gary Haugen (CEO/Founder of IJM)! His hair looks even crazier in person! Haha! Their main values from which ALL objectives and standards stem from are: to be Christian, professional, and a bridge-builder. For example, in being a bridge-builder, instead of having an adversarial relationship with the government, IJM builds relationships with government officials to influence the structure and execution as it relates to the rule of law and thereby championing the government, and not the NGO. Come to find out, the city of my deployment is one of the offices in the field where IJM has a structural transformation project up and running, meaning IJM has assessed their relationship with the government and either by invitation or evaluation, they have the government as a captive audience because of their repetitious credibility. Brilliant, right? This is only the beginning.
TAKEAWAY. I could go on and on about how much I respect the operation and effectiveness of IJM, but I wanted to share one point I took away from this week on a personal level. My working framework of what it means to be ‘on mission’ with God primarily came from a private Christian college where I studied Theology with all the guys who were going into vocational ministry, so when the Lord began to whisper something different from this I was caught off-guard. I never assumed I would be in vocational ministry but still, it’s almost as if I didn’t know what else to do. A cultural observation I’ve made of the deep south is if you’re madly in love with the Father you go into vocational ministry, period, but now I know it’s a narrow, unexamined assumption.
This assumption was so real to me, that for me not to pursue vocational ministry was to be a person who automatically was pursuing the American dream. Eventually, I came to understand that it wasn’t about my role/occupation per se–since all roles are a means to the same end–but about how God was directing me to express dependence upon him. I had only seen people express their passion and dependence upon God through ministry roles- what a limited scope of what it means to spend yourself on people! And so . . . I understood. From there, I conceived a desire to work with the marginalized in a professional role through Proverbs 31:
“Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (vv. 8,9)
I began grad school and thrived in the professional environment with absolute confidence I was heading in the right direction. And, after this week with IJM staff I have even more assurance that, for this season (and maybe for my entire life), I’m to be a professional and not employed by the church. Here’s why I say that: billions and billions of dollars is spent on proselytizing each year along with relief and development, but a fraction is spent on oppression- doing something about the hand of the oppressor. So, let’s say an African widow’s land and all her possessions are stolen from her after her husband passes away and your organization goes in and feeds her for two months, gives her a stipend to live off of, shares the gospel with her, and even builds her a new house. What’s going to happen to her? Well, the bullies are just going to come again and steal everything you just gave her. Since the perpetrator was not held accountable all those efforts are nearly wasted simply because the law does not work to protect the poor. Hence the reason why IJM’s mission entails working with the local governments so that the law will secure long-term freedom for the poor so that the poor can enjoy the gifts God has given them namely (IJM), “life, liberty, dignity and the fruits of their love and labor.”
Now that these connections have been made with headquarters staff in DC and I have been taught further about the malicious and intentionally-violent nature of injustice, the sense of urgency and purpose in going to South Asia is undeniably staring me down and as I reflect on these, I have taken away greater wisdom, greater responsibility, and empowerment to stare back with confidence: I’m going to show up.
“Give justice to the poor and orphan; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute. Rescue the poor and the helpless; deliver them from the grasp of evil people.” (Psa. 82:3,4)