By Doug Blackburn
The energetic nun was the self-appointed organizer of ecumenical justice events in my home city, Chatham, Ont. It must have been one of the many flyers sent around to area churches that caught my attention.
Sister Jean Ann’s enthusiasm for justice was contagious. She had very limited vision, and the image that stays with me is of her squinting through a magnifying glass to read the latest on a global issue in preparation for an event; and then of those same eyes, twinkling with excitement, as she shared her new ideas with us.
At the time, it was all around getting our government to do more to address crippling debt loads which were the bane of the poorest countries. Old debts and high interest rates meant money that should have gone into their own health and education systems was now going into costly service payments to banks and governments in places like Canada.
It was exciting stuff to me.
I’d come to my faith in God and to a growing awareness of the deep injustices in our world at about the same time, but through different channels. Here was someone bringing my two passions together!
I joined her small group and together we hosted events and took actions as the local chapter of a national ecumenical justice movement.
Over the years, and through the different cities and churches in my life, advocacy actions continued even as the issues changed.
Taking the long view, it’s good to see we’ve made progress on some of those issues. Canada eventually did play a positive role in cancelling debilitating debt loads. And some of the pioneering work of churches, such as promoting fair trade products and living more sustainably on the planet, have become common parlance to us now.
Today, the need for advocates remains, both globally and locally.
Recently, the Toronto Star reported on a community meeting around a city proposal to move a shelter for homeless senior men into a renovated motel in an East-end neighbourhood.
According to the report, the vocal majority was loudly, and even rudely, opposed to the move, citing dramatic “what-could-happen” scenarios that had little to do with the actual behaviour of the men.
The lone voices to the contrary were a past resident and a minister whose church was near the current home. They spoke to their very positive experiences of the men and advocated for a compassionate and thoughtful hearing of the case.
Years ago, in my home town, Sister Jean Ann kept the spark of advocating for justice alive. Perhaps the greatest hope for similar sparks today is with a new generation of Christian activists.
I was speaking with a minister the other day about a justice event for his church and suggested we start with some exercises to help the members make the connection between promoting justice and their Christian faith. He hesitated for just a second, then offered, “Yes, we’ll need to do that for the adult members. The youth already get it.”
Doug Blackburn is the Advocacy Communities Manager with World Vision Canada. Read his Faith Today article, “How to be an advocate” in the Nov/Dec issue.