An 11-year-old Peruvian girl, together with her nine-year-old brother, went with their mother to live with their stepfather and stepbrother. Soon after they moved in, both the stepfather and stepbrother started sexually abusing the 11-year-old girl. One day her little brother walked in on the abuse, and then turned up dead within a day or two.
The girl, trapped in this world and afraid to say anything about it, confessed to her mum only after a nurse at the hospital noticed that her injuries were consistent with sexual abuse. They then found the International Justice Mission (IJM) casework alliance partner in Peru, and Richard, one of the lawyers, took on the case. In the two weeks after reporting the crime, the stepfather and the stepbrother were both taken into custody.
Jim Martin, vice president of spiritual mobilisation at IJM recounts this story to me, saying, “I [left] that meeting and walked back to my hotel just weeping and asking God, ‘Why would you let this happen?’ I don’t have any theological comfort that I can provide for myself in a world where an 11-year-old’s little brother is killed because he opens a door at the wrong time and sees into [her] nightmare.”
Converted at 18 out of a difficult family of origin, Jim says that Jesus’ words about abundant life in John 10:10 were actually a message of rescue.
“It always seemed to me that if this stuff was really true then it ought to change everything. And if the good news of Jesus was really true, then it was going to prove itself most profoundly true in the places where it was most desperately needed.”
From early on in his Christian life, Jim wanted to find those desperately needy places, go there, and “just glory in the truth and goodness of the gospel.”
Fresh out of university, Jim moved with his wife to California, and got a job teaching science at an inner-city school. The school had some gang issues and was in the poor part of town. They moved into the school area, with a “very naïve and wonderful sense that the [gospel] is true and it’s going to actually matter most in the places where there’s the most brokenness.”
Following that, they began work with the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF), particularly ministering to the students that were experiencing lots of brokenness in their lives.
After eight years with IVCF, Jim then took up the role of mercy and justice pastor at a new church plant in California. Around the same time he became acquainted with the work of IJM, and was “absolutely floored” by what it was doing, bringing good news to desperately needy people.
This good news is both the good news of Jesus, and in the case of the work of IJM, safety for those who are trapped.
“Evangelism and mercy were never intended to be separated,” says Jim. “What is better news to a girl trapped in a brothel than, ‘I’m taking you out to a place that is safe’?
“It wouldn’t make any sense to go into the brothel and pay money to spend time with a girl who had been trafficked there, and certainly not have sex with her, but share the good news of Jesus with her. I could have a conversation with her and see if she would profess faith in Jesus. But to me, that seems like it misses the fundamental challenge of where she needs to be loved.
“The thing that she needs most is rescue.”
Even so, he admits that it is easy for people – even Christians – to “be flabbergasted, sitting back and asking, ‘God, where are you when all these terrible things happen?’”
But he believes that the more important question is, “where are God’s people?
“God has declared his feelings about oppression and injustice very clearly, and has said [that] this is actually the job of my church (Is 1:17, Micah 6:8).
“I’ve always thought the courageous church [should be] doing things that look impossible in the world, because Jesus is exactly who he said he was,” says Jim.
“I think God has made his intentions very clear, that his answer to the problem of injustices in the world is the church, and that the call for us is to step up. The beautiful promise is that when we do actually step in and put ourselves between the oppressor and the one that they are hurting, when we do actually break yokes of oppression, God shows up for us.
“If we will be that church then we get to experience this wonderful loving God who promises abundant life,” says Jim.
He concedes that this “abundant life” may not always happen, saying, “there are no rock-solid, airtight answers to any of these questions.” And he is the first to point out that there are still about 35.8 million people enslaved around the world.
“But it is remarkable how few of our clients spend their time lamenting the years the ‘locusts have taken,’ so to speak.
“And I want church folk to understand is that there actually is great hope where these things are concerned. We have seen remarkable transformation in short periods of time. In a tri-city area in the Philippines, we have seen a 79 per cent reduction in minors available in commercial sex establishments in just four years.”