Overcoming oppression

Rebecca Hagelin
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Posted: Aug 10, 2007 12:00 AM

“Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” -- Isaiah 1:17

It’s so easy to get caught up in our petty problems.

The traffic is horrible, the check-out line is slow, it’s too hot, my hair is frizzy, the weeds are taking over the yard, the doctor is making me wait … blah, blah, blah.

Don't get me wrong -- it's just dandy to get annoyed at life's little annoyances, as long as you also try to fix those things that you can. We should be efficient with our time and not waste the precious hours and days God has given us. And that includes making an effort to stop mindless complaining. Do you tend to exhibit road rage in heavy traffic and always end up late? Leave earlier. Hate long check-out lines? Shop during downtimes. Too hot? Go play under the hose or hang out in the air-conditioned mall, for pity’s sake. Having a bad hair day? Get over it.

Far too many of us (myself included) spend too much time stewing over things that aren’t even worth our energy or attention. And I find that so, well … annoying.

Yes, many of us have real troubles in our lives that need to be addressed -- broken relationships, serious illness, economic troubles. As we commit to seek help and make change in our own lives, we must not forget that one way to lift our spirits in the midst of our own real problems (or annoyances) is to focus on meeting the needs of others. One great human failure is turning away from the genuine suffering of so many people around the world -- people who actually have something to complain about, but whose cries of pain and misery go largely unheard by our vast population of self-centered whiners.

I think God has been trying to get my attention of late. Through a series of seemingly unconnected encounters, I keep having to stare torment and evil in the face. I recently spent an hour talking with a network of international journalists who have chosen to live in dangerous circumstances to uncover and report on acts of torture, oppression and persecution. Then, a few weeks ago, I “just happened” to be on a Florida beach the same day some 30 Cuban men, women and children successfully escaped communism and breathed freedom for the first time. And on a recent bright Sunday morning I found myself in church listening to an activist from the International Justice Mission describe how his organization intervenes in the lives of little girls kidnapped and forced into brothels where they are brutally raped many times a day. He described children who spend their young lives as slaves to pay off their impoverished families’ debts, as well as maimed and scarred survivors of genocide who watched as their husbands, wives, sons and daughters were butchered.

God is reminding me that there are millions upon millions of men, women and children -- people made in His image and precious in His sight -- that fall victim to the brutal hands of oppression every day. He keeps reminding me that the world is full of corrupt governments led by evil abusers. God wants our hearts to be moved by the cries of their victims, our hands to be ready to work for justice, our arms and feet ready to rescue them from their oppressors. I believe God wants us to be filled with righteous anger that would cause us to defend the defenseless. Yet far too many of us spend our lives angry at the traffic.

Oppression exists within our own shores, too. I once worked with a ministry that intervened in the lives of child prostitutes in New York City. It was nauseating to see little girls and boys -- some as young as 12, many of them runaways or “throwaways” -- under the control of pimps and abusers. Yes, it happens in cities around the U.S., right under our stuck-up noses.

We all know there is immense suffering and injustice in our own nation and throughout the world, but we have a tendency to look the other way, ignore the humanity of the victims and see them as characters on a stage we cannot or should not touch. Turn off the news, and the show is over. In seconds, we're back to complaining about the weather.

I’m reading a book as part of my daily devotions that I’m praying will help me figure out exactly what I should do to help alleviate the pain of those who suffer, and to help end the oppression of the wicked. Titled, “Good News About Injustice: A Witness of Courage in a Hurting World” (available at IJM.org), the book reminds me that much is expected of me. God has blessed me with a wonderful family, a free country, and material goods aplenty. And I’ve known the joy that comes with helping those who cannot help themselves. I have the privilege of working at The Heritage Foundation, an organization that works tirelessly to promote policies that toppled the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, and that seeks to empower individuals to control their own lives. Would that I would never be guilty of trying to be so comfortable in my personal life and the “busyness” of work that I forget the faces of those who have no comfort. But I often do.

Perhaps these final days of summer will be a personal time of reflection for you, too. Join me in praying that we will, as Hebrews 13:3 admonishes, "Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering." May we will always have hearts and hands ready to help.