By Lori McDaniel
International Mission Board
I’ve met injustice face to face.
She was a trafficked woman who stood beside me at a train station in Asia, her pimp glaring from a few feet away. Everything within me wanted to grab her hand and rescue her. But our conversation ended abruptly and I don’t know where she is today.
I heard injustice cry out on the edge of an African village as 10-year-old girls were “circumcised” as part of a village tradition. The village women sang in celebration, and my heart split between anger and compassion. The need for justice and the gospel weighed heavy on my soul.
“I cannot be silent,” wrote Lottie Moon, the 19th century Southern Baptist missionary who helped inspire the international missions offering that carries her name today. And I feel a similar urgency myself. Writing as if she were a wartime correspondent, Lottie sent dispatches from the front lines. Her provocative letters asked the Church to courageously send reinforcements to advance the gospel and to compassionately give aid to those dealing with oppression. Her words a mere whisper of the thunderous life she lived: “The needs of these people press upon my soul and I cannot be silent.”
Voice for the voiceless
Lottie entered China to teach women and school-aged girls. It wasn’t long before she collided head-on with injustice in the Chinese culture, specifically the ancient practice of foot-binding. The custom entailed bending a young girl’s toes downward until her foot doubled and binding them tightly until they broke. The tighter the better.
The agonizing pain resulted in a deformed, three-inch foot believed to attract better marriage prospects and a higher social status. To a groom, “It is much more important for her to have small feet than a pretty face,” Lottie wrote. “As to education, that is neither desired nor expected.”
Lottie spoke out, encouraging parents to unbind their daughter’s feet and to allow them to go to school. And for 40 years, Lottie lived among people whose needs altered between poverty, disease, war, persecution, famine and the results of human atrocities.
She met injustice face to face with a relentless love and the truth of the gospel. Her resolve to persist on the front lines nearly 150 years ago inspires me to tenaciously wrestle with injustice and the gospel in my own world today.
Here’s what Lottie’s example teaches me about injustice and the gospel.
We must live in the tension of injustice. Lottie proclaimed the gospel while ministering to broken people wrapped in the brutality of injustice. The inner tension she felt was thick. She knew that unbinding the feet of a young girl came with risks. A girl with unbound feet may have become an outcast, rejected by her family.
But with feet bound, girls suffered excruciating pain, were susceptible to infection and death and would likely become uneducated child-brides. As many of us would, Lottie wrestled through her options. “Has the time come and are we strong enough to make a decided stand on the question of foot-binding?” she asked. “Shall we make it a rule that all who come in (to school) shall unbind their feet?”
Injustice binds, the gospel sets free — and we must relentlessly minister in the tension between the two.
Let us not shrink in the face of injustice but courageously fight injustice with a gospel-informed response.
Righting a wrong of injustice is not redemptive. Christ’s presence and power is. The gospel breeds injustice-fighters, but fighting injustice is not necessarily proclaiming the gospel. We are called to defend against the assault of injustice while introducing God as the one who “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Ps. 147:5).
After years of attempting to right the wrong of foot-binding, Lottie wrote of one student who chose to follow Christ but “was forced to marry into a heathen family. They used every effort to induce her to recant.”
But she would not. Her husband destroyed her Bible and demanded she leave her faith. Unrelenting, this woman fervently prayed.
Twenty years later her husband chose to follow Christ. Not long after his conversion, she “prayed about the unbinding of her daughters’ feet, and when she spoke of it to her husband, she could scarcely believe her ears that he promptly consented.”
It was Christ in him that changed his perspective of right and wrong. Injustice and brokenness dwell where God’s name and glory does not. But, when His name is present, God has the power to redeem and restore justice.
Injustice dwells where truth does not. Injustice will continue as long as the truth is suppressed (Rom. 1:18).
As believers, we don’t just inform people of truth, we introduce them to truth by being a living example of Christ.
When we introduce people to the Word, “many hearts are stirred,” wrote Lottie, “but these newly awakened souls are bound in the chains of old habits. … Now what these people need — next to grace of God in their hearts — is to see the life of Jesus Christ set before them.”
We can’t just do good. We must love people enough to live as a tangible gospel witness among them — yes, live among the impoverished, the diseased, the broken, the displaced and the dejected. We can declare truth when we dwell among injustice.
Injustice is uprooted when we share the story of reconciliation. As believers, we understand justice differently because we’ve been justified. Our story has been redeemed by our reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ. Injustice is often tethered to a belief — a story — that’s a deeply rooted worldview, passed down through generations.
Cultures may place their identity in such beliefs, anchored in religion, tradition or societal expectations.
We cannot change the narrative of a culture without giving them a better story to believe. Through Jesus Christ, God reconciled the world to Himself and entrusted us as “messengers of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19).
We can’t love the gospel and not have compassion for the broken in need of the gospel. Ironically, a year and a half before Lottie died she was still writing of injustice and oppression as famine claimed the lives of many around her. She wrote of men collapsing on the side of the road, their sacks of grain still beside them as they died of starvation on their way back to their families. She told of mothers sending their children away from home, just hoping someone would feed them.
Lottie fell in love with the Chinese people and the Chinese people fell in love with her. When she died, her Chinese friends carved in Chinese letters on a plaque, “Lottie Moon.”
And underneath could be found the phrase, “how she loved us.”
Editor’s Note — Lori McDaniel is a church initiatives leader at the International Mission Board. She served with her family for several years in Africa before returning to plant a church in the United States.