Hot, humid, fast paced, fascinating, colourful, spicy(!), inspiring, transforming, loud, informative, extremely different, multi-cultural, incredible, worshipful, obedient – these are all words that I’ve used in the two weeks since returning from Bangalore, India.
From the 14th to the 20th May I joined up with a team of 7 other pastors, church leaders and IJM UK (International Justice Mission) staff to visit the IJM office set in the heart of Bangalore – or Bengaluru as it is known locally. This is a vibrant city packed full of people! We heard population estimates from 6 million all the way up to 11 million and my hunch is that it is closer to the 11 million mark! The roads are packed full of buses, cars, lorries, motorbikes, bicycles, people and the odd cow. The average speed at rush hour is 5kph and at the best of times is 20kph (we got caught in traffic jam at 4:30am!). It is the IT capital of India and apparently has one of the better climates in India – I struggled to believe that on the few days it hit a stifling 40 degrees. I’ve never been in a city where a one hour commute was welcomed so much as there was always something fascinating to see with the traffic system resembling something closer to the dodgems although somehow we didn’t see any accidents! This could be down to all drivers constantly sounding their horns – sometimes even for no reason at all. I’ve never been to a city like it and loved the cultural experience.
The reason for the trip was to spend time in the IJM office that looks specifically at the issue of bonded labour. Over the 5 days in the office we spent time with different teams gaining further understanding of what IJM does, how it partners with the government, how they have seen the legal system transformed over the years and hearing stories of freedom brought to those who have been trapped in some of the most horrendous situations.
In the world today there is approximately 45.8 million people trapped in slavery (see www.globalslaveryindex.org for further details). That’s more than the population of Canada! Over 18 million of those slaves (40%) are in India – that is why IJM have 5 offices across the country! Gary Haugen, the founder of IJM, was first alerted as to how violence is one of the root causes of poverty and imbalance in society during his role with the UN. Haugen headed up their investigation in Rwanda after the horrendous genocide in 1994. Since then he has been on a mission to protect the most vulnerable from violence. Compelled by the urgent needs he saw and inspired by his faith, Haugen envisioned a new kind of human rights organisation: a group that would leverage the skills of criminal justice professionals to protect the poor from violent oppression. IJM is now a global team of over 800 lawyers, social workers, investigators, community activists and other professionals.
As I’ve reflected on my time in Bangalore a few verses at the start of Romans 5 have come back to me time and time again.
Romans 5: 1-5 ,“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
Faith and Hope
As we spent time with each of the IJM staff members, their faith shone bright. It is beyond doubt that they are doing this in response to what Jesus has done for them and in obedience to scripture. Their faith in Jesus was the fuel to all that they did each day and their complete reliance on the Holy Spirit being at work supernaturally was obvious for all to see.
Whenever asked, “what can we do to support you in this” the response always came back – “Pray. Just pray!” Not give, just give. Pray, just pray.
IJM is an organisation that takes prayer seriously. Each morning between 8:30 and 9:00 each member of staff takes some quiet time with God. No emails are opened, no checklists are examined, no updates on cases are looked at. This is their quiet time with God to ask him to continue to guide them. From 9:00 – 09:30 (although this regularly ran to 10am) the whole staff come together – lawyers, social workers, government advocacy workers, cleaners, accountants, interns, directors – everyone comes together for devotions, worship and prayer. These were special times to be involved in as each person eagerly shared the work they were involved in and sought prayer support for the challenges that lay ahead.
This is an organisation made up of people but it is founded on the rock of Jesus Christ and they are leaning heavily upon Him!
Suffering With Others
As we spent time with and got to know each of the staff members we could clearly see how much they invested of themselves into what they were doing. This is not just a job. This is a calling. This is long hours. This takes a lot out of them. This is living out Micah 6:8,
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
This is responding to Isaiah 58:6-9
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed[b] go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
In doing this they are suffering with the people they are fighting for. When there is a setback, even a minor one, it is written across their faces. They are deeply disappointed when progress is not made, not for their benefit but for those they are fighting for. There is a sense of urgency in what they are doing so that suffering can be alleviated. They are fighting alongside the oppressed in trenches, they are in the valleys with them, they are willing to get in there because that is what we are called to do.
Gary Haugen preached a sermon once called “The Long and the boring” and this can often sum up the work of IJM. It takes time to see change happen. There is a mountain of paperwork, countless conversations with government officials, other NGO’s, time spent convincing the right people that change is required and often they find themselves right back at square one if an official changes role. I spoke with staff who had been having the same conversations with different people for years but kept persevering as they know when change comes, it will matter. It will make a big difference in the lives of people who need that change the most.
The hope that lives in all of them is giving them endurance and patience to keep fighting, to keep having the same conversations, filling in the paperwork time and time again.
IJM are here for the long haul. They don’t plan to leave until they believe there is a justice system that works well for all in the nation of India. They’ve seen remarkable changes in the ten years they’ve been in Bangalore but are not satisfied with that and will keep fighting for those who need people to shout loud for them.
The character of each individual was plain to see. These are sacrificial people who are very qualified for what they are doing. Degrees, multiple degrees, masters, diplomas, MBA’s, in areas that are key to the work of IJM. This is a remarkably qualified team who are very professional in what they are doing. The office environment has a brilliant mix of professionalism and family. This is a culture that IJM have evidently worked hard at over the years and something that all of us from the UK remarked on.
Galatians 5:22, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”. The IJM staff are people where these fruits of the spirit are evident! All of those listed above were seen in their lives. Many reading this might be thinking that I’m getting a little carried away, a little gushy, maybe not remembering things how they truly were but this is not the case. These are remarkable people. These fruits were on display in how they welcomed us, how they went about their work, how they worked with clients and those from other agencies.
IJM Bangalore is an organisation that does well to celebrate one another. They encourage each other constantly, make a big deal of one another and honour one another. This was obvious in each of the sessions as they continually spoke highly of one another, celebrated birthdays with an open testimony time, bid farewell with parties, presents, cards and by sharing fond memories of the person. The work they are involved in is serious, it is desperately sad, sometimes even sickening and IJM know that this can drag people down therefore this injection of joy is required. In a week where I was shocked by many stories and the depressing stories of those in slavery, I also laughed a lot with the staff. This was not in any way disrespectful to the work they were involved in, I believe it was the joy of the Lord enabling them to keep going day by day.
Hope For A Nation
All of this is bringing hope to a nation. Hope to people – people who are just like you and me. When we hear statistics whilst we’re sitting in church or reading a blog it can feel impersonal and hard to connect with but we must remember that this is about people – not just the hundreds or the thousands who are being set free, but the ones and twos. It’s about each individual soul. These are people who have been preyed upon, broken, humiliated, forgotten about and, given different circumstances, that could have been us.
Throughout the week we heard some horrendous stories but also stories of freedom. We heard stories of those rescued from brick kilns where some are expected to work 18 hour days, 7 days a week, for as little as £2 per week (we heard one story where they got paid 10p per week!), they are beaten if they look to leave, beaten if they don’t meet daily quotas. We heard of freedom in these situations.
Others are incarcerated in shoe soul making factories and others in plastic recycling factories where they’ve been trafficked from villages thousands of miles away to work long days, with little food, little water, no beds and no proper clothing (PPE is not an acronym heard often!). There are factories where due to the chemicals they are working with, many will carry the irreparable damage for the rest of their lives.
These are often children who are trafficked by someone they know, sometimes a loved one, all because of greed – because people don’t see the value of life, but only the value of a Rupee. These are the stories that the IJM Bangalore office are encountering and looking to bring justice to.
Thankfully, many of the stories we heard did not end there. There was rescue. There is sometimes justice, not always, but that tide is turning. We heard of those who have returned to their villages, those who have setup their own businesses with IJM’s help, those who have their own families now, those who have married, those who have now healed from their wounds, those who are continuing to heal from the mental and emotional abuse.
So what next?
Pray. Pray a lot! Pray for what they are doing! I really mean that – these people need prayer and rely on prayer – they are fighting against true darkness and I’ve told them that we will be praying! So if you have a prayer schedule, notebook, note on your phone, mental prayer list, please please add IJM to that.
Educate yourself. Buy a copy of The Locust Effect written by Gary Haugen. A few people in the church are currently reading this and every single person will tell you that chapter 1 is one of the most brutal chapters you will ever read. You’ll feel angry. The chapters that follow don’t get much better but we need to hear what the world is like and when we sometimes describe it as “the big bad world” that statement is so true in thousands of communities across the globe. Sign up to their email list, follow them on Facebook or Twitter or any other social media service – get to know and understand what is happening around the world.
Give. If you’re able to give a little, give a little. If you can give a lot, give a lot. Please just consider giving. Not once did any IJM staff member (India based or UK based) suggest this in the week I was with them. This is coming from me. I’ve seen what the support can do, the change that has happened, the hope that is being brought to many and I want to see more of it. Pray about it!