Doing Justice: Cultivating Justice at Home

Kelley Nikondeha wears many hats as a story teller, community developer, and theologian. Today she is sharing her story with us:

We do community development work in Burundi among the Batwa people. We run a community bank for those working at the very bottom, trying to get into the economy. We lead theological conversations among innovative African leaders. We’ve adopted two children, once orphaned due to AIDS and extreme poverty. So much of our life’s work bends toward practical justice.

So you could imagine stories about doing justice through agriculture, human rights advocacy, economic engagement, reconciliation or adoption. And trust me, these are stories I love to tell. But when I consider how I mete out Micah’s call to ‘do justice’ everyday, my thoughts come much closer to home. My stories come from the two bedrooms down the hall, from the dinner table, from the kitchen counter where we make guacamole together and scoop it up with tortilla chips or black bean-chorizo quesadillas.

Each day I’m given the opportunity to live out justice in my own home with my children. I’m not talking about making everything fair between two same-age siblings or handing out just discipline for wrong choices they’ve made. I see the practice of ‘doing justice’ as something much larger – it’s about offering my children a worldview shaped by God’s thoughts and hopes for justice. How can they love justice, hunger and thirst for it, let alone do justice if I don’t teach them what God’s vision of sweeping shalom looks like? So I daily endeavor to train them in the (just) way they should go so that they will never depart from it.

My son craves stories and explanations, he asks for bigger words to stretch his personal vocabulary. And I’ve responded by providing him with a growing language of justice. We talk about justice that looks like an equal sign (he’s in third grade, so this still works). Justice is about equity, about enough food, clean water, homes, safety for everyone God created. So what happens when there is more on one side of the equation than the other, when the things on each side of the equal sign don’t add up? ‘That isn’t fair, mom. God wants everyone to have enough on all sides of the equal sign so they can live well.’ And there it is – the embryonic understanding of God’s equity, His desire for justice, in the words of my son.

We often discuss the idea of enough around the house. God wants us to have enough of what is needed for a good life. My son saw this dynamic in the Jezebel story he heard at Sunday school. As we talked about the story over lunch at In & Out Burger he interjected, “Mom! You mean Jezebel had more than enough and she wanted to take Naboth’s just enough? God could not have been happy with her at all.” I think he named it – Jezebel was acting against God’s desired justice regarding land ownership. He blew me away with his ability to make that fresh connection, to articulate it and frame it as a justice story all the while slurping his chocolate milkshake. But he’s starting to develop eyes for justice to match his growing vocabulary.

One night round the dinner table we talked about Isaiah and Micah’s favorite song, the one about melting swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks. I mentioned the idea of turning tanks into tractors or guns into garden tools. Soon my kids began adding to the list, creating their own game. “Fighting into farming! Machetes into shovels! Less guns and more grain! Trade machine guns for maize!” Their energy around this ancient song of peace delighted me, because these are imaginations ignited by God’s big vision of a more just world.

As a mother I see my daily justice work as including the creation and implementation of a justice curriculum for my children. How can they do justice if they cannot talk about it, if they cannot recognize it in stories or in their own life? I must be diligent in providing them the resources to cultivate an imagination for peace able to overcome the myth of redemptive violence. I need to be vigilant in painting a counter-narrative about how the world is meant to operate according to God’s design. I want them to dream of a world disarmed, where there are less guns and more grain.

So I practice justice by teaching my kids about God’s heart for justice, soaking them in the stories, equipping them with a vocabulary and building a library of Justice Heroes. Parenting my children toward peace and shalom is doing justice into the next generation!

Just today clean water arrived in Bubanza, the first well in this arid community. Tonight at supper we will drink water, celebrating the God who quenches thirst, who offers enough water for all of us.

About Today’s Guest Blogger

kajcanadaKelley Nikondeha is a thinker, connector, advocate, avid reader, mother of two beautiful children, lover of God’s justice & jubilee.  She leads theological conversations at Amahoro Africa and is chief storyteller for Communities of Hope. Kelley lives her life in transit between Arizona and Burundi. She’s in transit between continents but also in terms of her own experience of motherhood, discipleship, theological engagement and living into God’s dream for the world. She savors handwritten letters, homemade pesto and anything written by Walter Brueggemann. She is fueled by space and snacks (and Diet Coke).


Twitter: @knikondeha

About the “Doing Justice” Series

For 2013, we’ll spend each Friday looking at a new story about the ways someone is doing justice or acting justly. Christianity is a religion about action. Beliefs are important, but if those beliefs don’t translate into concrete action that reshapes how we live, it’s literally all in our heads. Using Matthew 25 and Michah 6:8 as our guides, we’ll be sharing stories that illustrate what acting justly could look like today.

How to Follow This Series

For starters, make sure you do two things:

  1. Subscribe to my blog (see the links at the top of the center column).
  2. Subscribe to my e-newsletter where I’ll share updates about the series.

Write your own story…

Contact me at edcyzewski (at) gmail (dot) com with a 2-4 sentence pitch for your guest post. Some guidelines:

  • I’m loosely interpreting “doing justice” along the lines of Matthew 25, though feel free to offer your own angle.
  • Keep the pitch short so I can reply faster!
  • I can’t repost an existing post, lest Google penalizes me.
  • Make sure it’s a story, not a theology lesson.

4 thoughts on “Doing Justice: Cultivating Justice at Home

  1. J. R. Goudeau

    Kelley, my favorite part about this is that, instead of talking in grandiose terms, you break down justice into simple, practical steps for your kids. We struggle with how to teach our kids these concepts in age-appropriate ways all the time. My kids have been wrestling with injustice for years from our time with refugees–why does Burma’s “grumpy government” not let families stay there? Or why are husbands and wives separated as they flee, meaning some of our friends are waiting for a spouse to come home? Always there’s a sense of fear–will that happen to us?–as well as a sense of frustration–that’s not fair. But I love the idea of the equal sign and using the story to teach your kids. I want mine to hear us saying over and over why we work with the Hill Tribers, why we’ve chosen this different path, why this is important. Thanks for sharing how you do that with your family.

  2. Thomas

    This is really challenging. In this time of Lent it’s crucial to think about how our fast coincides with justice. Even if we do think about it, we end up leaving the kids out of it. I wonder how kingdom-adjusted children could be if we taught them justice when they’re young instead of when they’re “grown up.”

    I want my little ones to converse and act in justice. Thanks for this challenge.

  3. becca: exile fertility

    i love this – my hope is that my kids will go further and deeper in understanding and particpating in “God’s vision of sweeping shalom” than I”ve been able to … thanks so much for sharing.

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