J.R. Goudeau first guest posted for the Women in Ministry Series. She has a wealth of experience doing justice, and she beautifully models the pursuit of justice in her everyday life.
My friend Paw called me and begged me to call the apartment management again.* She had been down there seven times in the last eight days: the heat was broken, the stove was broken, the faucet was leaking and the closet door was falling off the hinges. The office kept saying, “Oh yes, we’ll send someone right over.”
I had already called twice. The third time, in response to my friend’s plea for help, I told the girl to expect my lawyer friend to be involved Monday morning. I recited the violations of tenant’s rights that their apartment complex was guilty of committing.
That was Friday at 4:00pm. By 5:30, everything was fixed.
Why did it take me calling and threatening legal action to get basic repairs done? It’s not the first time. And it drives me crazy. This stuff doesn’t happen to me.
The fact that my voice gets a different response on the phone is not fair.
My friend Paw is a Burmese refugee, one of the artisans we work with at Hill Country Hill Tribers. She and her family have been in the country less than two years. Her English is improving by leaps and bounds every day, but she is illiterate in her own language, so she still speaks in simple sentences in the present tense.
She is not a child. She’s a brilliant artist, actually. She has birthed seven children and buried two; she escaped the Burmese junta and established a new life in a primitive refugee camp; she uprooted her family to come to a wildly new country; she re-established their life, got her kids in school, found a part-time job. She now works nights and weekends making fabulous jewelry.
She does it all, facing all of these challenges and changes, with grace.
But when the apartment complex hears her voice, they hear someone who is powerless, who cannot back up her threats, and who can be pushed around. Like every low-income apartment complex I’ve seen in my 6+ years working with refugees in Austin, they walk all over her.
Another Burmese friend told me once, “It hurts to feel like a child again.”
Justice is a word I have difficulty describing. What does it mean to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly on a practical day-to-day level?
I can only answer by identifying what is not just.
It is not just that I was born in a prosperous home to a loving family who gave me stability and joy and an active love of learning when many children are not.
It is not just that the color of my skin and the educated tone of my voice changes conversations.
It is not just that I have never had to face war, that I have never had to face starvation, and that I have never had to choose between a home I love on land where my ancestors have farmed for generations and the life and well-being of my children.
It is not just that the traveling I’ve done has been leisurely tourism, not the earth-shattering travel of rebuilding a new life on hostile foreign soil.
It is not just that my friends are not valued in this backwards world.
It is not just that they are condescended to because of their language level, that they are ignored because of their skin color or their clothes, and that they are used as object lessons upon which the rich can write their stories.
These women and men I love are brilliant. They laugh with a joy that is inexplicable. They are strong and capable and articulate.
They are so much fun.
I love to talk in grand sweeping terms about economic development and educational opportunities. I love tricky online debates about representations of poverty. I love the record-shattering sales our talented artisans are generating with their gorgeous products.
But it is not in the big, grand gestures that I see how the world becomes a bit more just. It’s in the small things, the signs of friendship, the intimacy of being involved in the lives of people. It’s not me, it’s us—people from different socioeconomic levels, with different skin colors and wildly different backgrounds—we are all working together as a ragtag team to see justice done here.
In my experience, justice is small. It is personal. It is quiet and unassuming. It is making a few phone calls and determining to fight in small, real ways, the injustice of poverty and prejudice and condescension. Not on a global scale, but a very local one: for Paw, for her children, for our friends, for all of us.
*In order to protect my friend’s identity on the internet, I changed her name and some of the details of her story.
About Today’s Guest Blogger
J.R. Goudeau is the Executive Director and co-founder of Hill Country Hill Tribers, as well as a grad student in English literature. When she’s supposed to be working on her dissertation, she can usually be found writing about books, babies and Burmese refugees at loveiswhatyoudo.com or on twitter.
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:
- Subscribe to my blog (see the links at the top of the center column).
- 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.