catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 13 :: 2011.07.08 — 2011.07.21


Transformed by awareness

When I was 17 years old, I thought sweatshops were fantastic, because they were the ultimate win-win solution.  Americans got cheap clothes and those poor Asian people received jobs.  I wrote a several page paper about it, convinced this was an obviously excellent argument.

Before that, when I was much younger and even wiser, I followed the news coming out of some small country called Rwanda.  My 13-year-old self, in all her supreme knowledge, knew that everyone in Africa was violent.  I knew that every single person carried guns and machetes, so when countries debated the wisdom of getting involved, my opinion was that those Africans are always fighting, and they all have weapons, so just let them fight it out. 

Leading up to those terribly misguided opinions, I had been taught that good and evil were internal conditions.  Everyone around me was concerned with removing the evil from inside us, but no one ever talked about what happened when evil was done to someone.  Evil was reduced to personal morality, and I became self-focused and self-righteous.  I didn’t think in terms of oppressor or victim.  So much meaning is contained in those simple words, and they require reaction, and action.  Everyone knows we are supposed to help victims, which is why we have paramedics and the Red Cross.  But when those words were removed from my vocabulary outside of emergencies, I didn’t have to concern myself with global victims — or spend time acknowledging how I might aid in the oppression.  My teenage self was ignorant of true global problems, and that ignorance was selfish bliss indeed.

More than 13 years later, and I am mortified at the things I used to think.  I am also grateful for the work done by others who have changed me and shaped my life for the better.  In a very ironic measure of grace, it was Gary Haugen, who was changed because of the Rwandan massacre, who transformed me from a selfish, comfortable person, into the justice-loving, uncomfortable person I am today.

In a rare event six years ago, I had the radio on.  I happened to be passing through the room when I heard a voice say, “I think the hardest thing for people in our world to believe about the Christian faith is the idea that God is good, because they are in so much pain.”  I had never heard anything so profound and true before.  I sat down, stunned, and listened.  I continued to listen to the entire week-long series on Family Life Today.  (The transcripts are still available on their website.)  A couple of months later I read Haugen’s book, Terrify No More, and a short sentence at the end of the book dug its claws into me and has not let go.  It has been the turning point in how I view the world: “I no longer ask where is God, I ask where are God’s people?”  This question has led me down a much different path than I ever envisioned. 

Over the past few years, I have tried to cultivate awareness.  I see the pain and suffering of the world, and even when it becomes too much, I can’t unknow what I know.  For better or worse, I am deeply aware of the problems in the world.  I can’t help but read books about people helping victims, fighting for change and trying to break down systems of oppression.  I read the Bible now and the call to help the poor and the oppressed jumps out at me.  How could I have missed this for so many years?  I am now surrounded by discomfort, and even when I try, I can’t ignore it for long.  My discomfort with our world and being caught in a system that sometimes makes me an oppressor, leads me to seek out justice whenever I can.  I am learning that fighting injustice isn’t a one-time thing, but a lifestyle, and my hope is that someday there won’t even be any sweatshops for ignorant 17-year-old girls to defend.

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