Non-Christians on Mission Trips? $32,000 donated by 1200 college students?
It will come as no surprise to many of you that I’ve seen a lot of “Social Justice” in action around the country so far. This is one of the the hottest themes among college students (Christian and secular), and has been for a few years now at least.
If you’re not exactly sure what I mean by Social Justice, a synonymous term might be “compassion ministry.” But neither terms fully encompass the actions in this “realm,” so it is probably most helpful to think about the actions involved rather than parsing the terms too closely.
A few major efforts under this “Social Justice” umbrella include:
- building wells in Africa (for clean water) with Blood:Water Mission
- buying Fair Trade coffee (and other goods) to encourage fair worker wages
- fighting the sex trade around the world with the Not for Sale Campaign
- Racial Reconciliation, like that encouraged by Brenda Salter McNeil
- fighting for human rights (of varying kinds) with International Justice Mission
- taking Christian positions on environmental issues, like those at Let’s Tend the Garden
As you can see from that last example, associated topics aren’t always necessarily about “Justice,” technically. And there’s no way to write briefly here without oversimplifying.
Regardless, any or all of these areas have become standard fare in many collegiate ministries, including especially Christian colleges, and that’s a shift from a decade ago, it seems. This is especially true when recognizing that Social Justice is a popular emphasis not only in “hip” churches or in the North! Nope, the South, traditional churches, and others are certainly investing in this trend.
While these efforts can be theologically driven, I haven’t seen that emphasis as much discussed on the ground. In actual practice, Social Justice seems most of all to reflect the deep desire for “world-changing” within the Millennial Generation itself, regardless of any deeper “whys” attached. (See more here.) Thus participation in these activities, for college ministries, is not only “crowd-pleasing” but even crowd-drawing. It is not unusual, for example, for college ministries to advertise certain Mission Trips widely on campus, knowing that the service aspects can be a huge draw for non-Christians. And ministries are starting to recognize this as a “front door” to their ministries – not just on more “progressive” campuses, but among all types of college students.
(I will post what I’ve seen with Social Justice theology soon. While I haven’t seen it discussed often with students, the theological side of all this is certainly being discussed among Collegiate Ministry leaders.)
Like I’ve said, this is all an oversimplification of a very big ministry area, certainly. But the point is that there are all kinds of “Justice” or “Compassion” emphases finding favor among college students. This is emphasis-in-action, too, not just talk – students give, they go, they work, they think… all on a very BIG scale at times. For example, I watched $32,000 be donated over 2 days by 1200 college students in Boston – $18000 for wells in Africa (the Passion goal was only $3000 for those in Boston) and $14000 for Passion’s worldwide tour later this year. That’s a lotta fund-age for impact around the world.
In other words, the Social Justice “awakening” has resulted in money-giving, service projects, investment, ministries, and ideas – from students – far beyond what we’ve seen in the past. I recognize that in some theological circles, this is seen as a long-awaited emphasis on the full news of God’s Kingdom. For others, this is a diversion from more fundamental concerns. More on all that soon.
For now, Social Justice in Action is what I’ve seen So Far.