Knowing their rights and standing up for them
Seeking justice for the poor and the voiceless is a key component of the new BMS World Mission strategy to transform one million lives by 2020
“Give someone a fish, and you feed them for a day. Teach them how to fish and you feed them for a lifetime,” the old saying goes. But what if the law forbids them from fishing?
There are often many factors influencing why someone is in poverty, but one factor can be the law of the land and the sometimes unfair legal restraints which prevent the poorest from improving their situation. In other instances there is nothing wrong with the law, but it is not being enforced or the poor are not aware of their legal rights and how it could help them. The rule of law can be just as important in lifting someone out of poverty as providing food, medicine or shelter.
This is why justice is an important part of the new BMS strategy. We want to enable individuals and communities to access justice and to advocate for those without a voice. Bible verses such as Proverbs 31: 8-9 are our inspiration: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Our faith-stretching target is to develop justice ministries in four countries that will impact over 120,000 people, and your support is crucial to that.
Behind the numbers
Andrew Caplen, former President of the Law Society of England and Wales, has recently seen the legal work BMS is already doing in Uganda and Mozambique. In Uganda, he heard the amazing story of Benjamin, who had been on death row since he was 16, but always claimed his innocence and that he was unfairly charged as he was only a juvenile when he was sentenced. Thanks to support from BMS partner the Uganda Christian Lawyers’ Fraternity (UCLF), he was freed from prison 15 years later.
In Mozambique, Andrew saw the challenges of a relatively young legal system trying to develop.
“Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world, recently independent, recently come out of a civil war, trying to instigate a fledging justice system. It is not cheap and it is not easy either,” he says.
In this context, BMS mission workers Annet Ttendo Miller, Damien Miller and Kathy Russell have helped develop a similar body to UCLF, the Association of Mozambican Christian Lawyers (AMAC), to share the Christian message among legal professionals and to promote Christian ethics in judicial legal actions. They are starting to represent people who would not be able to afford a lawyer and are teaching poor communities about their legal rights. Andrew was impressed by the passion and vision of the AMAC team to not only help people individually, but to also seek to improve justice for all in Mozambique.
“The BMS work is just beginning there, but I think it is really exciting what they are doing,” says Andrew. He was impressed with the ideals that have motivated the BMS workers and local Christian lawyers who have helped set-up AMAC. “They really care about justice for the poor and about the [legal] system in Mozambique and what change can be made.”
Andrew was able to see the work first hand as Annet and Damien advised a local charity on legal issues relating to gender based violence (GBV) – a huge problem in Mozambique. He heard one story of a woman the charity had helped who had been thrown out by her husband when he started having children with her stepdaughter. The legal information Annet and Damien are providing the charity will not just help the staff they have trained – it will be cascaded down to 145 ‘Mother leaders’ and then to over 1,500 beneficiaries, so those affected by GBV will be far more aware of their legal rights. Andrew was impressed by the justice work Annet and Damien were initiating in Beira and Kathy Russell was doing at the AMAC office in Maputo.
“In Mozambique, the thing that really encouraged me were the workers out there: Kathy Russell, Annet and Damien Miller. They all have incredible testimonies and an incredible desire for justice,” he says.
Andrew believes “justice is absolutely fundamental” to improving lives around the world and that BMS’ involvement is vital.
“BMS brings a particular angled way of doing Christian justice mission that is extremely rewarding. The [legal] workers that BMS has got really need to be encouraged and supported because what they are doing is so important.”
Pray for us as we develop our justice ministries over the next five years to help thousands and thousands more people, not only to stand up for their rights but by doing so, potentially get out of poverty.
Find out more about the BMS strategy to transform one million lives by 2020.
Read more about Andrew Caplen's visit to BMS legal projects in Uganda and Mozambique on his blog.
This article first appeared on the website of BMS World Mission and is used with permission