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Monday, March 25, 2019

"And Social Justice For All" (Lisa Van Engen)

TITLE: And Social Justice for All: Empowering Families, Churches, and Schools to Make a Difference in God's World
AUTHOR: Lisa Van Engen
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2019, (335 pages).

We may have heard about social justice. We know the importance of doing the right thing in a world that has gone terribly wrong. For some, social justice may simply be something we may talk about but lack the opportunity or knowledge to do something about it. Better still, start early. Start young. This is where this book comes in. By creating awareness at an early age, it is hoped that the next generation will their their part in ensuring social justice for all. Writing from hindsight, author Lisa Van Engen shares how she relates to the story of the "Princess and the Pea." Seeing life as a collection of personal stories, many of us will never truly know someone until we peel away the mattress layers. The impact of knowing social justice issues such as poverty, human trafficking, and even clean water could not be over-emphasized. The main idea in this book is essentially education about 14 global justice issues. These are:
  1. Clean Water and Sanitation
  2. Creation Care
  3. Disabilities
  4. Education
  5. Fair Trade
  6. Families
  7. Health Care
  8. Human Trafficking
  9. Hunger
  10. Immigration and Refugees
  11. Peace
  12. Poverty
  13. Race
  14. Changemakers

Each chapter opens up with general information on the subject before plunging into various stories, contexts, thought-provoking questions, special awareness projects and object lessons. We learn about global awareness or international day of action for these various projects. The dates are listed up front for planners and organizers of any event planning or awareness exercise. Included in the chapters are many quotes from young children who had learned about the social justice issues. It is like teaching young children and then having them repeat the messages back to adults. Children have a knack for crystal clear communications of the key reasons why we do what we are doing. Van Engen takes care to show us that the social justice issues do not simply happen in places far away from our sights. Even our neighbourhoods need to deal with it. For instance, the water crisis in Flint, Michigan in 2014 reminds us that safe water drinking cannot be taken for granted. Human trafficking are happening in many American city backyards. Immigration and refugees continue to be issues even when they are often politicized by the establishment. Here's the framework of how the book deal with each social justice issue:

  • List of days and opportunities to showcase the social justice issue
  • Description of the issue
  • Next-door concerns
  • How we can channel hope
  • Ways to put into practice our concerns
  • Discussion questions

My Thoughts
First, this book not only reminds us about the issue, it challenges us to do something about it. We often read a lot about social justice but lack details on how to follow up on them. This book fills in this need for the call to action. For example, Fair Trade is not simply about buying products from merchants paying farmers their fair price. It also means caring for fair wages. If we are concerned about fair pay over in our society, we should do the same for other places. Share about it on social media. Learn about the history of the movement and the partnerships they are in. Encourage others to do the same. The author gives a helpful set of questions according to age groups. This could very well be extended to other age brackets but discussion leaders would need to discern and decide what works best for their groups.

Second, I appreciate the way Lisa Van Engen begins with the young. Education works best with young people, which is why the book is written to appeal to those in school and for parents to work through the book with their kids. Having said that, the education don't stop there. Through the teaching and the guiding, adults too will get to learn together with the young ones. Like children leading adults to do things they don't normally do, parents and adults would be encouraged to teach and lead by example. While the book is targeted at the younger age groups, one can sense that the author is angling for a much wider audience. This is a powerful reminder that if we want to help alleviate the problem of social injustice and inequality matters, we need everyone, not just kids. Perhaps, through kids, the impact would be much greater. The vision of Isaiah is remarkable:
"The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the goat; the calf and young lion and fatling will be together, and a little child will lead them. (emphasis mine)" (Isaiah 11:6)
Third, this book is both a social justice awareness guide but also a workbook to start a movement in our own communities. We don't have to start with a big bang. All we need is a small spark in our hearts to wake up to the many issues in life that we could do something about. The sad thing about many communities is that despite being already aware of the many complex issues such as homelessness, poverty, sexual exploitation, hygiene issues and so on, they lack the will to do something about it. Perhaps, this book could give one a leg up to take a step forward. If anyone could put at least something in this book into action, it would have fulfilled the author's deepest desire: "Make a difference in God's World."

Lisa Van Engen is a social justice activist who deeply cares for the restoration of justice and fair treatment of those living on the margins of society both locally and worldwide. She blogs at https://lisavanengen.com.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Kregel Publications and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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