Diving into Isaiah 1:17
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17
Back in February, my friend Brooklin and I had the opportunity to go to a missionary conference to lead a workshop on the need for family-based care options in Guatemala. In the hours of reading, writing, and preparing for the presentation, naturally we opened the Bible to plan the portion of our presentation on how the Church ought to respond to the call to care for vulnerable children and families.
One of the Bible verses most frequently cited by churches that focus on serving vulnerable children and families is Isaiah 1:17. As we talked about this verse, we realized that each part of it contains an aspect of how Christian organizations are using the family-based care model to create restoration and transformation all over the globe. We were thrilled to see how clearly the Bible seemed to be speaking on this theme in Isaiah 1:17 and many other verses. For now though, let me break down just Isaiah 1:17 and what it means for those in the Church who feel the call to serve the “widow and orphan.”
“Learn to do right;”
Right from the start of this verse we see the call to educate ourselves before we start to fight for vulnerable children and families. The truth is, often we do more harm than good when we rush into a situation with nothing but passion and uninformed ideas of what it means to help. The problem is that uninformed action can be worse than no action at all, and the victims are the very people we wish to help. For this reason, it is absolutely crucial that we work hard to understand what transformative serving looks like. The Bible and modern psychosocial science offer incredible insight on this matter, the kind of insight we need in order to serve vulnerable children and families with confidence (You can educate yourself here).
Here we see, just like in other verses (Micah 6:8, Amos 5:24, etc.) the Christian call to seek out and do justice. We know very well that our God loves justice, and as his children we ought to love it as well. In our work, we have to seek justice for those who have been victims of crime or injustice. The child who has been physically or sexually abused deserves justice. The woman who has been beaten black and blue by her husband or boyfriend deserves justice. The child who has suffered negligence deserves justice. In cases like these, the situation calls for justice. One of our goals here at Story International is to work with police and local authorities so that those responsible for committing crimes receive their punishment and the victims receive their justice.
“Defend the oppressed.”
Apart from just seeking justice, “defend the oppressed” reminds us that there is more that we can do to support vulnerable children and families. Many families find themselves in oppressive situations with no way out. This is where the Church comes in. In our broken world full of structural violence and systemic injustice, oppression often takes the form of cycles: of poverty, chronic medical conditions, abandonment, abuse. Whatever form it takes, the Church has a responsibility to come alongside, support, and empower oppressed families so that they can break those cycles and keep their kids from ending up in residential care. Preventing broken families and stepping in before a child is institutionalized is key.
“Take up the cause of the fatherless;”
There are so many children who end up in residential care but sadly don’t have anyone to take up their case and fight for their future. In many cases in our context here in Guatemala, residential care options like orphanages and children’s homes often find themselves understaffed without enough social workers to be fighting for the cases of every child. It is also common for the government to do very little, and so with no one to take up their cause, many children can spend 3, 5, even 10 years or more in “limbo,” without knowing what their future will be. For this reason, it is important for Christian organizations like Story International to fight for the cases of vulnerable children and orphans, so that they won’t spend unnecessary time in residential care if other options are available to them. Every child currently in residential care deserves a plan for their future and people who are willing to fight for that future. (Although the majority of this process is legal and depends on the government and NGOs, other than praying there is a lot that the Church can do to support children in residential care, but more on that in another blog post).
“plead the case of the widow.”
Just like these children in residential care, many times families find themselves in situations with no one to fight for them or plead their case. While it’s true that children often end up in residential care because of abandonment, mistreatment or parental death, the reality is that the majority of children end up separated from their families because of poverty. There are other common causes, like expensive chronic illnesses or situational negligence (think single parent who has to leave the kids at home alone to go to work so that they can feed them) that leave children institutionalized as well. Sadly, many parents who love their kids very much end up separated from their beloved children because they do not have the resources or support necessary to care for them. In these situations, the “widow” is sometimes a true widow and sometimes just a vulnerable family. In these situations, Christian NGOs need to accompany the family and support them as they work to get their children back in their home. The Church can also easily come alongside these vulnerable families. The disintegration of families because of preventable causes like poverty, illness, and situational negligence truly is a grave injustice, and we all have a duty to fight to correct it.
Story International works every day to achieve what is set out here in Isaiah 1:17. As a Christian NGO, we also hope to train, support, and accompany the local Guatemalan church in their efforts to fulfill the call of Isaiah 1:17. We also hope you will take up this call in your local churches. This work is not just for the local church, the government, and NGOs. This call for justice is for all of us who’ve been born again into God’s family and call ourselves adopted sons and daughters.
So, what’s your first step?
- Levi Bareither