IJM Justice Series (Part Five)
by Johnny Bido
This blog is part of a special series released jointly between Baptist21 and International Justice Mission (IJM). Today’s post is written by Johnny Bido, who serves as IJM’s Director of Mobilization and Advocacy in the Dominican Republic, where he and his team combat the sex trafficking of young women and children.
How the Dominican Church is responding to God’s call to liberate the oppressed
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 (NIV)
My country, the Dominican Republic, is largely known for its beautiful beaches and its peoples’ kindness, but it is also a place where the crime of sex trafficking of minors is common and inconsistently sanctioned. This hurts my heart and has captured my attention.
In 2014, International Justice Mission (IJM) opened its doors in this Caribbean country and joined local authorities to effectively address sex trafficking of minors. The initial panorama IJM found looked like a dark tunnel and not very hopeful. From 2003 – 2013, there had only been six convictions on trafficking cases in the entire country.
I joined IJM in June of 2015, to bring an end to sex trafficking in my country. IJM is a community of spiritual formation with over 20 years of experience responding to God’s call to protect the poor from violence and injustice in developing countries. Little by little, I have seen how this dark tunnel is becoming more and more illuminated. God is filling our small team with hope, faithfulness and passion to seek justice and restoration for those who suffer.
At IJM, I learned that God has a plan to bring justice on earth, and His plan is the Church. This challenged me and how I thought about justice. When I joined the team, IJM was working with five or six congregations. My role, and the challenge, was to design and launch our church mobilization strategy to engage local churches all over the country. Through workshops, sermons and conferences, I teach pastors and church leaders about biblical justice and their role in responding to God’s call to protect the most vulnerable. To date, we have worked with more than 800 pastors and leaders from 262 local churches – reaching more than 3,000 members.
In my role, I have witnessed that little by little the local Church is awakening and becoming a relevant voice that speaks out for the vulnerable in their communities. They are becoming instruments of justice by learning to identify suspicious situations, report them to the authorities and provide post-trauma services to survivors that contribute to their full restoration — services like shelter, therapy, vocational education and spiritual mentoring.
Luisa Cuevas is a church leader who has inspired me and other believers. Her church is part of a community 10 miles outside of the capital city of Santo Domingo. Her heart and the work she does for those who suffer because of commercial sexual exploitation is a reflection of God’s love on earth.
Luisa is a psychologist and church leader trained by IJM. From participating in IJM trainings to understand what the Bible says about justice to donating clothes for survivors, Luisa has become a relevant voice in her community. She is the first church volunteer to go deeper, donating her time and skills to provide therapy for an IJM survivor of sex trafficking who lives in her area.
She is also considering helping launch a new IJM initiative, a national network of aftercare service facilitators who will coordinate with CONANI (the Dominican national child welfare agency) to ensure that other survivors get the support they need. Luisa is responding to God’s call to liberate the oppressed.
A large number of Dominican churches have become our monthly prayer partners. We estimate that more than 1,000 believers across the country intercede for our cases, our partnerships with the government and for God to bring freedom to child victims of sex trafficking. Additionally, many churches have bravely reported cases of sex trafficking in their communities.
In 2017, the Dominican Church celebrated Freedom Sundayand joined the global Church to speak out about God’s heart for justice. More than 70 congregations participated and we reached over 7,000 people in a single day. Would you join us in 2018?
On September 23rd, you could be a part of this global initiative. Together, we will deliver the message of justice and freedom that God wants to bring to those who are suffering. When your church participates in Freedom Sunday, you are doing more than praying and preaching about biblical justice – you are sustaining me and my colleagues as the body of Christ.
The Church has been gifted by God to be involved in missionary work in at least three ways: the Church can pray, it can go to the mission field and it can also send others. What do you want to do to get involved in this fight against violence and injustice?
Children are not just another item that can be sold in the market to the highest bidder. They have been given to us by God so we can learn to do good while we raise them in a healthy and responsible way. Protecting them and providing them with a safe environment to thrive is a responsibility for all of us – parents, teachers, government authorities and the Church. Together, we can bring change. We can promote good and not evil. We can fight for a better future for all who suffer, and confidently know that while we work, the God of peace and justice will guide our minds and hearts in Jesus Christ.