One of the most vivid memories from my childhood is standing in front of the television at eight years old, listening to Sally Struthers talk about children who hadn’t eaten for days. These children lived in a dump, their teeth were falling out, and they were dehydrated and dying. My heart dropped with the overwhelming sense that I should do something. Assuming that sending food was a viable option, I waited for Sally to finish talking so I could write down an address. Instead I learned that seventy cents could drastically alter a child’s reality. That’s all? Seventy cents? I easily had that in my piggy bank! I scratched down the number and ran to tell my mom about my plan to help the kids on TV.
I learned compassion and missional living from both of my parents. I saw example after example of them loving those less fortunate. And in the moment of my eight-year-old heavy-heartedness, my mom nurtured that spirit in me. We called Sally and told her that we wanted to help. My mom still remembers the day my sponsored child’s photo came in the mail. She said my joy was uncontainable. Whether I was fully aware or not, I had just entered a divine partnership that would change my life.
Living from the heart of Jesus When we are compelled to give, to serve, to right what is wrong, it is because we are seeing a broken world riddled with the curse of injustice. This injustice is what Jesus came to reverse. The missional heart of Jesus was to feed the hungry, to heal the blind, to free the enslaved and to care for those in need. When he left, he set the mission of justice in the heart of the Church. We are the hands and feet of Jesus. The most profound definition of justice I have ever heard is this—to reverse the curse. When confronted with the emotional weight of another child’s hunger, my natural compulsion was to feed him. Curse = hunger, Reversal = food. Responding to this compulsion, the result is often and most always, joy. We were designed for this.
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” –Micah 6:8
Victory beyond imagining Over the past 21 years, I have traveled a great deal and experienced firsthand the actual injustice of hunger, of poverty, of abandonment and disease, of human trafficking and political corruption. I traveled to Garça, São Paulo, Brazil in 2008 with Journey Church. We stayed at a children’s home for a week to finish projects and play with kids.One night we walked into downtown for “pineapple con leche” (which, side note, will change your life!) The language barrier made communication pretty difficult, but I had managed to create a few relationships with the kids having only said “hello” and my name in Portuguese. That night, I was walking arm-in-arm with one of the teens in the home. Her English was broken, but she and one of her house-parents told me pieces of her story. Her mother sold her for pennies when she was only a child. From ages eight to twelve, she was a prostitute in her own city until she was rescued and brought to the home. But this beautiful child was not a victim. She was a victor.
Overcoming the worst of circumstances, she carried the divine image of God and the overwhelming joy that comes with it. When we arrived back at the home, the young girl begged me to play the guitar. She knew two songs in English: “No One” sung by Alicia Keys and “I Can Only Imagine” from MercyMe [Bart Millard]. So I strummed the chords to that familiar worship song and listened as the heart of an orphaned child cried out to her Father. I wept. There before me was a living picture of justice. What once was broken, now made new. What had been destined for darkness, now shining with the brightest light. What was dead, now has life.
The Mission of God in Worship Experiencing injustice and its reversal has had a very profound impact on my life. As a Christian and as a songwriter, the mission of justice rests heavily upon me. I realize my responsibility is to tell these stories and invite other people into them. One of my favorite lyrics comes from Brooke Fraser’s song Albertine; “Now that I have seen, I am responsible. Faith without deeds is dead.” Even though God does the true work of justice, He still invites us to be a part of the story! A few months ago I sat at dinner with Gary Haugen, the President of International Justice Mission and several other Nashville artists. Over food and drinks, we discussed the role of an artist in the context of social justice. We asked questions like, “Why aren’t there more songs about justice?” and “How do we tell the story of God’s restoration through music?” and “How do we invite others into this story when we travel?”
Through All Sons & Daughters, we’ve been able to explore possible answers to these questions. As songwriters and touring artists, we are given unique opportunities to share and join in these stories of justice and hope. One way we do this is by partnering with organizations that bring light to a dark world. In October 2013 on our first headlining tour we partnered with Feed One, an organization currently feeding thousands of kids in 11 countries around the world. Each night of worship, we invited those in attendance to consider joining us in the fight to eradicate hunger for only ten dollars a month. It sounds simple, but the impact is eternal. Last fall we toured with Crowder and brought boxes of beanies made by our friends at Haiti Made, a company united around quality products, sustainability, and dignified jobs to fight against the orphan crisis in Haiti. So when you buy a beanie, you help reverse the curse! Our hope through each partnership is to support these wonderful organizations but also to say to those folks who gather with us, “no deed is too small.”
The needs of this world are great. We can be overwhelmed by how small we feel, that fear paralyzes our efforts. I believe fear is a work of the enemy, but in the Kingdom, no effort is too small when the posture of your heart is aligned with God’s.Remember the story of the woman who gives her last two coins as an offering? Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on” (Mk 12:43-44). Through his Church, God does the work of justice.But he invites us to be a part of his restoration, his redemption, his renewal of this world. He can use my measly seventy cents to feed those kids and he can rescue a child from sex trafficking and teach her how to sing again.
You Are Essential There is a reason why God uses the body as a metaphor for the Church. We each play an important role and contribute to his divine plan. No part is insignificant, no role is inferior to another. God uses every one of us to do the work of justice and he leaves us with a promise of hope to come: “If you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always…” (Isa 58:9b-11a).
Leslie Jordan is an activist, worship leader, musical artist, and songwriter. As half of the influential and honored duo All Sons & Daughters and a member of the creative leadership of Journey Church in Nashville, she brings fresh perspective to performance, leading and serving.