Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Category: Social Justice

End It Movement

And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn…,
since no one [will] buy their cargo anymore,
cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fancy clothes and silk,
scented and costly wood, ivory, bronze, iron, marble,
cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense,
wine, oil, fine flour, wheat,
cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, [expensive cars],
and slaves, that is, human souls.

God hates slavery.

In the Old Testament, knowing that even His own people the Jews would go with the culture of their day and keep slaves, God gave clear instructions on how slaves were to be treated: fairly, well, allowed to earn their freedom, completely freed with their family at set times.

When the Jews were held as slaves in Egypt, God ‘heard their groaning’ and powerfully set them free in such a miraculous way that the surrounding nations were in awe of the Jews’ God for years.

In the New Testament, God called and welcomed slaves into His Kingdom just as much as free, rich people. In the early years of the Church, slaves and rich people were instructed to worship side-by-side in unity because they were all equal in God’s eyes.

The above verse from Revelation 18 is part of a passage about how the world’s system will one day end when Jesus returns and puts everything to right. Everyday trade will finish. But look at the last phrase. It is shocking: ‘and slaves, that is, human souls’.

How can we think it’s okay for another human being to be bought and sold?

God sees the modern-day slaves and people who have been trafficked. He hears their groans and He sees their misery. Yes, God sees the thousands of modern-day slaves forced to work in nail salons, car wash places, building sites, in homes as domestics, in brothels and red light districts throughout the UK.

One day, slavery will end for good. (If you are reading this and are a slave owner or human trafficker, you need to repent. God loves you and offers you abundant life but He won’t overlook the evil you’re doing.)

But I don’t want to sit around waiting for that day. What is important to God must be important to me. One day He will end slavery for good, but His heart is for those who are oppressed and ill-treated now. We are His hands and feet, and we have a responsibility to do what we can.

I want to play my part in seeing slavery end now.

Individuals aren’t for sale. No one should be bought and sold. Children are precious. Women are precious. Men are precious.

Let’s pray. Let’s keep our eyes open. Let’s work together to end the horror that is slavery and human trafficking.

Signs of Slavery

Refuse to do Nothing

Homeless people are human.

You may think that is obvious but at one time they were invisible to me. They first came on my radar when I read John Grisham’s The Street Lawyer. The idea that they are far more than a vague figure covered by a tatty blanket percolated away for a while, and then God added a little of His compassion to the mix. I eventually found myself chatting with Big Issue sellers and getting involved with social justice.

Francine Rivers in Redeeming Love made prostitutes human. It’s never as simple as just seeing a woman selling herself on a street corner late at night. There’s a whole back story of gut wrenching misery that drove her to that dark place. No little girl dreams of growing up to be a prostitute.

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I, Daniel Blake

I’ve just watched a disturbing film I, Daniel Blake.

It’s based on true stories, and reminded me of things I’ve seen and heard – and experienced personally to a certain extent.

My brief synopsis is that Daniel Blake is a 59-year-old skilled carpenter who has worked all his life until having a heart attack. Despite doctors telling him he’s not ready to go back to work, he falls into the black hole that sometimes (often?) exists in our flawed benefits system. He spirals down through frustration, unfair sanctions, and trying to get his appeal heard. Through all of this he meets Katie, mother of two, who is new to the area. She too falls foul of the system through no fault of her own and ends up being unfairly sanctioned. After starving herself to feed her kids and having no electricity or heating, she eventually turns to sex work out of sheer desperation.

I heard similar stories so many times when volunteering at Grace Church’s food bank. I meet women through the Jericho Road Project who feel they have no alternative to provide for their families. These are good people. They are not monsters. They are not undeserving poor. They are people. Just like me.

Me in ChiChiI’ve learned that anyone can end up on the street. Everyone has a story to tell. I’ve met people who were well-off and had their own business, but through various circumstances – including sudden serious illness – have found themselves needing to be referred for a food parcel.

I was briefly in the benefits system myself and although my experience was largely good (a safety net), it was still a scary place to be. What came out tonight was that people on benefits are treated as guilty until proven innocent. That was true in my case, though quickly resolved.

I, Daniel Blake reminded those of us watching tonight of the harsh reality faced by thousands in our country. We were uncomfortable inside. It made some angry. There was emotional pain. We wanted to do something. Because how can such things happen in the UK in 2017? How?

God used the film to reopen my eyes to what I’ve forgotten or become used to.

At the entrance to the car park sat a man wrapped in a grey blanket. He’d given up asking for money. He just sat. And my heart broke for him. I only had 27 p on me. But I couldn’t walk past and do nothing. As I looked into his eyes and touched his dirt-grimed fingers, I saw someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s grandson.

My God has a big heart for the poor. Jesus was adored by the homeless people and sex workers of His day. May God break my heart with what breaks His until His streams of living water flow out through me and make a difference.

Jesus Loves Prostitutes

For most of my adult life there was a wide gulf between prostitutes in the Bible and the ones I saw working on the streets of Nottingham.

Those in my city are often despised because of what they do, or ignored.

But many of the prostitutes I’ve met in the pages of my Bible became women who were honoured and loved by God.

It’s almost like the Father went out of His way to make sure a prostitute (Tamar) featured in His Son’s family tree. Rahab, who presumably worked out of a brothel on the walls of Jericho, demonstrated such faith in God that she is mentioned in the heroes of faith line-up in Hebrews 11.

Jesus didn’t shun them, but welcomed them. He showed unconditional love and acceptance to the broken women working the streets of towns and cities He visited. I love the opening words of Luke 15: ‘…the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him.’ But the religious people weren’t happy about that, which led Jesus into his three famous parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. Religious people looked down on the prostitutes and outcasts. Jesus valued them.

When God really got hold of my heart in 2013 and I began to have the first inklings of what grace is (it’s all about Jesus, not me; I am loved more than I can imagine simply for who I am and because He wants to love me), an immediate change was the way I saw other people.

I crossed the street to talk to a Big Issue seller – such people had never been on my radar before. I got involved with my church’s food bank and social hub, revelling in chatting with fascinating people I wouldn’t normally have opportunity to rub shoulders with including ex-prisoners, refugees, the homeless, drug addicts.

From there, it was a small step to getting involved in an inter-church charity reaching out to women working in the sex trade.

I love spending time with these amazing women: gutsy, brave, struggling, desperate, broken. So many words can describe them. The Father says of them that HeAshamed loves them like He loves Jesus. His blazing heart of love overflows with compassion for them. He is as crackers about them as He is about me. God is adamant that it was worth Jesus giving up His life for prostitutes, so that He can invite them into His Kingdom and call them daughters.

I’m writing a blog series on prostitutes of the Bible. When I read their stories, I see the faces of the women I meet and am getting to know. There may be several centuries between then and now, but God’s love for broken people will never change.

Samuela and the Captain

‘Samuela nooo!’

My ima’s heartrending screams filled my ears as the tall soldier dragged me away. I stumbled along beside him, unable to see through my tears, until he pushed me to the ground with a stern ‘Wait here.’

My best friend Deborah wailed next to me and I put my arm around her, ‘Surely Yahweh is still with us.’

When the army had finished ransacking our village for valuables, they roped the captives together and forced us to march. We walked for days. Deborah and I stayed together, helping each other as much as the ropes would allow.

The captain looked me over. He had already chosen the best of the male prisoners for himself. I stared at the ground, scared of what might happen. 

‘You’ll do for my wife,’  he said.

His friend liked the look of Deborah and pulled her into his tent that night. I held my hands over my ears to block out the sound of her distress. I was terrified the captain would do the same to me but he left me alone.

The sun was setting when we finally arrived in the big city of Damascus. The soldiers untied the captives, and Deborah was led away by the man who had forced her into his tent each night. Tears made muddy tracks down my dirty cheeks when I saw my only friend being taken away. I knew no one.

‘Come.’

black-horseCaptain Naaman on his majestic black horse led the way to his house, we his slaves trying our best to keep up with him. I shivered with cold and fear, having been captured in my thin dress which was torn and dirty from the long journey.

A well dressed servant came out to greet his master.

Captain Naaman commanded that the male slaves be taken to the outside dwellings. Then he turned to me. ‘And this one is for my wife. You had better clean her up before she comes into the house.’

I was led to a room where I could wash, and a clean tunic was brought for me.

One of the household servants led me into a large and beautiful room. It was the richest place I had ever been in. Reclining couches were laid out here and there on the marble floor, and I could hear water tinkling in the background. I found out later it was a fountain.

‘Come here little girl,’ said a woman’s voice.

I raised my head and saw a dark-haired lady reclining on one of the couches. She held out her hand and I went and stood before her.

‘What is your name?’

‘Samuela.’ I whispered.

It was the first word I had said since comforting Deborah when we were first captured weeks ago.

Odd that my name should be the first word I said in this new, strange place. My abba and ima had given it to me because they thought they could not have children. They pleaded with God for many years. When He answered their prayers, they planned to call the baby Samuel which means ‘God hears’, but when I – a daughter – was born, they changed it to Samuela.

    *     *     *     *     *     *     *

mop

My mistress was kind, and though I had to work hard as her maid, I was never mistreated. Captain Naaman was a fair man and his servants had no need to be afraid of him unless they had done something wrong.

It was awful when the captain noticed the small discoloured patches on his arms. The doctor confirmed leprosy. We thought his army career was over but the king wanted Captain Naaman to stay in charge of his army because the captain was a formidable soldier who had led many victories.

But over time, he began to lose feeling in his limbs. It was dangerous for a soldier to go into battle unable to feel pain when he was wounded. We knew it was a matter of time before he lost a limb or went blind.

One morning, I stood behind his wife brushing out her beautiful long, dark hair. I heard a sniffling noise and quietly stepped across the bed chamber for a piece of linen which I handed to her.

‘Thank you Samuela,’ she said. ‘I am so worried about my husband. We have prayed and made sacrifices to our god Rimmon but his leprosy is getting worse.’

‘My God, Yahweh, could heal him.’

My mistress turned round so quickly I jumped.

‘What did you say, Samuela?’

I cleared my throat. ‘I wish my master would go to Yahweh’s prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of the leprosy.’

My mistress eagerly pressed me for details and I told her all I could remember about the prophet Elisha, and how Yahweh worked miracles through him.

‘Naaman! Naaman!’

I could hear them talking. Then the captain left the house. My mistress told me he had gone to see the king.

The captain returned with a letter from the king and made preparations immediately to travel to Samaria. There was an expectant air in the house. Could he really be cured of this horrible skin condition?

 *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Less than a month later, Captain Naaman returned home. His skin was as clear as a baby’s.

muddy-riverMy mistress told me the whole story, of how the master had caused panic in the king of Samaria’s palace when he turned up there asking to be healed. Thankfully, Elisha the prophet heard about it and sent a message with the instructions for the captain to wash seven times in the Jordan River.

My master was furious at first because he thought Elisha should chant incantations and wave his hands over the leprosy. But some of his trusted servants who had accompanied him convinced him to give it a try. The Jordan is nothing like the clean rushing waters of the rivers flowing through Damascus. But my master did as he was instructed and was completely healed of leprosy.

Now my master and my mistress worship the one true God. My God: the One who heals.

30 Seconds

We shuffled into our hotel room with relief, dumping our bags in a corner. I headed for the bathroom to fill the kettle; I’d been looking forward to this cup of tea since London Bridge tube station. Adi stretched out on the bed and was soon dozing.

We’d been up the Shard, enjoying the view over the city. It was perfect: blue sky with fluffy white cotton-wool clouds. Glorious.

It was good to chill in our hotel room.

Oh, nearly forgot. There was something I needed to do. I turfed Adi off the bed and took four photos: two of the whole room from different angles, one of the bathroom, and one of the bed. I uploaded them to TraffickCam. It took 30 seconds. No big deal for me, but it might be for someone else….

Because this hotel room that to me is a friendly, restful, safe haven can mean something entirely different to another woman.

What if I was there against my will? Suppose I’d been lured by false promises and conned by a merciless and skilled manipulator who only wanted to sell me to the highest bidder? Suppose instead of flopping contentedly on the mattress after a fun day sightseeing I was positioned suggestively on the bed and photographed?

I hate trafficking.

I hate that wicked people capture others into slavery and make millions of pounds out of it. This is wrong. This is evil. I want to see human trafficking stopped.

Trafficking takes place in every country of the world. White, black, brown – all races and types of people are affected. White British people are being trafficked by white British people within Britain. The colour of a person’s skin doesn’t make them invulnerable to being trafficked.

And so I took 30 seconds out of my weekend break to take and upload four photos through the TraffickCam app on my smartphone. The police and anti-trafficking organisations can use these photos to trace victims of human trafficking.

If you are reading this post, please go one little step further and download this app to your smartphone and use it whenever you stay in a hotel anywhere in the world. 30 seconds could mean a lifetime to one person.

People shouldn’t be bought and sold. Let’s do our bit to end the horror of human trafficking.

 

Christmas Party

I received an invitation to a party. Was it really meant for me? The people inviting me seemed certain they wanted me there. Not sure I should go, it’s not my thing, I don’t think I’d belong….

It was bitterly cold today and I couldn’t get warm. That party to which I was invited began looking like a good idea. Maybe I should go for a bit, just to get warm. I didn’t have to stay.

As soon as I walked through the doors, I was met with big smiles – not cheesy or weird, just friendly. I accepted some mulled wine and sat in a corner to people watch but someone joined me, chatting and drawing me in so that I wasn’t just watching but a part of what was happening.

We all moved through into a long room with a tall Christmas tree at one end and twinkling fairy lights strung from the ceiling. We sat at large round tables, still chatting, while being served a delicious, hot Christmas dinner with all the trimmings: turkey and stuffing, sprouts and pigs in blankets. This was followed by Christmas pudding or chocolate gateau with cream. We sang carols and laughed a lot.

In laughing till my sides ached at the ridiculously funny audience-participative nativity, I forgot that I didn’t think I belonged and simply enjoyed being part of this fun family atmosphere.

Food Bank Christmas BagsThere were even party bags to take away with important Christmassy food items: mince pies, chocolate coins, tinned soup, cheesy nibbles. We were each given a beautifully wrapped gift for Christmas. Tears blinded me for a moment when I unwrapped mine. It wasn’t some second-hand tat that had been set aside for someone like me, but was a decent gift that had been generously bought for someone like me. I’d done nothing to deserve it, I’d simply turned up and accepted all the love and generosity showered upon me.

Grace Church held our first Christmas Party for Social Hub users this afternoon. It was an absolute joy to be able to host Christmas dinner for some of the people who have used our food bank this year. It’s something the Social Hub team have been looking forward to for months, and to see our guests relaxing and enjoying themselves was really special.

As someone said in the pre-party prayertime, Jesus knows how to party. His enemies made snide comments behind His back and called Him a drunkard and a glutton. Not that He was ever greedy or got drunk, but He didn’t hesitate to spend time with people who were looked down on and called ‘sinners’. We wanted to be a little bit like Him.

Food Bank Christmas PresentsAs I gazed at all the presents and Christmassy food parcels to be given out, I was struck with the similarities between me and our guests.

I, too, have received an invitation to a party. I, too, have been welcomed in, and given a gift.

Jesus has invited me to a party that He has promised to host at the end of time. It’s a major event on His calendar – He died and came back to life to make sure this party will happen. And everyone is invited. For everyone who accepts His invitation, Jesus welcomes us. He brings us into His Kingdom and into His Family; in fact, His Dad adopts us and makes us His heirs. He provides for all of our needs and He sets us free to enjoy Him more and more. He has given us the most astounding gift of eternal, abundant life.

And that gift is something that we can start enjoying right now.

 

Photo credit

Not Ashamed

Hood up and head down, he quickly checked the sign. Yes, he was in the right place. He slipped inside the double doors, hoping no one had seen him. Despite the friendly ‘hello’ from the lady at the reception desk, he would not make eye contact. He handed over his form and was directed through the inner doors where the smell of toasting bread and fresh coffee wafted over him. Without looking at anyone, he perched on the edge of the nearest chair and prayed his parcel would arrive quickly. But what was this? A friendly face approached and sat beside him.

‘I’m sorry,’ he blurted, ‘I’ve never used a food bank before. I’ve worked all my life. I’m not sponging. I lost my job…’

‘It’s okay.’ The face smiled.

Twenty minutes later he left with his head up. He had enjoyed homemade cake and hot coffee, he hadn’t been judged or criticised, and had an invitation to pop back anytime for a drink and chat, maybe even join the game of Scrabble at one of the tables. There was no need to be ashamed of his situation.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

She eyed the white van with lilac butterflies and Jesus is Lord printed on its side in dismay. She’d heard of these people. She kept her head well down and hoped she hadn’t been noticed. But the van stopped across from her and two friendly-looking women jumped out.

‘Hi there! Are you okay? Would you like some hot chocolate or a cheese roll?’

‘I’m not working y’know!’

Who was she kidding? Why else would she be loitering on a street corner at one in the morning? She was in her twenties but could pass for forty. That’s what a life of alcohol and drug addiction will do for you. She was too ashamed to admit she was working, too ashamed to accept their offer of friendship and sanctuary on the back of the van. Just plain ashamed.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

ASHAMED: the dictionary gives two definitions – ’embarrassed or guilty because of one’s actions, characteristics, or associations’ and ‘reluctant to do something through fear of embarrassment or humiliation’.

I guess we’ve all been in situations or done things that make us want to curl up and die of shame. I have. Times when I’ve said the wrong thing, or been manipulative, or indulged in something I wouldn’t want anyone to find out about.

AshamedOr maybe something has been done to you that has made you ashamed, even though it’s not your fault. For years, I was ashamed of the fact I couldn’t have children. It’s no one’s fault, but I still felt ashamed.

The great news is that we don’t have to stay ashamed and guilty over what we’ve done or of the situation in which we find ourselves. Regardless of what is causing us to feel ashamed, there’s a way to be rid of it. That way is a person: Jesus. When He died, He took ALL of our shame – every single bit – on Himself and it died with Him. He took our shame, and in return He gives us His purity and right-standing before God. There is nothing left for us to pay. When we accept His gift of peace and joy and righteousness, He sets us free from sin and shame. That sounds like a fabulous deal to me!

When He was a man on earth, Jesus was nicknamed the ‘friend of sinners’. He was friends with poor people. He fed those who were hungry. He healed the sick. He laid His hands on people with disfiguring skin conditions. He hung out with prostitutes. I don’t know if there were drug addicts in first century Palestine, but if there were, you can guarantee Jesus was their friend. He welcomed those who were outcasts and downtrodden, and showed unconditional love. He took their shame away because He loved them.

I love that He loves the little people like me!

God doesn’t want us bowed down with shame there is no need for us to bear. Jesus came to give us abundant life. If you know Jesus, He has already set you free from sin and shame. So believe what He says about you and say thank you!

Jesus is not ashamed of you:
He calls you brother or sister.

God is not ashamed of you:
He calls Himself ‘our God’ and He has prepared a safe, secure place for us.

I love that when I’ve screwed up yet again, God isn’t ashamed of me. He will never wish He hadn’t bothered with me, will never wonder if He made a mistake in loving me. He still calls me His child and exults in the fact that He is my God. WOO HOOO!

Linking up with Fellowship Fridays and

Womanhood With Purpose

 

Photo credit

A Letter To The Hungry

I’ll just check one more time. Maybe there’s something I missed the first time around….

No, the cupboard’s empty. What am I going to do? There was nothing yesterday either. Or the day before that.

I can’t stand this pain inside any longer. Drinking lots of water isn’t helping. I need help. What if they say I don’t deserve help?  Must try. Surely someone cares?

Wrap up warm, it’s cold out there. At least it’s not raining today.

Feel so lightheaded walking, but got no money for bus fare. Look at all the lucky so-and-so’s on the bus. They don’t know what it’s like to be me.

Here’s the office. Deep breath. Stand in line. Endless waiting. Legs are trembling. That kiddy’s got a bag of sweets. My mouth’s watering. Look away. Can’t snatch from a child. My eyes are burning. I can’t stand this. I’m nothing…

Number 374. That’s me.

‘I’ve got no money.’

‘It’s not my fault I got sanctioned. I was late for my appointment because the bus didn’t turn up. Now my money’s stopped because I’ve been sanctioned. There’s no food in the house. I haven’t eaten in three days.’

‘A referral form? Thank you so much.’

I walk across the city centre, clutching a referral form. Will this church really help?

Oh, here it is.

Deep breath, here goes.

I walk in, head down, and hold out my form to the smiling person on the desk.

‘Hello! And your name is… Angela. Hi Angela, this is Christine. If you’d like to follow her inside, she’ll give you a cup of tea while we make up your food parcel.’

I risk a glance at Christine. She has a friendly smile on her face and she’s looking right at me.

‘Hi Angela. Welcome! Come and have a seat. Would you like tea or coffee? And we have toast if you’d like it.’

I can see other people sitting at small white tables eating toast and drinking from mugs, chatting with helpers wearing name badges. It’s warm in here and the smell of toast is making my mouth fill with water. I swallow hard.

‘Tea please.’ I whisper.

‘And how many slices of toast? We’ve got strawberry jam.’

Christine is smiling at me.

‘Two please.’

Before I know it, I’m sat at a table eating and drinking. I’m warm. Christine is so nice and friendly that I find myself pouring out everything that’s been crowding in on me for weeks: losing my job because of cancer, having my gas cut off, not being able to afford having the electric heater on, getting sanctioned, having no food in the cupboards. I cry, but that’s okay. Christine is ready with some tissues.

Before I go, she offers to pray with me. I nod. I need all the help I can get. She lays a hand on my arm and tells God about me, asking Him to help me. She talks to Him like He’s her Dad. It’s nice.

When I leave, I have a big bag full of food in my hand and a comfortable, solid sort of feeling in my stomach. The pain has gone. I feel like I’ve made a friend. I’m not hungry any more.

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