Concern for justice is a quality dear to the heart of God, and one Multiply Vineyard wants to see reproduced in the DNA of every single Vineyard church plant. As we partner with the Vineyard Justice Network (VJN), we’ll be periodically bringing you stories of how God captured VJN leaders’ hearts for justice. Here’s Kathy Maskell’s story:
Nine years ago, my husband Caleb and I waited impatiently for a Cambodian taxi to whisk us to the airport, onward to our next leg of adventure in Vietnam. The world’s smallest girl, in a discarded Michael Jordan T-shirt, sidled up to me and tugged at my elbow. She feverishly pointed with her other hand at my plastic bag, which contained a baguette. She was hungry. I easily surrendered the bread. In a flash at least ten other children scurried over to tear at the bread, and just like that it was gone.
I cried throughout the flight to Saigon. So many questions haunted me: Does she have parents? How many hours a day did she beg? Was she going to eat dinner? While this wasn’t the first time I had been confronted by the face of extreme poverty, there was something about her. In that moment, I was confronted with a choice to care, to say “Yes! I see you. Yes! You have been fearfully and wonderfully made.”
After college, I had taught public school for three years in the South Bronx, once known as the “murder capital” of America—but it hardly prepared me for the moment of encounter I experienced in Cambodia. It brought into stark relief my desire to find a vocation that insisted on the work of justice, mercy, and transformational love while not objectifying or reducing the poor to statistics, to an it. Her real face and real story allowed me to enter into the real stories of millions of street children who are most vulnerable to the abhorrent injustice of sexual slavery.
Working with people like my friend Pastor Yeng in Cambodia has shaped my understanding about interconnectivity of injustice. Yeng trains community leaders on how to prevent human trafficking. He trains them to think not only about the act of human trafficking but also about the “push factors” that increase the vulnerability of a child to being trafficked. During one of Yeng’s seminars, a local pastor fell to his knees in grief as he realized that he had been tricked into selling several of his own children to traffickers. He simply had not understood what was happening.
In another church community, Yeng provoked frank discussion of the correlation between poverty, sexual abuse, sexual addiction, domestic violence and the trafficking of children for sex. The veil of shame and social taboo was lifted, truth and light came in, and hope began to dawn.
That first encounter in 2004 has led me to work for anti-trafficking and anti-poverty organizations, plant a Vineyard church, and go to seminary! And all along this journey, I have been challenged by God to marry our call to radical acts of justice with radical repentance and vulnerability. To execute Biblical justice, I could not simply become an activist who just wanted to “do something.” To paraphrase Ron Sider, we are not social activists; we are followers of Jesus. We respond to Jesus’ invitation to be filled up by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit to live justly in the world—an invitation to enlarge our imaginations and actions to go beyond the Facebook Cause of the Day or our spasms of compassion.
By pointing toward Jesus, I can participate in a relationship with the Holy Spirit who guides, empowers, and sustains me to ask the deeper questions, to take time to consider the interconnectivity between human trafficking, poverty, and the environment. Following Jesus frees me to ask for help and share my shortcomings and mistakes. And following Jesus helps me to live a kingdom-oriented lifestyle that stands on this truth: Death, poverty, and exploitation do not have the last word in this world, because the God of the Bible I serve is a poverty-free God.
Excerpted from this 2012 Vineyard USA article introducing VJN.
Kathy is the pastor of discipleship at Blue Route Vineyard. She worked for six years as the U.S. Advocacy Director of Love146. She is most proud of her role in creating the Love146 Faith Community Network, the Love146 Task Force platform, and her critical part in the passage of the 2010 Connecticut Safe Harbor Law. Kathy just finished up an M. Div. at Union Theological Seminary (NYC). As a Fellow at The Poverty Initiative, she studies abolitionist movements, develops Biblical resources on justice and exploitation, and analyzes poverty as a root cause of human trafficking.
In 2007, Kathy co-planted Elm City Vineyard in New Haven, CT. She recently served as a member of the Executive Board for Vineyard USA and was the assistant pastor at The River NYC.