We had a wonderful day yesterday. Dr. Rajkumar Boaz Johnson,. biblical Studies professor from North Park University was in Sweden and we had the opportunity to share in an afternoon with him. Boaz is an amazing teacher of the Old Testament, fluent in many languages and engaging in his biblical perspective on human trafficking and modern day slavery, a subject which is a deep passion for him. Through his whimsical personality and incredible knowledge, he is able to pass onto his audience his passion and desire for us to go deeper into the scriptures and to understand the vital role that Christianity can play in eradicating these terrible injustices that affect small children in significant and profound ways. He helped us understand that translations of the Bible include language and cultural bias and urged us to understand the limits and to perhaps do deeper work to more fully understand exactly what a text is saying, especially in cases where our interpretation is leading us to oppress a certain people group, most significantly, women. He told us about the work of Pandita Ramabai, an Indian woman who devoted her life to helping young girls have a brighter future. Part of her mission in life included translating the Bible into sanskrit so that girls could read the text. Her work revealed a male bias in translation that often kept women below men, even in Christian practice.
Boaz also enlightened us about the layers and layers of problems with the modern day slave practice. He spoke of needing "thin" solutions, like laws and jailing perpetrators, but he also helped us wrestle with the "thick" solutions, changing people's view of humanity so that no one will dehumanize any human being. If we help people understand what dehumanizing others leads to, then we can perhaps have hope that abhorrent practices such as child slave labor and child prostitution will cease. Until people have a change of heart, a real reason to value every human being on earth, then these practices will continue. Because, in my mind, the only reason a 40 year old man would want to have sex with a 14 year old girl, against her will, is because he does not see the young girl as human.
Boaz spoke of how important education is for the children of India and really world-wide. His own story of getting out of the slums of Delhi begins with his own father helping him and his sister get to a school set aside for kids from higher castes. It was there that his keen mind was sharpened and he began to develop his own thoughts about why the world was the way it was. Through studying world religions, he discovered Jesus Christ and felt that the gospel of Jesus Christ was truly the key to life.
Boaz spoke of how the transforming message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that which will help us find a "thick" response to these issues. He encouraged us to be aware on a local level of what we can do to prevent the thriving practice of slave labor. One of the ways we can do this is by learning more about where our food and clothing come from. This is challenging, I'll be the first to admit it. But it's worth giving some thought. He also said that visiting countries like India is really important so that we can see first hand what is happening but also to see what amazing mission work is happening there. He spoke of the Hindustani Covenant Church as doing wonderful work and urged us to get down and experience it first hand.
I came away from the afternoon inspired and troubled. I was deeply troubled by the people in our world who think slavery and trafficking is a valid way of living. Greed seems to lie at the heart of it all. And yet too, I am deeply troubled to understand why men use prostitutes, especially children to satisfy their sexual or psychological needs. Unless the desire for such depravity gets nipped, I am afraid these horrible practices will always lurk in our world.
At the end of our time together, he gave the benediction in Hebrew. He sang it out loud and clear in a beautiful voice. As I stood there with tears brimming in my eyes I was awed. Here I was, standing in my church in Stockholm, Sweden, amidst people from 50 different nations, listening to an Indian man from the slums of Delhi, sing a beautiful Hebrew benediction over us. It was a "glimpse of heaven" moment and I feel so grateful to have this opportunity to interact with Dr. Boaz Johnson.