USLS 2017; Building Life, Giving Hope

Where do I even begin for this conference? I recently attended the USLS 2017 Human Rights Conference in Bangkok in the past week from 1-7th August. This is a conference held by Humanitarian Affairs from the UK in collaboration with the UNDP and I was very honoured to be able to attend this conference representing Singapore and thankful firstly to God for this opportunity and how He opened doors. Also extremely grateful how everything came to be. I came to know about this conference in early February this year when the school sent out an email to ask students to sign up for this conference. All we had to do was to submit a resume and they would nominate accordingly. 2 months past and I haven’t heard from NTU about this conference until a phone call came one day in Hans when I thought to myself that the days ahead are going to be phenomenal. And it’s so funny because right after that I received a call to confirm my place in the conference! Talk about feeling it in my bones and in my spirit. The way our Father speaks to us ☺️ honestly, I don’t even think I am worthy or good /credible/eligible enough for this conference but since God made a way then why not right? Haha and talk about provision from above, the conference fees were covered by NTU completely, 950 USD MY GOODNESS what even haha and I could apply for a lump sum of allowance. So much grace, really.

Ever since receiving news about this conference, I thought I’d better prepare myself about the issues of the world and start reading up about things that matter to me. There’s so much information available out there it’s so important to filter and discern the various sources of information and perceptions. So the first thing I did was to borrow The Justice Demand from my dearest friend, Claire. Before I begin to read up and all, I believe it was important to understand the biblical concept of justice and really what is walk humbly, love mercy and act justly all about. I mean, since we are talking about humanitarian needs and all, then this is really pretty apt. A plus point about this book is how it is being localised and fit to the Singapore context where it deals with issues that are prevalent in Singapore – treatment of foreign workers, street ladies etc. This book is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the biblical perspective of justice and what God requires of us. It gives a good overview coupled with summaries in every chapter alongside interviews with different NGOs and leaders of various church para organisations etc. But one main thing I learnt for sure from the book, is how justice is about re-establishing and restoring the shalom of the kingdom of God. Its this whole idea of reconciliation and restoration.  Author JJ Ronald Wong asked an important question in the book that I have been constantly thinking of, but have not reached a conclusion; will I be God’s response to injustice, suffering and brokenness? If yes, then how? 

If I may, let me share with you my takeaways from the conference through Wong’s presentation of the principles of biblical justice. Justice as (1) rights and seeking moral good,  (2) generous giving, (3) advocacy.

  1. Justice as rights and seeking moral good.

First of all, we need to understand that we are created in the image of God. The very idea that we are made in the image of God means that any damage or distortion to the image of God is very much trying to be wounding Him. When we see each person as made in the image of God, we realise the worth of each individual and we learn to give that individual the due honour and love that this person deserves.  I think deep down we all know that there’s certain standards that each person ought to be treated. We all know that we ought to value, respect and honour every individual. Justice is “a matter of rights and obligations, as between us and God, and us and people,” not just a “good-to-have” In the context of people who live alongside one another, why should someone of a different colour, gender, beliefs be treated any different from us?

Everyday, we have speakers from different organisations come speak to us and panel discussions on leading social change. Delegates from all over ask questions that arose from the various injustices they face: oppression of women’s rights for education, refugee rights, to name a few. This whole conference is about human rights and the purpose to achieve sustainable development goals by 2030, where we talk about eradicating poverty, providing quality education, gender equality and combating climate change. And it’s interesting because I met so many people who are super passionate about this different causes. Some of them volunteer for NGOs that seek to reduce irresponsible drunk driving in their country, I met one who is visually impaired but works tirelessly for the other people like him to learn assisted technology. I met people of different majors and degrees who want to see the world become a better place. It’s very much humbling I’d say. Everyone is seeking good and betterment of the society they live in – better opportunities, better treatment etc. I thought to myself, this is such a big pool of ideas, talents and gifts, when put together, will certainly birth amazing stuff!!  While we all have our own concept of rights and style of doing thing due to the different worldview and systems of belief, it does not mean that we don’t have the underlying inherent hope of wanting to see this world a better place. Some will think you’re idealistic and a fool but I think that’s possibly just what we need. That we are young and foolish enough to believe that something is possible and we act on it. One example was Ryan Hreljac from Ryan’s Well Foundation who came to speak to us. He was only a kid but he believed that everyone ought to be able to drink water and drink clean water. So he saved up for it. He was only a 1st grader but he knew what was “good” for the people who did not have access to water and he did just what he could do! He did lots of housework chores in exchange for money to support the funding of a well. 

Ryan saw those people in need as no different than him. He recognised that the african children too ought to have access to clean water just like him and so he responded to the problem. A 1st grader knew what was a basic right of someone, access to clean water and he acted on it by seeking good for this community of people.

2. Justice as generous giving

For from Him, through Him and for Him are all things (Romans 11:36)  Our wealth, expenses, money, talents and gifts. “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)

I met many who give their time to serve, to visit people in detention centres and tell them that it’s not their fault that they are there. What they have, they give. That’s so encouraging :’) Those who are educated and abled, they give through their time and ideas. I remember in the conference Kim Solomon raised a thought provoking question: how much love do we pour in our giving?

So I won’t waste my breath If it’s not for love

I don’t have the heart

If it’s not for love

Don’t let me say it’s faith

If it counts no cost

‘Cause there’s no fear in love But there is a cross

In the midst of giving and serving, how much of it comes with love? How much of it comes out of obligation or routines or making ourselves look good?

I remember a conversation with a former refugee from Afghanistan who has now resettled in Australia. She’s not much older than myself and she’s beautiful. She speaks with such a genuine heart! “I just want everyone to be loved. I don’t understand why people can be so selfish! And so I speak for these refugees in Australia who are settling down, I help them and I bring them grocery shopping. Just to name some of the things I do” and when she said that, man I was so inspired. Here’s a brave woman who’s giving her time and lending her voice for the refugees that she so relate to :’)

Give generously, with love.

Who do I want to give to? And for what cause? And we always have the choice of choosing justice. Choosing a simple and less luxurious lifestyle that our money will go to places that need it more than we do.

3. Justice as advocacy

It’s about being a voice for the voiceless. And it can be done in many different ways. Someone shared about how she uses drama and dance as a form of therapy for the children suffering from trauma and their experiences from war to help them express themselves. Some of them fight for policy change and advocates for peace. And I asked myself, what am I being a voice for? Who am I being a voice for. My silence is a manner of propagating and tolerating injustice.

Being a voice for someone comes with first listening to someone. Many of the delegates who are actively being a voice for a particular cause are mostly people with stories or encounters with people who have gone through different things: suffering, oppression, disability etc. A friend from South Africa, Sam, writes for women empowerment. Her platform seeks to celebrate women in South Africa, and building self worth. You can check out her page here. 

I can’t believe I get to befriend and talk to some of the most amazing people and this just reminds me of a little prayer I made at the start of the year. I asked to be influential, not famous. To be God-seeking, not self-seeking.

Maybe for us Singaporeans, to put things into context, we really need to open our eyes wide around us to the possible social problems in our society. Listen to the people around us and engage in conversations – find out the stories, the people, the issues and then discuss, think, share. Collaborate and make unlikely partnerships, says Francis Kong, one of the speakers for Leading Social Change. Don’t let the ideas in your head sit at the back of your mind, speak forth and create strategic partnerships!!

There’s really just so many takeaways I’ve had from the conference and these are just parts of it! But through it all, I loved the friendships formed, the connections built and the stories I’ve heard. I meet people of diverse cultural backgrounds, different profiles and passions and I give God all the glory and praise for this learning opportunity. Not to mention meeting some really lovely girls that love Jesus and intercedes for the conference and the people met.

And just to end this long naggy post, I’ll end it with the quote I wrote for myself prophetically at the start of the year where I look forward to its fulfilment 🙂

DSCF5791

Do all the good you can by all the means you can, in all the ways you can and in all the places you can, at all the times you can to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.

John Wesley

Let me know if you want to hear more about the stories I’ve heard, I’ll be happy to share 🙂

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