Micah Challenge is a global Christian campaign to end extreme poverty. Inspired by scripture, guided by the Holy Spirit, and covered in prayer they advocate for a more just world. Extreme poverty and hunger will not be overcome by securing more food, but by securing more justice. It is for this reason that they engage in transformational advocacy, which is the process of challenging ourselves and our leaders to change behavior, policies, and attitudes that perpetuate injustice and deny God’s will for all creation to flourish. They recently released a book called Live Justly to encourage the church in this endeavor. Their Director, Jason Fileta (@fileta), discusses the organization and their book in the interview below.
KW: What is the inspiration behind Micah Challenge and the book Live Justly?
JF: Micah Challenge was born out of a desire to see justice permeate the structures and systems of society that impact the most marginalized communities. Micah Challenge was launched by Rene Padilla, the Argentinian theologian, alongside of christian leaders, pastors, and community developers in the Global South. After decades of Kingdom minded community development their was a keen sense that the decisions made in the halls of power, often in the Global North, impact the very villages and communities they live and work in. Simultaneously, there was a sense that as evangelicals we had largely lost the sense that living justly was central to discipleship. So, Micah Challenge was launched to hold the most powerful to the interests of the vulnerable through advocacy, and to come alongside the church and disciple people towards living justly.
Live Justly, the book, emerged 9 years into our work. We had seen justice become somewhat of fad, and too often simply an “action a year”. Our desire was to uncover the biblical concept of justice, and inspire people to actually LIVE justly.
KW: How would you summarize your beliefs and philosophy about living justly?
JF: Living justly can at times feel like a burden, or set of rules, rather than a part of being a disciple. By anchoring our desire to pursue and live justly as a response to who God is, and what God wants for our world, there was much freedom. Being an active citizen and advocating to my leaders for justice became an act of worship, not duty. Buying fair trade became not a chore, but an act of defiance to an unjust system that grieves God, and an act of proclamation that there is a better way. Living justly must come out of of a posture of worship–otherwise, these lifestyle choices so easily become a set of rules and regulations that create what I call “Justice pharisees”….you know the type. The freedom to let every aspect of our lives reflect our kingdom priorities as an act of worship—from our purchase to our prayers is the core of living justly. It brings us closer to God. It helps us testify to who God is in a broken world, and it unifies our passion to follow Jesus with our passion for justice.
KW: What are some of the biggest obstacles you find about moving from caring about justice, to actually living justly?
JF: The biggest obstacle encountered is that living justly is by it’s very nature counter cultural. Our lives are sustained by the oppression of others. This is a fact, one that is deeply troubling, but is also very hard to see. The dominant American culture does not lead us to consider the person who sewed our clothes, or who is fleeing from a war we started as our neighbors. Too often we let this dominant culture influence our finances and even our prayers! Once we become aware or how counterculture living justly can be, the cost is often too great. This is why Live Justly is so focused on the things we already do, and infusing those decisions with Kingdom values. We all buy food, pray (I hope), have relationships, etc. By beginning to infuse these actions with God’s values and justice we see change–in ourselves and in our world. This gives us the courage to take some of the bigger, scarier steps towards living justly.
KW: Are there a few practical tips you can offer to help on this journey?
JF: Take on the journey prayerfully. It’s not an easy study. It will force you to really look at your life, your decisions, and convict you in different ways. Incorporating daily prayer is crucial as you work through what it is that God is trying to show you through the ten sessions. We absolutely believe that justice is part of the very nature of God, so a deep, personal encounters with God are critical for this journey.
It’s also important to take this journey as a community. We believe that we cannot live justly without seeking authentic community, and we have group questions for discussion and activities particularly so you can process as a part of a community. It’s not that you can’t do this study on your own, you certainly can, but it helps to have a group of justice-driven people around you going through the same information and life changes. Many hands and many voices are what will change systems and structures that are unjust, and authentic community is essential to keep us all on a just pathway.
Finally, don’t let other people tell you how you should be experiencing Live Justly. While we want you to do this within community, we strongly believe that it is the Holy Spirit who convicts. God may speak through others, but really pray about the action and decisions you want to make regarding what you’re learning in Live Justly, and don’t let the convictions or decisions of others define how you respond to the study.
KW: How did you decide to focus in on the 6 topics of Advocacy, Prayer, Generosity, Consumption, Relationships & Creation?
JF: We wanted to engage people in practical ways. These 6 topics are biblically based and represent a different facet of life in which we make daily decisions. The symbol of Live Justly has a circle around it, and that was very purposeful. The circle represents the holistic nature of living justly. If we are incredible advocates, but do so at the expense of our personal relationships, then the circle is broken. If we are compassionate to the impoverished, but fail to challenge unjust structures that cause their oppression then too, the circle is broken. The circle represents a holistic, unified lifestyle of justice within the 6 areas explored in the study.
KW: Can you give an example of how you address each of these different topics?
JF: We address each topic in a way that is practical and can inspire action. For advocacy we challenge the reader to look at how our policies here in the United States affect people around the world. We then give the reader the tools to take action to support good U.S. programs and policies. With prayer we explore the power prayer holds and seek to inspire intercessory prayer for big issues. Consumption and generosity specifically look at how and where we’re spending our money. Every dollar you spend is a vote for the kind of world you want, so our values should be reflected in our spending. Therefore we should be giving more, consuming less, and when we consume we should ensure our purchases are ethical ones.
Authentic relationships are at the heart of living justly, so we need to ensure our relationships with our family and friends reflect this. We also need to realize that we can’t truly help the impoverished if we do not know them, so we should make sure we give ourselves opportunities to get to know those most in need in our communities. Lastly, God has given us the task to take care of his creation, and we have not historically done a great job at that. As Christians we need to ensure we’re taking creation care seriously and incorporate practical things like recycling and taking public transportation when we can. They’re small changes that can have a huge impact.
KW: What has encouraged you most since live justly has been released?
JF: I’ve been most encouraged and excited about the amount of energy and unity I see forming around the study. In the NGO world there have often been massive walls between those of use doing advocacy, community development, and direct service. Live Justly seems to be breaking down some of the walls because organizations for from each of these sectors are eager to use the study with their supporters. My prayer is that we can continue to see a unification around pursuing God’s Kingdom and his justice rather than our own kingdoms. The Christian NGO world has a lot to learn about living justly in relationship to one another, and I hope Live Justly can help bring more unity.
KW: What has surprised you most about the response to the book?
JF: I’ve been most surprised by the international interest in Live Justly. I wrote this book for a US audience because that is who Micah Challenge USA is working with, but we’ve sold books in 10 different countries. A church in Belfast Ireland went through the study as an entire church this past summer, 2,000 Nigerian youth are going through the study this summer as part of a mobilization effort to seek peace and environmental protection in Nigeria, and schools in both india and the dominican republic have lead students through the study. I’m amazed at the hunger the church has to be challenged, to live authentically, and to see justice done!