Imagine young girls like Axenia, a 16-year-old living in Moldova in Eastern Europe, who lost her father when she was only six years old. After his death, her mother could not afford to continue taking care of her, so Axenia was placed in an orphanage.
Unfortunately, this fate is all too familiar in that country. According to ehouseforgirls.org, Moldova is home to more than 10,000 orphan children who lost their parents to death, abandonment or absenteeism. Children must graduate out of the orphanage system at age 16, and two out of three girls end up in human trafficking.
Now imagine students like Amber Jones, a junior from Gulf Shores, AL, who is majoring in Intercultural Studies at the University of Mobile with hopes to make a difference in the lives of children like Axenia. Amber has recently added the newly formed minor in Social Justice to her academic studies in order to prepare her to work with issues such as the ones in Moldova.
“Moldova is the No. 1 country for girls and women to be sexually trafficked,” said Amber. “I am considering a career in the field of international adoption/foster care. At UMobile I have the opportunity to serve on a ministry team that works directly with the Emmanuel House, which is a foster home for girls in Moldova.
“Our team travels to church and concert venues to speak about trafficking statistics in Moldova and the orphan care system, as well as about the girls in the Emmanuel House. We create and maintain their website and help raise funds by efforts such as designing t-shirts and organizing events.”
While Moldova is a major area affected by these issues, the statistics worldwide are staggering. According to Orphan Hope International, 14,505,000 children around the world grow up as orphans each year. Studies have shown that 10-15 percent of these children commit suicide before they reach 18 years old. The State of the World’s Children’s 2005 report estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked every year.
The new Social Justice minor is an interdisciplinary joint venture combining studies from the School of Christian Ministries and the Sociology Department within the College of Arts and Sciences at UMobile. It is designed to equip students to minister in areas of social injustice.
Students in this program will take courses such as Social Justice Ministry, Non-Profit Ministry, English as a Second Language, Modern Social Problems, Understanding the Community, and Social Welfare Institutions. These courses, along with hands-on ministry teams, will prepare students to work with oppressed populations including orphans, refugees, immigrants, the impoverished, the persecuted and those entrapped in human trafficking. Unlike similarly named studies at other institutions, UMobile’s program focuses on scriptural teaching as the basis for how Christians and the church are called to be the solution.
We interviewed Dr. Joe Savage, executive dean of the School of Christian Ministries, regarding the details of this new minor.
Q: How would you describe the meaning of Social Justice as it applies to this minor?
Savage: Our social justice minor could be entitled “Biblical Justice” as we delve into Scripture and extract viable God-given solutions to many of the world’s injustices. We discover what the Scripture says about certain people groups such as orphans, widows, the poor, the hungry or the refugee, and then we physically go out and do something to help them. We follow this biblical instruction by providing hands-on learning experiences where our students can serve both locally and abroad. The Bible is full of passages on how to deal with the most needy in our society. Our aim is to help our students understand these biblical truths and how to apply viable solutions into modern settings around the world.
Q: Why do you think the topic of Social Justice has resonated so well with this generation of students?
Savage: I think there are several reasons the millennial generation cares about issues regarding social justice. This generation is very intelligent and has been educated both academically and personally using the internet and social media. The result is they have information about the world’s suffering right at their fingertips. The internet, global news and the ease of transportation have made this generation more aware about the atrocities of human suffering and the plight of so many. Many of them or their friends have experienced personal pain in such a way that they have an unwavering sense of compassion and concern for those who are also hurting, even if it is people continents away. These students want to put action to their faith.
I would also say that every generation has had a group of individuals who have stepped into the lives of hurting people with the intent of helping them. We see John Newton who wrote “Amazing Grace” and his cohort John Wilberforce as leaders in the 1800s to end slavery against all odds. We see Oskar Schindler risking his own life to rescue Jewish people from the hand of Hitler. Mother Teresa served the poor of India with an unwavering commitment of service. Every generation has had those called by God to bring hope into the darkest situations around the world. Today is no different. God is raising up a vast number of caring individuals who are leaving all that they have for the sake of helping to rescue the woman caught in trafficking or the orphan lacking a parent or the poor who are so malnourished they are willing to drink from disease-infested waters, trying to survive. This generation is smart, and they are committed. They have the greatest capacity of any generation before them to significantly impact the world for Christ by compassionately bringing viable solutions to end certain types of human suffering.
Q: Why do you think it is important to offer this area of study for students wanting to go into ministry fields?
Savage: The Scriptures are explicitly clear about the role of the church when it comes to helping the fatherless, the widow, the refugee and the poor. Jesus demonstrated the role of all Christians in His teaching found in Matthew 25 where He reveals the essentiality of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned and helping the sick.
Q: What type of real-world experience will students receive at UMobile in relation to social justice?
Savage: They receive hands-on experience locally as we partner with agencies and work in various neighborhoods where injustices prevail. For instance, our students serve weekly at places such as the Alabama Baptist Children’s Home working with foster kids, the Light of the Village with impoverished children, or teaching ESL to Iraqi refugees. For those wanting to work with human trafficking or orphan care, we have a home called the Emmanuel House in Moldova that rescues orphaned girls and keeps them from experiencing a life of enslaved prostitution. A team of female students works to raise funds, build websites and communicate the message of Emmanuel House. We provide internships and opportunities to serve at orphanages around the world and host short-term mission trips into many of the impoverished places on earth where our students gain first-hand knowledge on how they can help. Our students literally serve on the front lines. This summer, I will take a couple of students to work at ground zero of the Syrian refugee crisis in Greece as we serve and discover new ways in which our students can get involved.
Q: What advice would you give to a student who is interested in pursing this ministry after graduation?
Savage: First, our students are graduating and getting employed around the world doing the very ministry and work that God has called them to do. Too many times, however, students want to work in the field of social justice but they have little or no training. While the student has a big heart to serve and help, they have little knowledge on how to actually go out and do it successfully. I tell students they need to first gain the knowledge, then gain experience, and then go do it. At UMobile, we are providing the biblical and practical knowledge on how to do the work of social justice while also providing each student with an inordinate amount of hands-on experience. While our students are learning in the classroom about how to lead and bring solutions to many of the world’s greatest ills, they are also being given four years of opportunity and practical experiences. By the time they graduate, they will be prepared to go anywhere in the world with their gifts, experience and tools to make a significant difference.
Axenia and the other nine girls in the Emmanuel House are now safe and have a hope for their future because of the willingness of individuals like UMobile faculty and students to act against these social injustices.
“When I found out that the University of Mobile was offering a Social Justice minor this fall, it immediately sparked my interest,” Amber added. “I believe that the Social Justice minor will help provide me with the skills needed to affectively work within the orphan care systems and make a difference in the world.”
For more information about the Social Justice minor at the University of Mobile, contact the School of Christian Ministries at 251.442.2406 or visit umobile.edu.