By Jessica Brodie
I was nearing the end of kindergarten in May 1980 when my teacher took me aside and said we’d have a new little girl in class who didn’t speak any English. She and her family had just moved here from Cuba, and my teacher wanted me to be her special buddy and make her feel welcome.
I don’t remember the new girl’s name, but I remember she was skinny with super-stringy black hair and the deepest, most liquid brown eyes I’d ever seen. I wanted to make sure she liked my school, liked my class, and felt at home. After all, that’s what I would have wanted. We became fast friends, even though we didn’t speak the same language, and then the school year ended and I never saw her again.
What I didn’t learn until much later was my special buddy was a Marielita, one of roughly 135,000 Cuban refugees who came to Miami from Cuba’s Mariel Harbor that spring, summer and early fall.
I remember hearing a lot of complaints from adults back then about “all these refugees” coming here, taking our jobs, why didn’t they bother to learn our language, etc. I just remembered my kindergarten buddy, and how she looked so scared after coming with her family from so far away to live in a strange new place, and my heart went out to her and the other Marielitos. Of course they should be allowed to have jobs, have a safe place to live and go to school, and be treated with kindness and respect—anyone would want that.
My experience with my Cuban kindergarten buddy is typically what I think about when I consider the term “social justice.” In February, I was asked to speak on Jesus and social justice for a United Methodist Women workshop, and it got me thinking: What did Jesus say about social justice? I read the Bible daily, and I’ve concluded Jesus cared a great deal about social justice, and if we call ourselves followers of Christ, we must care, too.
God cares about justice. Throughout the Old Testament and the New, and through the works of His Son Jesus, we see how important justice, fairness, mercy, compassion, and care for all people is to God. Jesus repeatedly said he was about his father’s business. He pursued justice; he physically and spiritually rescued those in need. His acts of justice involve not only healing the hurting but also confronting those doing the hurting.
Today, we can do the same. Social justice can take many forms. Centuries ago, it might have been advocating against slavery, smuggling or child labor. Today it might look like doing what we can to advocate for equal access to housing, education, employment, medical care, legal rights or physical protection.
Whatever you do to further justice, I urge you to err on the side of love. Love like Jesus would, with open arms and care in spite of sin or social status.
Love knowing all people have value and worth in the eyes of God. That’s social justice.