Taking the restraint off Justice
Photo: Brian McConaghy
by John Hall
This year at Missions Fest the theme for January’s conference is Justice and the Gospel. We have an amazing line-up of speakers and artists to help us explore this topic. One of the speakers we are really excited about is Brian McConaghy, the founding director of Ratanak International.
McConaghy spent 22 years in the RCMP as a forensics expert. He writes, “In 1989 I took a trip to Asia – the beginning of a journey that would completely change my life. I found myself on the Thai Cambodian border in the middle of a war zone. Based on my childhood in Belfast and my career in forensics, I was at home with loud bangs, and stuck around to help a Christian team provide medical services to refugees through the shelling. There, the recent history and current state of Cambodia confronted me for the first time. I was appalled and determined to do something more substantial to help.”
This trip introduced McConaghy to Cambodia but God needed to continue to work on his heart in order to lead him to help children who had been trafficked into sex slavery. This is a large part of Ratanak’s ministry in Cambodia today. McConaghy’s journey is telling because earthly ideas of justice are riddled with inconsistencies, just as the law is riddled with loopholes. Even when we get it right, there often seems to be a tension between power and the rule of law. (Consider the pop-culture example of how this subject is treated in Captain America: Civil War). Each of us feels a need to stand up for our rights or else be trampled on. In contrast, the biblical idea of justice is grounded in the character and nature of God. We are dealing with a God who is holy and all powerful and is always at work redeeming and reconciling – two essential activities of justice. Knowing that God precedes us and is always at work gives us hope, because rather than breaking ground, we are responding to God’s just work. He is concerned with the weak, the poor and marginalized and we know that He seeks their welfare and wants us to participate with Him in bringing justice to the earth.
At Missions Fest we’ve created a working definition of justice: Justice is a right relation to God, actively overflowing to self, neighbour, and creation; a foretaste of the flourishing and peace of God’s Shalom. We have linked the word justice to the word Gospel in our theme because we believe that the Gospel is more than evangelism. It is the beautiful news that King Jesus rules and reigns, and is redeeming and reconciling all things to Himself – including us.
McConaghy continues with his reflections on how God brought him to a place where he could face the evil of child sex slavery in Cambodia.
“Unlike sex industries elsewhere in the world that start the girls around 12 years of age, Cambodia stooped to a new low, starting both girls and boys in the brothels as young as five or six years of age. The implications for these little lives are absolutely devastating. Meanwhile, I was content to work on development programs. I felt totally ill-equipped to deal with such overwhelming evil. Engaging in child rescue and rehabilitation carries many inherent risks. For this is a criminal industry, and the rescue of its young victims is no different than separating a drug dealer from his cocaine.
“That all changed on January 23, 2004. I was working on Willy Pickton’s pig farm (the serial killer’s home just outside Vancouver) to process the body parts of so many murdered young women. Through conversation with an RCMP member there, I was alerted to another investigation in Vancouver. A man had been arrested torturing a local victim of prostitution, and upon his arrest videotapes had been seized that depicted his abuse of numerous victims. Among the victims were little Asian children, and the Vancouver Police wanted my assistance to identify which country the child victims were located. I agreed to watch the tapes. Nothing in all my years of forensic work prepared me for those tapes. They were heart breaking on a level that I simply cannot express.
“However, in my viewing of those tapes God had accomplished several things. He had made the issue personal. It was no longer about thousands of faceless victims. I was now seeing this issue as He saw it in all its personal intensity and torment. He also obliterated any reservation I had regarding my own abilities to cope with such an overwhelming tragedy. While I had no way to find these kids, let alone impact the child slave industry, I didn’t care. I had to do something. In crossing that line, God finally had me where he wanted me – motivated, passionate and utterly dependent on him.”
In the middle of the tragic injustice that exists in the earth, God continues to raise up men and women who have believed that one person can make a difference and have courageously stepped onto those battlefields. To hear the result of God’s work in McConaghy’s heart, join us at Missions Fest Vancouver where he will be a keynote speaker. You can also visit missionsfestvancouver.ca or ratanak.org for more information.
John Hall is the Executive Director of Missions Fest Vancouver