Have you heard the analogy about pulling bodies out of the river? Some people are standing by a river when they see some bodies being dragged under by the current – people are drowning – so they rush over and pull the bodies out. But while they’re in the middle of that, more bodies come along that need to be pulled out the river. At some point, you need to stop pulling bodies out, and send someone upstream to work out why people are falling into the river in the first place. If you can stop so many people falling in upstream, you won’t have to do so much work pulling bodies out downstream.
This is used as an analogy for charities, drawing a comparison between social action and social justice. Acts of mercy, or social action, deal with people who are suffering right now – alleviating the symptoms of an unjust society, but doing nothing to deal with the unjust structures that have caused those symptoms in the first place. Of course we still want to help the people who are suffering right now, but the smart move, according to the analogy, is to shift at least some of your resources towards the justice work that will reform unjust structures and mean that there is less suffering to deal with in future. If you can stop so many people falling in the river upstream, you won’t have to do so much work pulling bodies out downstream.
It’s a helpful analogy, but the reality is that we are dealing with a lot of justice issues in the world at the moment. Between homelessness, poverty, the refugee crisis, human trafficking, climate change, and much more, there’s a lot to do. Whether you’re working in social action – pulling bodies out the river downstream– or social justice – stopping people from falling in upstream – chances are you’re overworked and under-resourced. On a societal level, the time and money are not available to deal with all the problems we have.
What do you do if some of you are pulling people out of the river, some of you are trying to stop people falling in – but you simply don’t have the capacity to keep the problems at bay, so the bodies keep piling up? You need to multiply the resources available at the river bank. Some of your immediate resources need to go towards finding more people to help, and teaching them the best ways of helping, so that your long-term capacity grows. Instead of debating how to split your scarce resources between upstream and downstream, spend a bit of time increasing the quality and quantity of your resources so that you can cover all of the problems you have. The strategic, long-term view demands that we invest more resources in this new, future-focussed direction.
This is where Just Love comes in. We want every Christian student to have a passion for social justice – and to do something about it. We want to raise up a generation of leaders who will pursue Jesus and justice for the rest of their lives. We want to see thousands of students graduate each year who have been equipped to lead and envisioned to pursue social justice (and social action) wherever they go, consuming ethically, giving generously, and transforming the industries in which they work. A generation who will shift the landscape of politics, charity, business, media and the church. A generation who will give their careers, time and money towards a relentless pursuit of justice – bolstering the ranks of people who are at the river, upstream and downstream.
We surveyed some of our alumni network in 2017 – 97% agreed that they care more about justice as a result of Just Love, and 97% (of those who had been on our leadership committees and accessed our training) agreed that Just Love had developed them as a leader. Furthermore, 90% agreed that Just Love had motivated them to pursue justice through their career, and 90% agreed that they would give more generously in future as a result of Just Love. If 500 students graduate from Just Love next year, and become more generous to the extent that they give away an additional 1% of their lifetime income (assuming average annual income of £25,000/annum for 40 years), that one year of graduates will give away an additional £5 million in their lifetime. That’s a lot of extra resources for those working on the river banks – not to mention all the good that will be done by people’s careers, leadership, community work and consumer choices.
It has been so encouraging to see the beginnings of this within the Just Love alumni network – graduates giving hundreds of pounds away a month from their first pay cheques, dozens of alumni entering the heart of politics in Westminster and Whitehall, alumni moving onto challenging estates to engage with and empower local communities. We’ve had alumni set up new businesses and projects, with one alumnus setting up a summer school for children in the north-east. Imagine what could happen as hundreds more people like this start to graduate each year!
What we’re doing is working well, but finding the money to sustain and grow this kind of work can be hard, as many people are, understandably, drawn to the more immediate upstream and downstream needs. However, if we’re to successfully fight these issues over the long term, we need to think intentionally about how to grow and multiply our resources in a sustainable way over a longer period. We would love for more people to join us and invest in what we’re doing – so that we can invest in the upstream and downstream fights of the future. You can give to Just Love here – £50 a month will cover our work with 10 students. Who knows how many people they’ll end up pulling out of the river.