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Richard Lee on How Your Church Can Engage International Justice Issues

Richard Lee on How Your Church Can Engage International Justice Issues



Richard_Lee_podcastThanks for taking the time today to listen as we talk with Richard Lee, Director of Church Mobilization with International Justice Mission.

International Justice Mission (IJM) was started 18 years ago and is the largest anti-slavery organization in the world today. They currently have 17 field offices around the world and start them in remote, impoverished areas. IJM identifies problems and victims of violence, such as in bonded labor slavery and sex-trafficking, then do investigations and case work to rescue these victims, provide aftercare and shore up the justice system in underdeveloped countries. Richard talks with us today about IJM’s work and how churches can get involved.

  • There are more slaves today than any other point in history. // It seems unreal, but the estimates are that about 36 million people in the world today are enslaved. To put things in perspective, 36 million people is about the same number as the population of all of Canada. “If all of Canada was enslaved people would know and talk about it,” Richard says. “That many people are enslaved today and most people don’t know.” Estimates are that about 4 billion people (more than half of the world’s population) live outside of the protection of the law and are left vulnerable to violence. That includes about 2 million children exploited in the sex trade. A child goes missing in India every 8 minutes and half of them are never found. This is the world that so many people live in, unknown to the rest of us.
  • Creating a snowball effect. // In many cases, the law isn’t enforced in these countries where slavery is the worst because people in the justice system don’t have the resources or training needed to handle the problems. As a result brothels are allowed to operate out in the open. In these situations, IJM goes into these impoverished areas and teaches law enforcement officers how to go investigate and pursue the leaders of these slave operations. Once other brothel owners see that the law is against them, it starts a snowball effect. Remaining brothels in the area will shut down because naturally their owners don’t want to go to jail. In three cities in Cambodia, IJM has seen the availability of young minors (age 15 and under) in the sex trade virtually eradicated. They’ve seen results like this in other cities where they’ve worked as well. So IJM continues pressing forward with their mission, partnering both with natives in their field offices and western churches.
  • Churches can be leaders in ending slavery. // While the statistics are staggering, it is possible for us to work toward ending modern slavery. “We’ve been blessed in such a way,” Richard says, and we truly have. So many of us can’t imagine the horrors that people in these impoverished countries experience. Through his work with IJM, Richard encourages churches in the Western world to become leaders in helping these people and putting an end to modern slavery. Churches can team with IJM to help make an impact around the world through raising awareness, or become prayer or financial partners. Many churches who partner with IJM choose to develop a relationship with one of the field offices and meet their needs, for example funding the creation of an aftercare facility, or working with local churches in these impoverished areas to serve those freed from slavery.

You can learn more about how your church can get involved with International Justice Mission by contacting Richard at You can also visit their website at

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Episode Highlights

00:48 // Rich introduces Richard Lee and welcomes him to the show.

01:22 // Richard introduces us to International Justice Mission, IJM.

04:22 // Richard highlights modern day slavery issues.

07:30 // Richard highlights the impact IJM is having on modern day slavery.

10:18 // Richard talks about engaging with people and churches to end the issues of slavery.

13:32 // Richard talks about the many ways churches can partner with IJM.

16:55 // Richard offers his contact information.

18:11 // Richard tells how churches are raising awareness of injustice.

Lightning Round

Helpful Tech Tools // Sunrise Calendar. OverDrive App

Ministries Following // Highrock Church in Boston. Trinity Grace in New York City

Influential Book // The Autobiography of MLK. Overrated by Eugene Cho

Inspiring Leader // Tim Cook and Jony Ive

What does he do for fun // Coaching kids sports

Contact //

Episode Transcript

Rich – Hey everybody, welcome to the unSeminary podcast, my name’s Rich, the host around these parts. Happy Thursday, thank you so much for tuning in. I know you’ve got a lot going on at your church as we head into this weekend and I’m honored that you would take some time out to pop us in your earbuds to listen in to today’s conversation. I really hope you lean in and listen to today’s guest, because we’ve got some great stuff we’re going to be talking about, I think, really a way that your church could be making a difference, not only here but ultimately around the world.

So I’m super excited Richard Lee, he is Director of Church Mobilization with International Justice Mission. Some people refer to them as IJM. This is a great organization. Richard, welcome to the show.

Richard – Well thanks Rich, it’s nice to spend some time with you like this and thanks for having me on the show.

Rich – Yeah Richard and I are friends in real life, not just online, so it’s kind of fun to interview somebody that you can have coffee with sometimes.

Richard – Three dimensional fun.

Rich – Exactly. So Richard, why don’t you tell us a little bit about IJM? Kind of give us a sense of what is it that the mission is, that is International Justice.

Richard – So International Justice Mission, it’s an 18-year-old organization started by our founder Gary Haugen, and we are positioned as the largest anti-slavery organization in the world today.

So what we do is, really we go and we start these field offices in these remote regions in these impoverished areas internationally. We have 17 field offices throughout the world and what we do is, basically we do case work. So we will go in and we’ll find and identify a problem and recognize that there are victims of violence here. Most often victims of sex trafficking or bonded labor slavery, so we will go in and we will do investigations and really try and get some case work.

So we really want to go and we want to rescue the victims. So really there’s four parts of our model of Justice System Transformation that we do.

So the first thing is, we’ll go in and we’ll rescue the victims.

Rich – Right.

Richard – But having rescued the victims we recognize, “Well, we can’t just turn them out onto society, out into the open,” so we provide aftercare. So we are not just undercover investigators, but we’re also social workers. So we rescue and we restore through an aftercare system.

Rich – Now, we talk about rescue victims, is that literally like you’re going and kicking down a door somewhere, those guys with thick necks that work for IJM, that are like going in to brothels or something? I’m trying to not make a joke of it, but literally that’s the picture I have in my head. Is that the kind of thing that’s going on?

Richard – Well, we do have people with thick necks, let that be said. But one of the things that we do at IJM is, we work with the local authorities of that country and of that city.

Rich – Right.

Richard – So we’re partnering with the local authorities. So we may not be the boots that kick down the door, but we are right behind the police as they go in.

Rich – Okay.

Richard – Then a lot of these places, what we’ve found is, we’re actually doing some of the investigation and the case work, we’re partnering with the police. So we’re bringing some of the evidence and some of the… we know that this person’s going to be here, we know that this slave owner, we know that this brothel owner is going to be here, so we’ll go with the police.

So literally, as we’re rescuing them, we’re also really starting that aftercare part of the restoration.

Rich – Wow, that’s amazing. What a particular, narrowly focused but incredibly important role. What is the kind of scale of slavery? I remember hearing once that there’s more slaves today than at any other point in human history, is that true?

Richard – Yeah, actually the estimates are nearly 36 million slaves today.

Rich – Wow.

Richard – Which is more than any time in history. When you think about that, you put that in perspective, I know you’re a Canadian, but 36 million is about the population of Canada.

Rich – Wow.

Richard – So imagine, just on a matter of scale, if the whole country of Canada was enslaved, the rest of the world would know this, they would taking about this, they would be dealing with this, and yet 36 million people worldwide are currently enslaved and a lot of the world doesn’t know about it. A lot of the people aren’t even aware of that.

So it’s not only just that the numbers are just staggering in terms of slavery, there’s an estimate 2 million children that are currently exploited in the sex trade. A child goes missing in India every eight minutes and half of them are never found.

Rich – Oh my goodness.

Richard – The sex trade industry generates $150 billion a year. $150 billion. So just the numbers are staggering, in terms of what sort of world is out there. This is not my world, this is not your world, this is not your listener’s world, but this is the world for so many people. In fact, our estimates are that 4 billion people live outside of the protection of the law. They are left vulnerable to violence.

Rich – Really?

Richard – Yes, 4 billion.

Rich – So the majority of the world?

Richard – Absolutely.

Rich – Wow.

Richard – Where basically, they’re not running to their police and to their law enforcement, because the law enforcement is not…

Rich – Is corrupt.

Richard – Well it’s not even just corrupt, it’s just that they’re not really positioned, they don’t have the resources and the training and the wherewithal to be able to protect the people that they’re actually there to serve.

So part of what we do, we rescue and we restore but then we also want to go after the criminals, so we’re actually a bunch of lawyers as well. So in these field offices, it’s not just, it’s not Americans, it’s not Westerners, it’s actually natives of that country. So we have native lawyers from that country that will represent them in court and will go after the criminals. Because ultimately, we don’t want to just free the slaves, we want to put away the slave owners.

And the fourth thing that we do is, we repair justice systems and that’s really one of the keys and one of the distinctives I think about IJM is, we work on a governmental level to sort of train them and bring them along and to show them, “Hey this is what prosecuting a sex trafficking case would look like.”

In fact, last year in the city of Mumbai, we trained over 10 thousand police officers, about how to just gather evidence and how to prep witnesses and do all of those different things for the impunity that is out there for these brothels and for these slave owners.

Rich – Now can you give me like a story, or maybe a country where this is working, where it’s like, this is the ideal… Obviously you’re working in all these different countries around the world, 17 different countries in the world, but I’m sure there’s a few kind of shining lights, where it just is, you’re a bit more involved, where all four of those are really happening on a [Inaudible 00:07:27] basis. Give us a sense of what that looks like.

Richard – One of the things that we saw is, in the country of Cambodia, we’ve been working in Cambodia for many, many years, over a decade, and really what we’ve seen is, as you start going through and prosecuting these brothel owners, then it’s not that we have basically shut down every brothel and thrown every brothel owner in jail, what happens is, when you start showing them that the law is actually against you, and it’s illegal in these countries to do this, but they’ve just been operating with such impunity, they’re just out in the open, but once you show them the law’s actually going to be enforced against you, these other brothel owners look at this and say, “Well, I don’t want to go to jail,” so then they shut down. So what we’ve seen is, this sort of spiral, snowball effect.

So in the country of Cambodia, particularly in these three cities, we wanted to be able to go in and take baseline statistics and be able to track how we’re doing. So one of the things that we’ve seen over the past 10 years, and in particular, just in the last 3 to 4 years, the availability of young minors, I’m talking 15 and under, the availability of young minors, in the sex trade, in these three cities in Cambodia, in the last 3 to 4 years, has been virtually eradicated.

Rich – Wow.

Richard – Less than one tenth of one percent. So we’ve seen this sort of dramatic drop and the removal of impunity.

The other place we’ve seen this is in the Philippines. We had a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant there, to be able to show… basically our target was to drop the availability of minors, available for the sex trade, by 20% and over three and a half years, we actually saw a drop of over 79%.

Rich – Wow, that’s incredible.

Richard – So we’re really making differences, we’re really making an impact in these cultures where we’ve gone to these places where we see pictures of former brothels, former brothels that are now shut down, that are chained up, because of the police raids and things like that.

Rich – That’s incredible. What a massive issue, obviously global in scale, incredibly complex, no individual church is going to be able to tackle this issue and I think it’s incredible that here you have an organization that, first of all that it’s lawyers doing good things in the world, which I’m sure you’ve never heard that joke before.

Richard – That’s right.

Rich – Apology to all the lawyers listening in, but that’s an amazing thing, that we can kind of work together under the banner of IJM to see incredible ministry take place.

How do churches plug into this? When you talk about church engagement, what does that actually look like? Are you trying to find people that are willing to kind of offer their services? What does that look like?

Richard – Well the thing for me, I believe that the Western Church really needs to be the world leaders in ending modern slavery. I mean, we’ve been blessed in such a way, I’m a pastor, I’ve been a pastor in New Jersey for many years and so I’ve seen the wealth of resources that are available to the Western Church. Then you have this need, the magnitude of the need in these other places where the poor are being oppressed and afflicted.

So I really believe that it is the Western Church that will really step up to bring an end to modern slavery. So part of what I do as a Church Mobilization Director is, really just try and engage with churches to raise awareness, to just let them know, “Hey, this is the world that is out there. The world that you’re living in is not actually the world that they live in,” and to just show them, this is what it’s like, and to be able to talk about, what does a God of justice say about 36 million people enslaved in the world today?

You know, it’s one of those things that, recently my wife and I, we bought a Prius and it’s like that Prius effect right? Now all of a sudden everybody’s driving a Prius, you see Prius all over the world.

Rich – Right.

Richard – So it’s one of those things, once you start engaging in this conversation with justice, I guarantee you, your listeners, right now, they’re hearing about slavery and sex trafficking, they’re going to hear about it again this week. It’s just one of those things that as their eyes begin to open, they see these things, “Oh wow!” All of a sudden, this is something that ends up snowballing into their consciousness and I really believe that as we raise the awareness, that churches are going to then want to step up and say, “Hey, how do we partner, how do we actually go about fixing this problem? How do we step up to end modern slavery?”

Rich – Now the impact on our side of the world, I think there’s something interesting that you touched on. I used to be really against kind of mission trips or people travelling abroad, I was like it’s just super inefficient, it’s like a waste of kingdom resources, but have really gone 180 on that in the last, I would say 10 years. One of the reasons why is, it gives you an opportunity to see the way we live here, in America or North America or in the West, whatever you call that, is really in the minority in the world, that people around the world, their experience is different than the experience you and I have.

I think you’ve raised one of those issues, this idea of slavery. It can feel like, “Well that’s so far away, that’s not really in my world,” but it is and I think as Christ followers and people who are listening in, there’s a good tribe of people who follow unSeminary, they want to make a difference, they want to see positive things happen.

Can you give me a sense of a church, maybe tell a story of a church here, who is engaged with this issue and is saying, “Hey, we want to raise awareness, we want people to know about this issue, we want to do that in a way that’s relevant and gets people motivated,” but then also is making a difference? What does that look like, can you give us a sense of what that looks like?

Richard – As IJM, we have a partner with a field office program, basically we will create a relationship between a local field office and a US church. So what we’re trying to do is bridge that gap.

So we’ve had many churches that have actually travelled with us for many, many years, over 10 years, where churches have really created a relationship with the work that we’re doing in these field offices.

So we’ve actually approached churches and said, “Hey, this field office is looking for an aftercare facility to be created through a partnership with a local church in South Asia.” So we’re trying to basically work with these churches to be able to create this sort of partnership. So what we want to do is, create a sort of opportunity where we are pairing the resources with the need.

So we’ve seen churches step up and create partnerships, either financial partnerships or prayer partnerships or even starting aftercares and partnering with local churches in those remote cities as well.

Rich – So there probably are churches that are engaged already internationally, they may do work in 17 countries, a lot of countries, there’s a good chance that there’s a connection between those two, this might be a way to say, “Hey, we’re going to add something, just slightly different, to what we’re doing internationally.” Maybe we partner with a local IJM office, rather than just the kind of global thing, we’ll partner with one particular and give/tell a slightly different story about, let’s say we’re church planting in India and telling… I don’t know if you work in India but telling a slightly different story about India than just church planting. Is that the kind of thing you’re doing with churches?

Richard – Yeah and we have churches that partner in Ghana or in the Dominican Republic or Guatemala, Southeast Asia, wherever, that already have relationships with churches on the ground. So what we’re trying to do is really kind of work within those partnerships, what you’re already doing right? That’s how, often times, God calls us to be able to move, is in areas that he’s already moving us toward and begin to learn more and experience more.

So I think that there’s a great opportunity for churches that are engaged in those areas, in those areas of the world, to just kind of, like you said, add a different dimension to that, because there is poverty and there is lack of clean drinking water and all of those different things, microfinance, all of those things, but I don’t think that any of those problems really deal with the issue of violence. We can provide more food and more water and more money and robust economy, but really when there is someone who is just hell-bent on violence, of taking and abusing my power over someone else, it really becomes a problematic thing, that really just goes really at the foundation of our society.

Rich – My hope is that church leaders, as you’re listening in today, there may be people that are like, “I want to learn more about this. I want to lean in, get a little bit more plugged in, understand a bit more about IJM.” If people want to get in touch or learn more, how can they do that, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Richard – Yeah, so we at IJM, we have Church Mobilization Directors all throughout the United States. We have a partner office in Canada as well. So we have Church Mobilization Directors whose job is really basically to engage with churches.

Rich – Very cool.

Richard – We’ll come to your church and we’ll speak, we’ll meet with your pastors, meet with your staff and basically let you know more about this work, because some of you may be listening out there and just say, “You know what, I just need to learn more about this. This is really fascinating and I just need to lean into this a little bit more.”

So I would say, you can email me and whether you’re in my region or not I can point you in the right direction. But it would be a great opportunity to have a conversation.

Rich – Do you want to give out your email address, is that what you’re saying?

Richard – Sure, yeah.

Rich – What is your email address?

Richard – That would help. My email address is:

Rich – Well that’s incredible, I hope people take advantage of that and get a chance to contact that. We’ll also have a link to that in the show notes, you can go there to connect. Richard that’s great that you’re willing to help people get connected and really just start the conversation. I love the heart of that partnership you’re talking about there, “Hey, we’d love to connect and chat and talk through. Maybe there’s a way for your church to plug in with us.”

Anything else you want to say before we pivot into the rest of today’s episode?

Richard – Yeah, I would say that what we’ve found is that the church is kind of raising that temperature of justice. Recognizing that we really have seen the churches benefit from this, as they’ve seen and just opened up their eyes, they begin to see injustice all around them, whether it’s a local issue, just down in the city that they’re in, or whether it’s the neighborhood or a member of their congregation. We’re seeing this issue of justice kind of being raised in the temperature of the church and we’ve seen this countless times, as people have engaged more with IJM or with the issue of injustice, they begin to see again, the Prius effect, they begin to see injustice everywhere. It really helps mobilize the people to fight for justice for God’s people.

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