Research shows that millennial parents (born 1981-1996) and Gen Z parents (born 1997 onward) have a strong connection to social justice. Justice is often a guiding factor in the jobs they seek, the items they purchase, the ways they use their voices, and the organizations they support. Helping families have opportunities to connect these deeply held convictions with their faith can be a faithful way to participate in God’s work of shalom in the world and a meaningful way for congregations to align well with the needs of families.
Introduction to the Justice Drive
While resourcing a congregation long-known for its deep involvement in the work for justice, I wanted to find a way to help families with children learn, share, and pray about God’s work in the world. Limited by the pandemic, age restrictions, and safety concerns, families with children may not have as many direct opportunities to participate in justice work, particularly on a systemic level. And so, along came the idea for a justice drive – a way for families to deepen their understanding about issues of justice in their community, consider concrete ways they may become involved in the work of justice, and pray about the needs surrounding them. Families were invited to drive a predetermined route, stop at historical sites, social agencies, and other places connected to the work of justice, read a short description at each location, and pray.
How to Create your own Justice Drive
Provide a theological framework for families to unpack the concept of God’s justice.
Because justice can be an abstract concept for children, families may need concrete language and child-friendly definitions to guide their exploration. Offer key talking points and discussion questions in a handout distributed prior to the drive (find a sample here), or present a justice framework during a lesson, children’s sermon, or other teaching opportunity. Some key points to cover might include:
- God’s justice is about making sure all basic human needs are met. Often, simply asking kids, “deep down, what do people need and deserve?” can be a great discussion starter about justice. The United Nations states: “Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.”
- God’s justice is about being fair to everyone.
- God’s justice is about doing what is right, even when it may not be the easiest way.
- God’s justice is about seeing and celebrating everyone’s deep worth and then working to create a world where everyone can live well.
Work to find representative stops for a variety of justice issues.
Stops on your drive could include historical sites, social agencies, and places/people connected to the work of justice. Potential justice issues to consider might include: food/hunger, housing insecurity, poverty, race, gender, labor, climate/environment, health care, identity, religion, and immigration.
Take time to do your research!
Read about local history and gather information about local social agencies that work for justice. Once you have a general list of possible sites, don’t be afraid to ask long-standing or active community members to see if they notice anything missing.
Translate what you’ve learned.
After you’ve learned about the people, places, and agencies from an adult point of view, reorient your knowledge into child-friendly, concrete language. As you write a description for each stop, provide context (as children may not have the benefit of an overarching historical framework), try to explain (but not oversimplify) more difficult vocabulary or concepts, and summarize as needed to match a child’s attention span. Include each description on the physical map. As applicable, cite any resources used.
Write prayers for each stop.
To simplify expectations for adults during the drive, provide pre-written prayers that connect with the justice issues highlighted at each location. For attention spans and impact, these could be approximately 2-3 sentences in length. Include each prayer on the physical map.
Find a route that makes sense.
Consider traffic patterns, parking availability, and ways to create an efficient route. Try to match your route to your particular context. Consider these questions: What age children will be participating? What is a reasonable amount of driving time and number of stops that will hold their attention? What is a realistic time commitment for families that will increase their likelihood of participation?
Create a physical map.
A paper map is key for child participation! Include photos of each location to aid non-readers so that they can be on the lookout for each stop. Use arrows to help mark the route and clear lettering for early readers. For each stop, don’t forget to include the child-friendly description of the location along with a brief prayer. You may want to place the information for each stop within a text box, or use a color-coding system for easy recognition.
Provide point-by-point driving directions.
For ease of use for adult drivers (who might be managing the noise of excited children in the car with them!), provide a link with the route for their mobile device. Multi-location directions can be created within Google maps; click on the menu for a sharable link option. For even further simplicity, you may desire to turn the link into a QR code that can be included on the physical map for easy access.
Encourage participation and sharing.
You may want to invite families to take a photo during their justice drive to share with the congregation or to offer a key fact regarding something they learned and want others to know about. These could be highlighted on the congregation’s social media or newsletter. Feel free to also check in with families afterward, asking if any stops particularly resonated with them, if they have any ideas they’d love for the congregation to pursue for future justice work, or if there are any additional ways you can support them.
Example of a Justice Drive Map
Click here to view an example Justice Drive Map for Flint, Michigan.
If you would like a copy of an 11×17” justice map template in an editable Pages (Mac) format, please contact the author at racheldoboneybenton.com with your request and she will gladly share it with you.
Author’s Note: Many thanks to the people of Court Street United Methodist Church in Flint, Michigan for the inspiration and support for this event!
Featured image provided by author.