An administrative team from Crossroads Church in Woodbury had a unique mission; to bring justice to a community in sub-Saharan Africa, through sorting and filing 100,000 legal documents.
One of the injustices all too prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa is called widow land grabbing. Between 30-50% of widows who see their husbands die young, have their property stolen from them or the children who should inherit the land (Source: International Justice Mission).
In 2013, the team from Crossroads Church learned from IJM that all of the court records in one Ugandan village were so disheveled, heaping as high as the ceiling, that the court system couldn’t track which land belongs to which widow, making justice for widows and children nearly impossible.
“They had 50 years of court files that were filed up in an attic, that were completely inaccessible because they were stacked up, deteriorating, covered in bat and mouse droppings, full of bugs. Lawyers had said they had been unable to access anything because of the conditions that the files were in and the conditions of which they were stored,” said Elspeth Atkinson, a Crossroads Church staff member who went on the 2013 trip.
Long story short, people weren’t getting justice because of a bad filing system. In 2013, Crossroads Church sent a team to the local courthouses to organize 100,000 important records.
We interviewed Elizapeth Atkinson, about how the team’s tedious short-term work resulted in court cases running more smoothly, and thousands of widows in Uganda having better access to justice.
How did this specific Crossroads missions trip to Uganda differ from typical church short-term missions trips?
Our trip was unique, as IJM does not do ‘missions trips’ because of the nature of the work they do. In Uganda, they have a team that focuses on the issue of land-grabbing. This team is composed of lawyers, undercover staff and social workers that assist widows (and their children) in keeping or regaining the land that belonged to their deceased husbands, but was taken away from them. IJM does investigative work, provides legal assistance, support, counselling and career training for the widows. As well, it provides training for the local police departments and local authorities in how to handle these cases. Typically these cases were overlooked and the people taking advantage, abusing and even murdering the widows were never brought to justice.
This project had several outcomes:
- Land grabbing cases can now be better tracked and any previous documentation on land claims or the perpetrators are now accessible. Justice is now being found for widows and their families
- The legal system now has access to ALL the high court files (not just land grabbing related cases) which could help many legal cases (past and future)
- There is a stronger relationship for IJM with the courts and local authorities
How were long-term relationships crucial to making this project work? Especially compared to the short-term relationships most Americans experience on missions trips?
If IJM had not been on the ground in Kampala, developing the relationships over the last 5+ years, there is no way the government would have allowed IJM to bring a group of foreigners to come in and access confidential, legal files. We handled extremely sensitive materials. Not just land grabbing, but ALL files including criminal cases. Some of these files even held evidence.
How was justice brought about for the women and children of that specific Ugandan town, because of the administrative tasks your team accomplished?
Before they began working, the volunteers met Ramona* and Constance—Ugandan widows IJM has helped in the past few years.
Both women were victims of property grabbing, but, thanks to their perseverance and IJM’s assistance, they are thriving today. Ramona is a young mother of six children. Her relatives have tried to bully her out of the home she built herself, brick-by-brick, during her husband’s last days battling an illness. Her legal case is still ongoing, but IJM has made sure that Ramona is safe and secure on the land that is hers in the meantime.
Was it a hard sell to tell your missions team that they would be stuck sorting through paperwork in Uganda? How did they respond after they accomplished their goal?
Not at all. We were specifically asked to go because of our administrative skills. For me personally, I never would have travelled to Africa on a missions trip. I, and many of the others, were introverts. This, however, spoke to our giftedness and gave us the opportunity to experience Uganda and its people and make a difference in a way that God knew would speak to each one of us.
Why is bringing about justice close to the heart of Crossroads Church
community and missions team?
It is part of our core values. We are to BE, DO, and GO. Simply put, missions means GO. Go and love. Prioritize others above yourself. Use the gifts, talents, and resources that God has given you to help others. Go represent Jesus. Be the voice, hands, and feet of Jesus in a hurting and spiritually thirsty world. Go bring what’s happening in heaven right now to earth. Whether that means in your community, in your country or in the world.
Click here to read more ideas of how your church can get involved in justice work.
Click here to watch a video of Crossroads Church’s IJM Uganda trip.