The Problem With Evil

Will You Have The Courage To Help Those Who Suffer From Violence and Injustice?

Pablo Villeda Ortiz
Apr 23, 2023    37m
Join us as we learn about our partner, the International Justice Mission, and find out how you can help those who suffer from violence and injustice around the world. God is not indifferent to injustice; He is actually very attentive, and his heart cries for the cry of the oppressed as He establishes the values of his kingdom on Earth. Video recorded at Grapevine, Texas.

messageRegarding Grammar:

This is a transcription of the sermon. People speak differently than they write, and there are common colloquialisms in this transcript that sound good when spoken, and look like bad grammar when written.

Pablo Villeda Ortiz: [00:02:11] Well, good morning, everyone. I used to lead worship in my home church, and I hated when invited guests would move my settings too. So to whoever of the guy is who is leading worship today, I'm sorry for doing this. As I'm getting older, I realize that I need to increase my prescription. Let's see, I don't think I'm doing this right, there it is. I need to be closer to my notes.

Pablo Villeda Ortiz: [00:03:00] Well, thank you 121, you've been just wonderful friends to IJM over many years. I know Pastor Ross is not here with us today, but he was very generous in letting us share with you. I want to thank also Christine and Brett Kidd, Arnaldo and Elvis, and the rest of the staff at 121 for being such wonderful partners, and I will say for being your representatives in this partnership with IJM.

Pablo Villeda Ortiz: [00:03:33] So let's go to the Scripture this morning. In the Bible, we read about the story of Nehemiah. He was one of the many Jews who had been living in exile after Jerusalem was conquered, first by Babylon and then by the Persian Empire around the year 450 before Christ. Nehemiah had been spared from the oppression and suffering that his fellow Israelites were suffering. He had actually become a prominent and important man in the government of King Artaxerxes, he was actually the cupbearer. I don't know if around the world there is such a job today, but it involved tasting the wine from time to time to ensure that it was delicious, and also that it was not poisoned, so a measure of success was not dying. He was influential, he had access to the spheres of power. He had everything in life, actually a dream job, as a Jew, in the court of the Persians. But most importantly, he was safe, he and his family were safe.

Pablo Villeda Ortiz: [00:04:54] But one day several men from Jerusalem were visiting Susa, and among them one of his brothers, Hanani. We read this in the Book of Nehemiah, and it says in chapter 1, verse 3, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” This is Jerusalem, the holy city, the home of God's temple, was no longer safe for its people because the walls were down, and the gates had been burned with fire and reduced to rubble. Now in modern days for a city to have walls or not walls, means nothing, but in ancient times, to be without walls was a disgrace and actually a grave danger, an existential threat to the people living in that city. And as you can imagine that news broke Nehemiah's heart, and we read in the Scripture that he wept, he cried, and he spent the next days fasting and praying before the God of heaven.

Pablo Villeda Ortiz: [00:06:19] And I'll do a little paraphrase of Nehemiah chapter 1 verses 5 through 11, and I will make some emphasis here and there. And in those passages, we see Nehemiah praying this prayer, "Lord, The God of heaven." There he is worshiping God, what we did this morning, reminding God and thanking him and acknowledging His power, His might, and His sovereignty. Lord God of heaven. And then he gets a little bold and says, "Who keeps his covenant of love." God, I am humbly reminding you that you love these people. And then he says, "Let your ear be attentive." So for me, as I was studying this passage, so far so good. But then he says something that every time I read it, I am honestly surprised because he says, "I confess the sins of my people, including myself, my people, the Israelites, my family, even me, have committed against you." And you would be thinking why Nehemiah would confess the sins of his people in Israel? He was there in Susa, he was responsible for his own sins, but not for the sins of others. Because sin is, in fact, a personal responsibility. But he was not making himself self-righteous, he renounced that, and he made the fate of his fellow Israelites his own fate. And then he said in prayer, God, remember they are your servants, they are your people. And as the days went by and he kept praying, he must have developed a plan and he made himself part of that plan because then he prayed, "Give your servant access and favor before the presence of this man, King Artaxerxes."

Pablo Villeda Ortiz: [00:06:19] So as you can see in prayer, he made the suffering of his fellow Israelites, his own suffering, and their fate became his fate. He reminded God of his love and mercy, but also of his justice. And then Nehemiah surrendered himself to God's sovereignty and asked him to make him an instrument for the restoration and liberation of the people of Jerusalem. And then he committed and prepared himself to do the risky but very urgent thing of going before the court of Artaxerxes uninvited to ask for help. Nehemiah was safe in Susa, but the thing is that he didn't want to be safe, he just didn't, he couldn't, and he couldn't be safe until his people in Jerusalem were safe.

Pablo Villeda Ortiz: [00:09:38] Friends, as in the times of Nehemiah, we are hearing of similar news of people who, figuratively speaking or in some cases literally speaking, are without their walls of protection, and the gates where they live have been burned with fire. Imagine this, today, more than half of the world's population lives outside of the protection of the rule of law. I was born and raised in Guatemala, a country that unfortunately doesn't have a strong rule of law and law enforcement. And as imperfect as law enforcement may be in certain circumstances and in some locations, it still works. I can grab my phone, dial 911, and someone will come to protect me, someone will intervene, that is not the case for more than half of the world's population today. Today, women and girls are particularly more at risk of being raped, abused, and exploited, than the risks of malaria, war, motor accidents, and cancer combined. Today, every year, 1 million children are taken into forced prostitution. And conservative estimates put it around 50 million people, the number of people around the world that live in any form of modern-day slavery. Picture this using the state of Texas as the foundation, if we take a slice of the United States all the way up, everyone who lives there in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Wyoming, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Montana, all of them today living in slavery. So for all of them, their walls are broken down and gates to their cities have been burned with fire.

Pablo Villeda Ortiz: [00:12:04] But this reality of violence is better understood by taking a closer look at the story of an actual person. So, I want to share with you the story of Maita, a girl that was 11 years old when I first met her through my work at IJM. Maita's mother died when she was born, she also didn't have a father, her mother was a single mother. So her grandmother, her grandmother took care of her. But this grandmother was so poor that she believed that she just simply could not take care of her, but there was a good neighbor, a friend that had been a friend of the family for many years, her name is Lillian, and she offered to take care of Maita as if she was her daughter. Unfortunately, despite Lillian's promise to care well for Little Maita, Lillian treated Maita like a household servant and beat her when she didn't finish her tasks, an 11-year-old girl. When we met Maita, her arms were marked with those beatings. Maita wasn't given enough food and suffered from malnutrition. And she only attended school sporadically because she was never enrolled and her birth certificate was never registered because no one cared to do so, it was as if she didn't exist.

Pablo Villeda Ortiz: [00:13:40] But a neighbor in her community learned about the situation and saw that something was off, she asked questions and observed, and realized that something was definitely more than off, something was wrong. So she confided Maita's situation to her church, and her friends at the church said, we got to do something about it, and they knew about IJM, and they asked for help. And this neighbor arranged a secret meeting at a McDonald's between little Maita and one of our social workers, which, as you can imagine, was a great treat for Maita. And there she disclosed her story and what was happening to our social worker, and we promised that we were going to rescue her. And later on, she told us that every time someone would knock at the door, she would run to see if it was us. And finally, our lawyers worked, and they obtained a court protective order, and child protection services came and rescued her and placed her in a very good children's home where she experienced the love of Jesus for the first time in her life. Once at the children's home, she revealed that not only she had been beaten and abused, but also that she had been raped by Lillian's oldest adult son. And this was an abuse that she had to endure for several years, and a medical forensic examination confirmed her testimony. Maita was abused because of impunity. Impunity is not a word that we use very often in rich and developed nations, but it's the everyday reality in poor nations, especially those that don't enjoy the benefits of the rule of law. Because there are people living in poverty in the developing world, this is their everyday life. So it looks like abusers, exploiters, traffickers, and bullies in the community committing acts of violence against those who live in poverty, and they know they can get away with it, they fear no repercussions. But the saddest part is that those who experience that violence see impunity as their everyday life, it's given, that's how it is, and they do not expect protection.

Pablo Villeda Ortiz: [00:16:23] And in more and in more than 25 years of work at IJM, our staff, and our partners have uncovered this plague of everyday violence, rape, violence against women, just because they're women, forced labor, slavery, police abuse of power, violent land theft and more, that is devastating the poorest communities around the world. But they are vulnerable because they live in a state of lawlessness. In their countries and in their communities, basic criminal justice systems from police, to courts, are too dysfunctional, corroded, and corrupt to protect the poor from violence, and the criminals know it.

Pablo Villeda Ortiz: [00:17:12] IJM's founder, Gary Haugen, wrote the book The Locust Effect. And in this book, he compared the plague of everyday violence to the plague of locusts that affected the Great Plains in the United States in the 1870s. Settlers and many, many people looking for a better opportunity in life started to migrate to the Midwest and even further west. They worked really hard, put everything there for the opportunity to own land, and I would say they actually made what makes our country great there in the middle, hard-working people with a strong character. But one day out of nowhere, in 1874, billions of locusts appeared and devoured everything, especially their crops, and millions and millions of people were left to famine, desperation, and actually death. This included the north of Texas, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming, and Missouri in a matter of hours.

Pablo Villeda Ortiz: [00:18:32] But today, like a plague of locusts, this predatory violence that lays waste to individual lives and communities around the world is affecting many, and if we don't address it, the poor will not thrive, and they will not meet their needs and they will not become that for which they were created by their Savior. And in the work of IJM and even in the work of IJM through churches, we have seen that this violence can become an obstacle for those people experiencing violence to believe that there is a God of love and justice. But this is not God's fault because he hates injustice, you know, the word hate is very, very strong, and we use it for all sorts of things, I hate cilantro, or I hate, it's hard to find someone who hates cilantro, we use it very often. As a father, I'm saddened whenever my kids say to each other, I hate you. This is not how God says it, He hates injustice, but he particularly hates injustice against the weak, the vulnerable, against those who live in poverty, the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner. And there's plenty of evidence of this in the Scriptures, hundreds of passages.

Pablo Villeda Ortiz: [00:20:06] Just to mention a few. In the book of Proverbs chapter 17, we read, "Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent— the Lord detests them both." And Psalms chapter 12 we read “Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the Lord." And then in Isaiah chapter 10 it says, "Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, 2to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people." Brothers and sisters, God is not indifferent to injustice, he is actually very attentive and his heart cries for the cry of the oppressed. He is very attentive, but he is also attentive to what I am doing or not doing, to what we his people are doing, and will do or not do in the light of injustice. Because God's desire is for every person to be redeemed in Jesus, but also to experience the Kingdom of God on Earth.

Pablo Villeda Ortiz: [00:21:20] I remember that when I was growing up in my home church, a church that I love and still visit from time to time in Guatemala. One of the theologies that we were taught is that when Jesus came to save us and live for us and die for us, he came here to establish his kingdom, but it was a kingdom that was not supposed to be manifested in this era, it was a future kingdom, a spiritual kingdom, and like many, many teachings and theology to be moved away from the reality of helping those suffering for those living in poverty, from those experiencing violence. Even in that passage, when, you know Jesus is being washed with this very expensive cologne and the disciples look confused and say, well, wait, wait, that costs a lot of money, don't waste it, we could feed so many people, so many poor. And Jesus said, well, you will always have poor in this world, but you now have me. That passage was interpreted as saying, well, the poor will always be around, so there's nothing we can do about it. Maybe not as sarcastic as I'm sounding right now, but that was how it was taught. But that is not true, definitely, there is a spiritual kingdom, and the full manifestation of the kingdom one day will come, and God's glory will be seen over all the earth. Amen to that. Right? It will be seen, but he also wants to establish the values of his kingdom on Earth. I watched a couple of sermons that you've been doing at 121, and that's exactly what you are reflecting on. How can you use the truth of the Scripture alone to get away with the relativism of these times and speak the truth in love about every single aspect of life? That is God's plan to protect the poor from violence.

Pablo Villeda Ortiz: [00:23:40] Now, the interesting thing is, as in the case of Nehemiah, I am God's plan, you are God's plan, 121 is God's plan to bring this protection. In the book of Isaiah chapter 1, "Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow." In Micah 6:8 we read, "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Yes, like Nehemiah, we are God's plan, the church is, you and I.

Pablo Villeda Ortiz: [00:24:30] I want to go back to the story of Miata that I started sharing with you. IJM worked on her case and supported the investigation and prosecution of the case, our team obtained an arrest warrant for Lillian, and eventually, the police arrested them. We have no information about whether Miata had other family members, but we still decided to look for them. and a local judge gave us permission to put some ads in media outlets, and so TV stations and newspapers agreed for free to share adequate information about Miata's situation. And one day when an old man was watching the afternoon news, he saw one of the ads and he thought he recognized the girl in the ad, and he took note of the court hearing and attended it. And it turned out to be Miata's grandfather, and the biggest surprise of all is that he also brought another girl who turned out to be Maita's sister, so she was reunited with the family she never knew she had. You can imagine there was lots of hugging and crying and kissing between this family because of the joy of being reunited after knowing that they didn't exist. And the judge decided that both girls should remain together for some time to reconnect and heal, and the grandfather agreed because he was so poor. And after a long legal battle, this woman, Lillian, and her son, who abused and raped Maita, faced trial, they were convicted for child abuse and sexual violence and sentenced to jail. And Maita once at the children's home, she started to attend school formally, and she thrived. She was really good at public speaking, so she registered herself to participate at a national competition on public speaking, and she shared about children's human rights, she must have spoken from the heart. It turned out that the organizers of the event didn't want her to participate in the event because she didn't have a birth certificate, what an irony. Our team persevered and they finally got her birth acknowledged and registered. And I remember when we gave her the copy of the birth certificate, I thought that it was going to be exciting for her because of the document itself, but what she paid attention to was the name of her mother in it, a mother she never knew in person, but just knowing that she had a mother meant a lot to her. But if you think of this in God, we have a Father who does not abandon us, he is the Father of the fatherless. The Bible says that even if my mother and my father abandoned me, I will still be with you. We recently heard of Maiti, and she's still doing really well. Eventually, a family adopted her and they treated her as their true daughter. I praise God for the wonderful families that decide to adopt. Thank you.

Pablo Villeda Ortiz: [00:28:26] But this is not a story about IJM, we played a part, but it's really a story about the neighbor, the courageous neighbor. It's a story about the church who prayed and decided to do something. It's a story about the brothers and sisters at the children's home, who were wise and trained and shared the gospel of Jesus with Maita, and counseling, and treated her as a dignified human being. But most of all, it's the story of Maita, a beautiful, wonderfully made girl and child of God. 121, God is raising a generation of Nehemiah’s just like you who do not want to be safe until others are safe, until others like Miata are free from oppression.

Pablo Villeda Ortiz: [00:29:25] There are three things that we can imitate from Nehemiah. The first one is his voice, then his sacrificial love, and his courage. You and I have a voice, we do, in Proverbs, we read, "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute." You know, remaining silent is definitely safe, and in this culture of increased relativism, unfortunately, we Christians are becoming known for the things for which we remain silent. But for the issues of violence and oppression and trafficking, we should not remain silent, each of us has tremendous platforms. Don't think that maybe just because you're not a government official, you cannot do something about it. You can, wherever you are with your platform, to begin with, your prayers, you have direct access to the most powerful God, the only God who is all-powerful and mighty. Please pray for us, please pray for this work. You have your voice before elected officials, try to influence them, and advocate for good legislation and policies. You have access to social media, and you can use your voice in your circles of influence wherever you are because your voice matters more than you think. You can also love sacrificially like Nehemiah did, when Nehemiah heard the bad news of his people remembered, he owned it, and he made the faith of his people, his faith, he didn't consider himself more important or better. But Nehemiah also understood that there was a great danger in this situation.

Pablo Villeda Ortiz: [00:31:26] And I'm going to share with you a quote from the author, C.S Lewis. He said that "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken If you want to make sure of keeping your heart intact, you must give it to nothing, not even an animal." Last year, my 17-year-old miniature schnauzer died, and I was one of those who always made fun of people who believed that their dogs were so wonderful, and there I was crying for the death of this creature. He continues, saying, "Wrap your heart carefully around hobbies and little luxuries and avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or in the coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe for sure, but dark, motionless, airless, it will change, your heart will change, it will not be broken. It will become actually unbreakable, impenetrable, and irredeemable because to love is to be vulnerable." And I think that's the greater risk for us, in that in trying to be safe, we will make our hearts unbreakable and impenetrable, and we may end up losing our lives.

Pablo Villeda Ortiz: [00:32:58] But Jesus invites us to a better way, a way of sacrificial love for those who suffer from violence and injustice. So we can use our voice, we can love sacrificially, but we can also be courageous for caring for those that suffer from violence, but it requires courage. For instance, for Nehemiah going before the court of Artaxerxes, that was risky, he was not being invited to do it. For Jesus, talking to the Samaritan woman, that was controversial, uncomfortable, and problematic. Extending from him, compassion to the woman caught in adultery, that was problematic by optics, but he still did it. And for the Good Samaritan in the parable to extend love and compassion to that Jew who had just been beaten, that was also risky and controversial.

Pablo Villeda Ortiz: [00:34:00] But friends, I know that while there are still people out there suffering from injustice, many of you will not want to be safe and you will want to give of yourself wherever you are with your gifting to the God of justice. And today, I want to challenge you, and I want to challenge you to make history. And I do want to invite you to take out your phones, it's a simple act, but it may be a very courageous act. So, really, I'm inviting you to take your phones out, and the invitation is for you to stand with those who are weak and vulnerable and take the fight against those who believe they are untouchable so that children can be free and men and women can become what God intended them to be. We all can be part of the solution in this miraculous transformation, but we must be bold. You can certainly do that here locally in the larger Fort Worth Dallas area in Texas, as a church, individually. But I actually want to invite you to join IJM this global community of brothers and sisters in Christ who want to protect the weak by becoming a freedom partner, a freedom partner. And each one of us can become a freedom partner for them, freedom Partners give each month to IJM, and you also pray for us and attend IJM activities. And I know because I've seen it, that monthly giving will save lives. Lives like Maita. And it's a simple step, you can type in your search engine,, or more conveniently follow this QR code.

Pablo Villeda Ortiz: [00:36:15] My prayer for all of us today is that in this world that is yearning to know the God of justice and to know God himself as a loving God, that all of us may experience in that goodness, and that all of us may be strong in God's strength to be courageous for the weak of this world, and that we may use our power, our voice, and our courage to stand up to the powers of violence and slavery for the glory of God of justice and mercy. Thank you, friends. Amen

Recorded in Grapevine, Texas.
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121 Community Church
2701 Ira E Woods Ave.
Grapevine, Texas 76051