Burning Injustice

When God Gives You An Impossible Task

by Captain Nesan Kistan

[4 minute read]


In July 2017 our family moved from Australia to the USA. In the first few days of arriving in Orange County, where we had been assigned, we were still learning to drive on the other side of the road when we noticed beneath the iconic Angel sign literally thousands of people camped along the river side. Amidst the extreme wealth of the OC, we saw incredible poverty, suffering and pain. We were intrigued, so my wife and I pulled off at the next intersection and made our way to the riverbed where we walked and talked to hundreds of people living in poverty and heard their stories.

The more stories we heard and people we met the emotions of injustice rose up in our hearts and filled us with a righteous anger, how can this be? How can we allow this to take place? Orange County is the 6th largest economy in the USA and here are military veterans, college students, mums and dads with children living in deplorable conditions. God was stirring our hearts and minds and we felt compelled to respond.

(Prayer: Lord, help me to discern your voice from the noise of everything else, and respond in obedience.)

We walked into our new office and gathered our new team and we started asking questions. “Why are these people camped by the riverbed? How long have they been there? What can we do to resolve this situation? After all we are The Salvation Army! Isn’t our mission to preach the gospel of Jesus and meet human needs in His name without discrimination?”

Many within the team looked at me with a blank look and some threw their hands in the air and said there is nothing we can do. There were even those that said, ‘It is people’s personal responsibility to change their situation and circumstance of life, that’s the American way.’

I was frustrated. Learning to manage and appreciate a different world culture and managing my own values and emotions as a leader is often a challenge.

(Prayer: Lord help me to discern the difference between my culture I’m bringing to the conversation, the prevailing culture and your culture – a biblical culture.)

I felt the spirit prompting me, ‘...whatever you do for the very least of these, you do for me...’ (Matthew 25:40). So I moved around the County meeting community leaders and friends of The Salvation Army asking the same question over and over again, “How do we respond to the needs that are growing exponentially in our County?” Homelessness was growing at a rate of 34% each year and no one seemed to have any clear answer to this crisis.

After a few months of this, I received a call from a Federal Court Judge, David Carter, who was visiting The Salvation Army programs at one of our offices and was incensed by what he saw emerging in the homeless space. As a former military man himself, a Purple Heart recipient, he was frustrated by the lack of response. We agreed to meet and what took place at that meeting changed both our worlds.

(Prayer: Lord thank you for divinely appointed conversations. Help me be responsive to your opportunities.)

Our meeting was scheduled for an hour and lasted four. He strongly challenged me (and The Salvation Army) to address the homeless crisis in the County. At the end of our conversation he informed me that he was overseeing a law suit by the ACLU (American Civil Liberty Union) against all 34 cities in Orange County where the cities were being sued because of their treatment of homeless people. Judge Carter had an arbitration happening the next day in Federal Court with the City of Anahiem, ACLU and several other parties. He wanted me to be present, bring my senior leaders and be a part of the solution to the current crisis.

I had only been in OC for a few months and did not even know all the key leaders of The Salvation Army and I said, ‘...easy Judge I am not sure I have the authority to carry out the things you are asking or expecting me to do.’  He responded with, ‘No problem I will summon them to court.’ ‘No Judge,’ I responded (freaking out), ‘let me talk to them first.’ My thoughts were, “What have I done!?” I called my boss, who called the head of The Salvation Army and together the three of us attend Court for this meeting.

As a result of my meeting with the Judge and attendance at this meeting, The Salvation Army agreed to build a shelter for homeless people in Orange County to house 224 people, a huge leap of faith. In less than 78 days we built on an empty dirt lot a 224 bed homeless shelter where the City of Anahiem granted us 5 million dollars to build and 3.5 million dollars to run.

(Prayer: Lord thank you for your divine provision and solution to a human problem. Again, you have gone immeasurably, abundantly beyond what we hope or imagine.)

Through this experience we have learnt that God requires us to walk humbly and continuously recognise that this is never about self, but about others. We were faced with a crisis like we never imagined and felt that call from God that presents like a fire burning inside, raging against the injustice of what we saw.

Our only option, as servants of Jesus, was to remain laser focused on the vision God gave us to ‘End chronic homeless in Orange County in 3 years, to Transform Lives with Courage and Innovation, Empowered by a Holy Faith in Jesus.’ On this journey we are continuing to learn that clarity of vision, humility, intentional planning and a resilient spirit are critical ingredients to advance the mission of the Kingdom.

How has God led you to see the possibilities in a crisis?

How would He have you respond to what you see – the burning injustice before you?

How can you ensure that you remain laser focused on the vision God has given you?