The Passion Behind Justice Rising

Can you imagine being a 10 year old living in Canada and deciding to dedicate your life to war torn communities? That is exactly what happened to Cassandra Lee as she learned about the devastating war of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1997. Find out how and why she started her transformational nonprofit, Justice Rising.

 
justice rising

“During the height of the war there were so many dead bodies. Bodies in the street, bodies in town, bodies left in empty houses. A truck would pass by three times a day to collect them and throw them in a mass grave outside the city. It passed by at 9am, 12 noon and 3 pm. This was a very hard time for our country.” – Mathe Mboto, Justice Rising Congo Director

I (Cassandra), will never forget the first time I heard about the conflict in Congo. It was 1997 and in the height of Congo’s war.

I was 10.

Mass massacres were happening daily in the eastern region and it was named the “rape capital of the world” with many women literally dying from sexual violence and broken fistulas. Instead of going to school, many children were being taken as child soldiers into the army. Young girls were being abducted as sex slaves for the older militia.

I sat frozen with every news article that I found. My young mind couldn’t wrap itself around the atrocities, “How could this be happening?! Who is responding to these huge injustices?!”

It became my resolve to do something, anything, to stand with those living in war. None of it seemed impossible but instead all I could see was the hope and potential that lay underneath the surface and I was determined to dig it up for myself.

More often than not, most normal kids change their desired professions on a week-to-week basis. Unfortunately, to my family’s dismay, I was not exactly normal.

Fast-forward 10 years and now only a few years out of high school, I had already become familiar with life in multiple war zones. I was prisoner to my passion and through a prompting of my personal faith journey, I had graduated from high school two months ahead of my classmates so I could take my first trip to Africa. I had enrolled in a cultural immersion program in Mozambique and from there launched out to various war zones, starting in the Congo, learning about war from the ground up.

Though the echoes of friends and family warned me about the dangers of young, single, blonde girl traveling to active conflict areas (and honestly, probably rightly so), I leaned hard into my faith and moved in with single mamas in their mud huts in Sudan, lived with child brides as they were rehabilitating in Northern Uganda and lived in Eastern Congo hearing story after story of violence and how it affected families on a day to day basis.

I became very familiar with simple living and tear stained pillows along with bed bugs, worms and every other strange skin infection that can come with dirty conditions the back woods of these war zones!  I found that the stories never became easier to hear and after a few years of living in different conflict areas I started to get restless. It was  like a broken record circling on repeat and I kept going over the idea of “how could I do more?” I saw so many well-meaning groups putting band-aids on deep wounds of war and I would lie in bed every night stuck on the thought of “how can we really bring change?” How could we see peace come to a generation that’s only known war?

It sounded optimistic but after living in the crossfire of stories of war I knew I either had to quit or come up with a tangible way to see transformation.

I processed my journey through prayers and rivers of tears and decided one day I wouldn’t continue unless I had a strategy that I felt had the potential to transform things. Like REALLY bring change. Something, anything, so I didn’t have to watch mamas die from rape or babies be given guns bigger than themselves.

And that’s when I felt this still small voice during one of my times of prayer whisper “Education”.

“What if you use education to bring change? And not just regular schools, but what if you built schools that reached communities; schools that targeted not only the children but the parents and teachers and leaders in the village? What if you built schools that acted as catalysts for peace and were the vessels to see the beginning of transformation.”

Slightly unfamiliar with the school building sector (and when I say slightly, I mean extremely) I did what any good millennial would do… I went to google:

“How do you build schools in war zones?”

I poured over the search results and saw that education wasn’t just a good idea it was THE idea. Along with water, food and shelter, education is one of the largest needs for children post conflict.

Education reduces the chances of young boys being abducted into the army. It empowers girls with confidence and lowers the chance of rape and early child marriage. It improves health for not only the children who receive the education but for the future generations to come as the recipients and pass on their knowledge to their children. Education also stabilizes families, reduces the amount of unwanted pregnancies and ultimately helps target the orphan crisis.

Not only that, if you increase secondary enrollment from 30% to 60% in a community, you can literally cut the risk of conflict in HALF. (UNICEF)

A fire had been started widthin me and I hardly knew where to go from here as google still didn’t give me a step by step breakdown as to how to actually build and start a school.

During a trip to Congo in 2009 however, I had connected with amazing locals who were passionate about schools. Eventually they became instrumental for me in finding land, hiring teachers and helping us avoid blunders commonly made by unaware foreigners. They became heroes in searching out the areas of greatest need to build our first schools. Many years later they are now the directors and leaders of our projects in the Congo.

At about the same time as I was going back and forth between the western world and the Congo, I met an architect turned investment banker with dreams bigger than mine. He was one of the few people crazy enough to not only encourage me to run into the war zones of the earth but to run into them even faster. Not only that but he was also really cute and having lived around the world himself, understood the bizarre life I had come to see as normal.

We married a few years later and with three schools now becoming four, he came in and helped put together a business model that would take us from those three schools to forty in just five years. Yes, forty.

Edison hadn’t grown up with the same passion from 10 years of age but after a faith encounter in college he graduated from architecture school and instead of using his  degree and getting a high paying architecture job, he sold everything and moved to Zimbabwe. A year later his entire world had changed and he began to dream how he could also bring change to areas with the greatest need. Edison isn’t your regular aid worker however. He taught himself investment banking and joined the finance world so he would be able to bring a greater level of expertise and one day business development to the world of 501(c)3s. 

After marrying, his passion was to take the momentum that had been started and to see it scale. We also began dreaming to take this model to other war zones. We followed the conflict in Syria since it’s beginning, the turmoil in Iraq and even traveled to North Korea to see what the model could look like there. We finally registered our programs and turned my passion project into a husband and wife lead, registered non-profit.

Justice Rising is still young but is a maturing 2 years old with 7 schools with 1,500 students expected to be enrolled in this coming September (2017). We also have dozens of young people in our leadership development programs, have trained hundreds of kids and families in the WASH (Water Sanitation and Health) programs and train many men and women in our vocational schools.

We’re still primarily based in Congo but after a recent trip into Syria and Iraq, we’re excited to expand our education programs there within the year! 

 

-Cassandra Lee, founder of Justice Rising

 

If you’re interested in learning more or following our journey, check out www.justicerising.org and instagram at @justice_rising.

 

(CHECK OUT OUR PODCAST WITH CASSANDRA AND EDISON HERE)

Finding a Family For Noah

Noah needs a family. Plain and simple. Noah is 13 1/2 and will age out of being able to be adopted in February of 2018. I believe Noah's family is out there. Read below to learn more about this amazing young man.

 

It's pretty easy to fall in love with Noah. 
Noah is an encourager and has a gentle spirit. Every time another kid answered a question correctly and I said, "Yes, that's right!" he would clap his hands with the biggest smile on his face. If Noah is proud of you, you feel like you hung the moon--he really is that sweet. He has the kindest, purest heart that rejoices with others. Even though he has watched friend after friend be adopted while he is still waiting, he is so joyful at their parting. He's a good friend who wants the best for the people he loves.

Noah is my sponsor child, and on my last trip to Beijing I told him I was pregnant. He felt my belly with a big smile of wonder on his face. "Does she know it's going to hurt really bad to have a baby?" He asked my friend Anna in Chinese. 

Yes, buddy, I'm aware. 

"Tell her to be really careful by the other boys. They might be too rough and hurt the baby," he also admonished. "And be careful if people are running, they might knock you over." And lets not forget, "You need to eat all of your soup, eat a lot, because you're having a baby and it's good for you.” 
The way Noah’s brain thinks makes us all smile and love him even more. 

 

Noah is almost fourteen year old and will actually age out of being able to be adopted in February of 2018, which means he would lose his chance to have a forever family. We often get asked, "But what happens if a kid ages out?" That's a big discussion and honestly, it depends on the kid and the orphanage and many other factors. But regardless of what a future in China looks like for a child with disabilities like Noah, the point is this: losing the chance at a forever family is a tragedy that no child should ever have to face. A family is the first gift we are given when we arrive on this earth. 

I have sat with young adults who have aged out and had some of the hardest conversations of my life. I have heard them cry, "Why did no one ever come for me? Why did my turn never come?”…And I have no words.

Noah is a gem and we are seeking a family to adopt him before he ages out in February. We know this is a short window for adoption but we know it can happen. Adopting him will not be without difficulty but is anything worthwhile not costly? 

-Tabitha, Child Advocacy Manager for Bethel China

For more information about Noah or adopting from China, you can email tabitha@bethelchina.org.

Looking to Sponsor A Child?

We cannot stress enough the power and importance of a Child Sponsorship. Below you will find 3 children (who are similar to your own children) who are in need of new sponsors. They are fun, energetic, witty and special, meet them below! 

 

Meet Lizzie!

As I write this, it's the 12th birthday of our Lizzie. 

Lizzie came to us when she was a young, cherub cheeked little girl. Like most kids upon arrival, she was frightened and unsure. It took some time for her to get used to the schedule and all the new people. The first thing I remember noticing about her when I moved to Bethel was that she always had awesome hair--it was obvious that her caregivers loved playing with her thick, dark locks and accessorizing her with ribbons, clips, and bows. 

She loved (and still loves) to jump on the trampoline, but if she's jumping and you say her name, she'll bless you with one of her giant smiles and a giggle and will stretch out her arms to find you, because she loves to be picked up and tickled. In 2012, a speech therapist came to live at Bethel for a year and worked with Lizzie on her communication. Now she knows basic, simple sign language to communicate with her caregivers about her daily needs. 

Lizzie is on the autism spectrum, but don't let stereotypes fool you. She is affectionate, warm, and cuddly. The only thing that she loves almost as much as being held and tickled is having her face in the light. Though she's visually impaired, she has light perception and she absolutely loves to be in the sunshine. On a sunny afternoon, you can find her with her face in the sun, waving a hand back and forth in front of her eyes, her expression a picture of contentment. I've always admired her joy at being in the light. When it seems like darkness is all around me, when things are hard or I don't know what to do, I think of Lizzie and remember to step in to the sunshine and look towards the Light. 

If you are interested in becoming a sponsor and joining Team Lizzie, email tabitha@bethelchina.org, or you can sign up on our website. Lizzie is also paper ready for adoption, and we would love to see her with a forever family.

Meet Grace! 

Baby Grace just came to us a month ago, so we are still getting to know her. She is a teeny, tiny thing, and if you hold her in your arms she snuggles her head right into the crook of your neck and smiles the most contented smile. 

At her doctor visit, she was declared healthy but she just has to gain some weight. When her caregiver was given instructions, she laughed and said with a note of pride in her voice, "Don't worry! I know how to fatten babies up! You just wait and see!" 

If you have seen those T-shirts that say, "Though she be little, she is fierce," that pretty much sums up how I feel about Grace. Though she's been with us for just weeks, she's already dazzling us with her smiles, learning to walk, learning how to play with toys, and wrapping us around her little finger. 

Since Grace just arrived, she doesn't have any sponsors yet. Let's change that! If you want to join Team Grace, you can email tabitha@bethelchina.org, or sign up on our website.

Meet Landon!

Landon came to us just before Christmas, 2016— and what a gift he is!

Landon turns four years old this month! As you can imagine, moving to a new place when you are such a little guy can be scary. Even though we welcomed him with open arms, we were still strangers in the beginning. It's taken him some time to come out of his shell, but more and more, we see his smile and hear his precious giggle. 

Being visually impaired, Landon loves to play with toys that are noisy. He loves musical toys, drums, the tambourine, and he's quite a good dancer. I asked his teacher, "What should the world know about Landon?" 

"He's very passionate," she answered. "When he's happy, he's so enthusiastic--when he's unhappy, he makes sure everyone knows! He also has a sense of humor and is always laughing at his own jokes." 

Landon is in our Chipmunk Class, which is our English immersion class for preschoolers. Right now, he's still at the stage where he repeats everything. His teachers have discovered that he learns new concepts the best when he's able to move around, so they have started teaching him new words while he is on the swing. 

We would love to have more sponsors willing to walk beside Landon while he waits for a forever family! He's a little sponge who learns something new every day. If you'd like to join Team Landon by becoming a sponsor, email tabitha@bethelchina.org, or sign up on our website.

Bethel Has Changed My Life

Sponsoring a vulnerable child can enrich and fill your life with love. Find out how one American man was changed by sponsoring a visually impaired child below!

 

My experience at Bethel has been truly life changing. My first Bethel trip was within my first few weeks of moving to Beijing four years ago. I knew some people going to help out for a Sunday afternoon, and considering I didn't have many friends, I tagged along. After going that Sunday and witnessing the way the kids at Bethel were loved, and especially the way the kids loved those around them, I knew that I wanted to be involved.

From that point on I had the opportunity to sponsor a quiet little boy who would soon grow to be one of the most encouraging pieces of my life. I witnessed as he grew for two years at Bethel. He grew in not only maturity, but also in the love that surrounded him in that place. I had to move away from Beijing, but made it a point to visit him whenever I was able to over the next year. Every time I was able to visit him and spend time running around the playground, digging in the garden, or taking him out for popsicles, I was reminded how amazing, capable, and smart he was. Those visits solidified my desire to help those around the world understand that these little boys and girls are some of the most beautiful and wonderful children I have ever met. 

 

They are not unlike any other child you may come across: strong, loud, quiet, joyful, sad, adventurous, daring, and keeping everyone around them on their toes at times! When I found out that he had been matched with a family in the states, it was a feeling I had never felt. It was truly bittersweet. Having gotten to know him over the few years that I was able to, I had grown to love him and wanted the absolute best for him in every way. Knowing that he would be with a family filled my heart to the brim with a joy that I'd never experienced. 

His family has lovingly kept me in the loop on how he is doing and not only keeping me up to date on his wins, but also on his challenges. It has been a beautiful story to watch unfold and I would do it over and over again. 

My heart is bigger because of the chapters that Bethel has written in my life, and I will continue to weave their story in my life as long as I am able.

Ben, Bethel Sponsor

Above photos curtesy of Ben's Instagram

When A Sponsor Becomes Family

When you find yourself wanting to help, but you just don't know how, sponsoring a vulnerable child's education is a great place to start! You never know where your sponsorship could lead...

 

My name is Julia, and me and my husband are French. We are the parents of two beautiful children that previously were fostered at Bethel.

Our personal sponsorship experience at Bethel is definitely connected to adoption! 

One evening in 2012, we saw the picture of a 9 year old little girl on Bethel's website and read about her. We weren't looking for a child to sponsor or adopt that day, but we both fell in love with her and were determined to make her our daughter. As we worked hard along the process to become her parents, we decided to be her sponsors. We were already sponsoring several children in Myanmar and had experienced the beauty of sponsorship in itself, especially as we got to go and meet these wonderful children several times. Open door after open door, our lovely sponsored girl became our wonderful daughter in 2014! In the meantime, sponsorship allowed us to follow our daughter's updates, celebrate her birthday but also get to know all the beautiful Bethel kids and the Bethel family as a whole. 

By that time, we had especially noticed a little boy who seemed close to our daughter and, although he was paper-ready for adoption, had not been chosen yet. We were touched by his special story and we started sponsoring him, soon deciding to try and make him part of our family. Again, the doors opened and in 2016 we traveled back to China with our daughter to make him our son and her little brother. 

During this second adoption trip, our daughter was able to visit with her best childhood friend from Bethel. She had kept thinking about him and was wondering about his life and about whether he could be adopted. We were not in a position to adopt him and decided as a family that we would become his sponsors. 

Sponsorship allowed our family to follow his updates, send him presents and also advocate and pray for him. We loved getting to know him and learn more about Bethel's City Life project located in downtown Beijing. One day, we learned that he had been matched to a family...who were also his sponsors! We rejoiced about this life-changing news and even more so when we realized that his family comes from the town where I had been an exchange student in America years ago, and that we even have a friend in common from my teenage years! Our children will definitely be able to keep in touch and sponsorship played a part in giving a deeper meaning to their friendship. 

Sponsoring a child at Bethel means financing a life-changing project for so many children. We know from the inside that Bethel gives visually impaired children a unique place where they can overcome a rough start and grow up showing the world how capable they are. Our story -like so many others- also tells that sponsorship is more than a small monthly financial transaction. It is about learning and receiving much more from these amazing kids. It is about making special bonds across the globe, thus creating a family surrounding these children -both individually and collectively- as they wait for their own family to find them.  

We have started sponsoring another Bethel child, Lizzie, a generous girl with an amazing smile. Lizzie comes from the same orphanage as our son and our daughter knows her well, too. We can't wait to follow her updates, advocate for her and witness what's in store for Lizzie’s future!

If you would like to learn more about Bethel Sponsorship, click here!

A Child You Should Know

Since moving to Bethel, Victor has overcome the odds. He has began to heal wounds of his past and progress towards his healthy and life-giving future! Victor still needs sponsors, so please read below to get involved!

 

Meet Victor.

In the Fall of 2016, I was perusing a child advocacy site to see if any kids at Bethel had been listed with new agencies. I saw the picture of an older boy with albinism still living in his orphanage who touched my heart, but Bethel already had a long waiting list, so I willed myself to keep scrolling. All the sudden my message inbox started filling up... and so did my email... and so did Bethel's social media messages. 

"Have you seen child XXX? He really needs to come to Bethel!”…

"I saw this boy with albinism on an agencies list... he could do so well at Bethel!”…

"There's a child really on my heart who HAS to come to Bethel…”…

I contacted our China director and told her about this boy, but I was pretty sure the answer would be no. We already had a waiting list, it's hard to find a school that will take older kids, we would be moving sites soon... but to my surprise, our director watched a short video clip and read his file and said, "He can come if his orphanage will allow it." And that's how Victor ended up at Bethel!

 

We actually gave him the English advocacy name "Victor" because to us, it symbolized that he would be victorious in spite of the troubles that he's faced. Victor is an overcomer. In just a few months with us, his self help and communication skills have vastly improved. He's curious, and loves to play outside. One of his favorite activities has been to play with the hose. It was so cute to watch him smile and laugh as he splashed in the water. He also loves listening to music and likes to carry around a toy that doubles as a radio.

Victor is a loyal boy. He loves his main teacher so much, she can get him to try new things and always makes him smile. Watching their relationship has been such a joy. When I asked his teacher for an update on him, her whole face lit up. I said, "You're pretty proud of him, aren't you?" and she nodded, beaming. "He's learned so much!" she said.

We are still looking for sponsors for Team Victor! If you'd like to know more about child sponsorship, you can email tabitha@bethelchina.org, or click here to set up a sponsorship. Victor is also paper ready for adoption and we would love to see him in a family. You can email adoption@bethelchina.org for more information.