Just Living – Engaging Students in Social Justice with Esther Swaffield-Bray

“We’re in a fortunate time when a justice-seeking person is cool – it’s attractive, and it’s fashionable. Whatever the motivation may be I’m not that fussed – so long as we can connect the dots back to Jesus” – Esther Swaffield-Bray

Okay, that’s great: but how do we do that?

On today’s episode, we ask Esther that question and many more. You can get it on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

4 ways to engage students (including non-Christian students) in social justice

1) Make mission trips missional

Kicking off with a bold one: who do we take on our mission trips to clean up deprived areas of the city, work in food banks,  or go to serve in orphanages?

If we have a generation that abhors injustice and wants to get involved in changing the world, why don’t we invite them to do that on the way to getting to know Jesus? This wouldn’t have to be an international trip (although that would be cool), something as simple as getting students volunteering with local Christian homeless charities and bringing their non-Christian friends along could help invite a generation to see a different way of living.

Without a doubt, wisdom is needed when it comes to getting non-Christians involved in some aspects of ministry (apart from anything else, they might be immensely uncomfortable), but if we’re praying and worshipping before going out onto the streets to serve food to the homeless why not bring non-Christians into that space if they’re interested?

2) Tell the good news stories

“Okay”, I say to Esther in the interview “but what if we aren’t doing social justice stuff at the moment? What can ignite a passion for justice with our students?”

Her answer: tell the good news stories. Why not use one of these videos in a small group and then pray for anti-trafficking organisations? Here are some great resources if you don’t know where to start:

The Deep Place

Elsa’s Story

IJM Latest Rescues

The kingdom of God is coming through His people – Christ’s bride – the Church. Let’s tell those stories of hope.

3) Ethical Fashion Show

This one from a group of students in Liverpool. They put on food, got local businesses involved, and hosted the event in a Church.

I really want to “borrow” this idea for The Belfrey. Local businesses, student groups, and social justice campaigns all working together to create a night where ethical fashion is celebrated and displayed. And the question behind it: why does God care about where our clothes come from? When they did it in Liverpool 2/3rds of the people in the room weren’t from a Church background. Now that is pretty cool.

If you do this, please drop me an email and let me know how it goes!

4) Host a freedom meal

What would it look like to host a meal where the food was (as much as possible) sourced from slavery-free production lines? And what would it look like if that meal was before a church service with a sermon on the exodus? And what if students invited their flatmates, and they saw the kingdom of God in a completely different way?

How you do this will look different in each context, but ultimately the aim is the same: to invite people into a relationship with the God who hates injustice and oppression.

Concluding reflection

What a time to be alive. We have a generation crying out for a worldview that says ‘no’ to the systematic structures of abuse that have plagued our society for too long; and in the Bible, we read about and worship the God who has always said ‘no’ to abusive societal structures.

Let us not waste this opportunity to call a generation into righteousness, prayer, and justice-centred living – to the glory of God.

We must not, however, adopt social justice as a new form of legalism. This would be so easy: we become qualified to share in the inheritance of Christ by our ethical fashion choices,  vegan diet, and vocal opposition to injustice. Motivated from a place of grace those are excellent life choices. Motivated from a place of self-justification they are deadly.

I’m glad to say that this interview with Esther is all about the former: justice seeking motivated by an encounter with the love of God.


Just Love – a brilliant organisation that helps students engage with the prophetic voice of justice. They have groups all over the UK. Check them out!

Videos and good news stories

The Justice Leadership Programme from IJM (applications open 2019)