July Devotional Speak Up Esther Stansfield, Latin Link Head of Mobilisation In the summer before my final year at university, I went backpacking in Greece with ten friends. On the final morning, with no money or energy left, we spent a few hours in the botanical gardens in Athens. As I wandered around, I came across a domed cage, partly covered by foliage. I peered into it, expecting to see exotic birds, but was extremely surprised to discover…a very large lion.The lion was in a very bad state. With no room to move around properly, all it could do was pace backwards and forwards in a repeated motion, with a dazed, defeated look in its eyes.I felt upset and angry. How could the authorities allow this poor lion to be cooped up in this way? Surely there must be a better place for it, somewhere it could roam around freely? I couldn’t stop thinking about it as I waited to catch the flight home. Someone had to do something about this!So, I went to the airport, got on a plane and forgot all about it.Eighteen months later, while watching my favourite programme, Challenge Anneka (in which people wrote to Anneka with a ‘challenge’), my jaw dropped to see that the challenge was to free the large lion being held in the cramped cage in the botanical gardens in Athens!An old lady had visited the gardens and, like me, had felt angry about the conditions in which the lion was kept and wanted it to be free. Unlike me, however, she had seen the lion’s problem as her problem. I had talked about it, got angry, but then forgotten about it. She had taken action and done what she could to help. She had written a simple letter to speak up on behalf of the lion to someone with the power to do something about it.The result was life-changing. The lion was relocated to an amazing safari park where it could roam free as in the wild. I will always remember the door of the lion’s trailer being opened and the lion tentatively exploring the boundless spaces now available to it.His future was transformed because one lady did what she could with what she had. And all she had was a pen, a piece of paper, an envelope and a stamp. She raised her voice, spoke up and got someone with influence, and resources, to speak up too.It dawned on me that the lion might have been released a full year and a half sooner had I bothered to do something about it. It made me think. How many other situations had I been in a position to do something about – but hadn’t?Who do you relate to most in this situation? The lady who wrote the letter or me? Do you see situations of injustice and feel sad and upset? Do you feel shocked and angry as you watch the news? Appalled by homelessness? Upset by poverty? Moved by the fact that many millions are denied access to vaccines in the world’s most vulnerable places? Do you strongly believe that someone really should do something about it?God doesn’t choose the most likely suspects to bring influence. Not those with position, or power, or prestige, but those who are willing to show up and speak up for him.In the Old Testament, Queen Esther’s bravery in putting herself on the line to speak up for her people, the Jews, is inspiring and challenging in equal measure. When we first meet Esther, she herself is trapped and voiceless - a woman, a Jew, an orphan, a refugee and a slave to a power-crazed King.Where does she find the courage to speak up? Part of the answer lies in the fact that Esther knows she is not alone. She has an advocate, her uncle Mordecai, who throughout her life shows up, steps in and speaks up on her behalf. First, he steps in to adopt her as his daughter. Then, he walks by the palace gate each day when she is taken to the King’s harem. This is where he overhears the secret plot to kill the king. He then bravely speaks out against Haman’s decree to annihilate the Jewish people, ripping his clothes to shreds, putting on sackcloth and ashes and crying out loud in the street for all to see and hear.Crucially, Mordecai uses his voice to challenge and empower Esther to fulfil God’s purpose in her life. In Esther 4:14 he says, “If you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this.”As a result, she courageously steps in and speaks out to save her people…even at the risk of death.Ultimately, Esther and Mordecai play their part in God’s big rescue mission and they obediently fulfil their purpose.The result? The Jewish people are saved from complete annihilation.We know that God stepped into our world and used his voice to speak with and for the least, the last and the lost. Jesus made a stand for those oppressed and rejected - the lepers, the prostitutes, the poor. He also used his voice to speak truth to power, turning over the tables in the temple when it was being used as a marketplace rather than a place of prayer.There are many people, both on our doorstep and around the world, whose voices are not listened to by those in power. Across Latin America and many other parts of the world, inequality, poverty, corruption and corporate greed are denying many millions of people access to the lifesaving vaccines which we in the West have benefitted from. As a result, Covid-19 is taking a terrible toll, with daily rates of loved ones lost rapidly rising, livelihoods destroyed and communities being plunged deeper into poverty.The Bible tells us that how we use our voice is important. What we speak up for, and speak out against, matters to God.Proverbs 31:8-9 calls us to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves: ensure justice for those who are perishing. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.”Latin Link as a community is stepping in to speak with and for those who are often rejected and oppressed. Whether it is helping Venezuelan migrant communities gain access to basic services in Colombia, ensuring children with disabilities remain in education in Ecuador, fighting for justice for trauma survivors in Guatemala, or empowering often-overlooked quilombola communities in Brazil, the Latin Link community are serving the vulnerable with love and compassion, ensuring that their voices are not silenced and that they are given the dignity they deserve as people made in the image of God.But there is so much more to be done, and many more voices are needed.Our world needs a generation of Mordecais, who will speak up for what is right in the hidden places, who will stand alongside others and encourage them to step into their calling.Our world needs a generation of Esthers, to rise and speak God’s truth to power, to speak out against injustice and speak up for those whose voices aren’t being heard. Challenge Who are you in a position to encourage to step into their calling? Which injustices do you see at a local and a global level? Who are you being called to stand alongside? How can you raise your voice with them this week? Prayer Lord, thank you that you are a God of love and compassion who invites us to participate in your great mission. Thank you that you choose ordinary people to show up, speak up and step in to share your love with the world. Please forgive us when we shrink back instead of stepping in and speaking out as Esther and Mordecai did – both to help people fulfil their purpose and to speak up for those whose voices have been silenced. Please give us boldness to show up, step in and speak out when you call us to. Please show us how we can use our voice today. Amen.