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June 1, 2000
Subject: The Esther & Nehemiah Project
Nine years ago today, June 1, 1991, I left my ten-year tenure at Christian Legal Society to pursue a growing concern that began when the Berlin wall fell 18 months earlier. How could we help believers who had suffered so much for over fifty years under the yoke of communism to rebuild their societies, their churches and their lives? How could law professionals engage those nations transitioning from atheism and communism so that believers could finally live at peace and effectively pursue God's call on their lives? How could we help prepare the ground through law so that religious freedom, reconciliation and professional ethics could take root, be nurtured and grow?
As I sat behind the desk that day pondering what to do, things looked rather bleak. There were neither staff nor funds to do anything. But I had a deep desire to do something practical as a lawyer in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. I wanted to put into practice the lessons from the lives of my favorite Biblical characters -- Esther, Nehemiah and the Good Samaritan -- by equipping national "innkeepers" who had the skills and commitment to do justice, promote religious freedom and encourage reconciliation.
Nine years later, "His-story" has unfolded in ways no one could have dreamed in 1991. Advocates International has become a unique vehicle for justice touching more than 100 nations (see back page). Working relationally, professionally and spiritually with lawyers, judges and national leaders, we seek to encourage and enable these dedicated men and women to be salt and light within their profession. Who Will Build the Guardrails? sets out our mission and methods (enclosed). The impact of Advocates' networking approach and the application of the Golden Rule can be seen in our responses to issues in countries and regions as diverse as Israel (Jewish), Bulgaria (Eastern Orthodox), Albania (Moslem), Mongolia (Buddhist) and Africa.
- In Israel, there has been an effort in recent years to make "missionary activity" an "activity against the Jewish people." This view is now being applied in a case involving three Ethiopian sisters who have grown up in Israel. Because of sharing their belief in Jesus as the Messiah they are now accused of engaging in "missionary activity" and may be deported back to Ethiopia. At a meeting in Budapest, Hungary in early May, twenty of Advocates' 1999 Convocation "alumni" from 13 nations helped compose and sign the enclosed letter to Israel's Minister of the Interior, Natan Sharansky, a Russian immigrant to Israel who himself spent many years in Soviet prisons and exile because of his beliefs.
- In Bulgaria, Advocates International and our Rule of Law Institute were invited by the Chairman of the Parliament's Human Rights Commission and the Director of the State Council of Ministers Directorate of Religious Affairs to comment on a proposed Law on Religion to replace the one imposed by the Communist regime in 1949. Our response is enclosed. Recently, our European alumni were also able to help our Bulgarian Director, Latcho Popov, prepare for a national radio broadcast addressing judicial corruption and possible solutions to it.
- In Albania, there is a new state agency, the "Committee on Cults," which appears to be pursuing policies and practices reminiscent of the old days when the police tried to control religious beliefs and activities by placing bureaucratic burdens on disfavored faiths. Our correspondence with President Meidani shares a practical and politically sensitive perspective on religious freedom and a proposal for a solution that we believe has great promise. Our Albanian alumni are taking an active role in finding a solution to this challenge.
- In Mongolia, a story hit the Internet in early April that a Mongolian Christian medical doctor had been sentenced to prison for 13 years for sharing his faith. When we first read it, we questioned its veracity. Our Mongolian alumni were immediately engaged and helped prepare the enclosed correspondence. It turned out that the story was a hoax that had been planted to discredit believers.
- In Africa, Advocates' 1998-99 Convocation alumni are organizing their second conference on training in conflict resolution and reconciliation to take place in Nairobi in August. They expect about 150 from 20 African nations to participate.
Advocates' Convocations in 1998 and 1999 provide the common thread running through these stories. It has been astounding to see how these committed men and women have bonded to live out the lessons from Esther, Nehemiah and the Good Samaritan.
- Esther is the orphan who became queen. It's a story of advocacy on behalf of the persecuted and justice restored. No doubt the most quoted verse from this brief book --- the only book in the Bible where God is never mentioned by name but His actions are clearly evident --- is the challenge to Esther by righteous Mordecai: "And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this." Quoted less often is Esther's reply and commitment: "I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish."
- Nehemiah is the respected administrator who takes on the daunting task of rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem --- and does it in 52 days!! His approach coupled passionate prayer with assiduous action. He won the support of the king --- for whom he served as Chief of Staff --- and mobilized the Jews by dividing the monumental task of rebuilding the wall into 33 manageable parts.
- The Good Samaritan is Jesus' "how to" for Christian lawyers and others. It provides our motto, "doing justice with compassion."
We are now planning the most significant event in our brief history: the Year 2000 Convocation. The Esther & Nehemiah Project is the means to make the Convocation a reality. We want to bring together 200 "innkeepers" from 100 nations for two weeks of encouragement, training and networking. They will join over 800 Christian Legal Society members and spouses at their conference in Washington, DC. The 1000+ attendees will make it the largest gathering ever of Christians in the legal profession. And we believe it may be one of the most significant events ever. With our past Convocations as our guide:
- We believe that it is convened "for such a time as this." We believe that, as in the days of Esther, there is always a cost to discipleship: "if I perish, I perish." Several of our national "innkeepers" strategically placed in developing countries have monthly salaries of less than $100 per month, which makes it impossible for them to fund their visit. The vast majority of our guests earn less than $1,000 per month. The Esther & Nehemiah Project will thus enable them to come.
- We believe that Nehemiah gave us a practical approach to accomplishing a monumental task: everyone works on the section of the wall of special concern to them where they have a circle of influence. The Esther & Nehemiah Project puts this approach to work.
- We believe that the Good Samaritan parable shows that one way to help the oppressed is by enabling "innkeepers" who are positioned professionally to assist them. The Esther & Nehemiah Project furthers this principle.
The ten colorful commitment "certificates" enclosed are our way to enlist you to join The Esther & Nehemiah Project by personally enabling an "innkeeper" to come and also by sharing our story with those in your circles of influence, such as your family, church, Sunday School class, business, law firm, Bible study, and CLS colleagues.
We are blessed with a small but deeply committed circle of friends who pray for us and support us. Advocates' home office staff of only four employees would be hard-pressed to raise the $350,000 needed for the Convocation on their own. But with your help in telling the story and sharing the enclosed materials, we believe that we will see "His-story" unfold and see tremendous fruit from the Year 2000 Convocation.
Thank you for your willingness to be our Esthers, Nehemiahs, and Good Samaritans as we continue....
Living in His-story,
Samuel E. Ericsson,
President and CEO
P.S. Our cassette tapes, Invisible Hands Made Visible, help share our stories with others. Please make copies of any of the enclosed materials. If you want extras from us, just ask.