Ronji Tanielu from The Salvation Army Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit shares with us how he undertook a whirlwind visit to the USA to fulfill his Borrin Foundation scholarship in 2022. He hopped across four American states, visiting 17 legal projects, attending dozens of meetings and staying with Salvation Army sites in three cities—all over eight weeks.
The Borrin Foundation was established to make a difference in the lives of New Zealanders through the practice of law and to support legal research, education and scholarship. In 2020, Borrin blessed me with a Travel and Learning Award that supported me to explore innovative and effective models, programmes and organisations working to improve access to justice and legal support overseas.
Community Law Centres (CLCs) in New Zealand provide legal services for over 30 percent of poorer people with unmet legal needs. CLCs do wonderful work but are underfunded and over-stretched. There is a lot of great work happening in New Zealand to improve access to legal justice, especially for vulnerable whānau (family); but many are still missing out. So, I packed my bags, mapped out the travel plans with my wife, took leave from work for two months and headed over to the USA to finally use the award. Here are three highlights from my trip.
Legal Access Projects
The bulk of my trip was for Borrin. I visited courthouses, law firms and accessed legal justice groups, think tanks and church organisations. I met with passionate people working to improve access to legal justice.
In Hawaii, I met lawyers and judges who started a Court Navigator programme where community volunteers help vulnerable people (who often have English as a second language) to navigate the courts.
In Phoenix, I visited law libraries where the state government funds resources and staff to help people file their own legal papers and represent themselves in court.
In Philadelphia, there were not-for-profit law firms helping poorer locals with tenancy and eviction issues. The passion and skill of those involved was amazing. But I saw major gaps, particularly around sustainable funding for these projects. This made me think of The Salvation Army’s co-founder William Booth’s Poor Man’s Lawyer, where Booth argued for a body to provide free legal advice to people who could not afford it.
In 2010, Luke Geary and The Salvation Army Australia Eastern Territory founded Salvos Legal, a social enterprise law firm with the business-arm funding the free community law-arm. For unknown reasons, this ground-breaking approach is no longer operating in Australia. But the truth remains that Salvos Legal was an innovative model that provided free legal advice to marginalised people.
As I was exposed to these awesome projects in the USA, I could not help but think that the Salvos Legal approach remains the best model I can find globally to address major legal gaps in our own country. Why? Because this model relies on a sustainable business, or social enterprise model of funding, rather than being beholden to restrictive government contracts. This allows more freedom and independence from the government in providing Christ-centred support services.
Love from the Sallies
I stayed with Salvation Army centres in Phoenix, Philadelphia and New York. It was great to meet Salvationists there who were passionate about Jesus and living it out in their context.
In Phoenix, I visited the local Kroc Centre. There are 26 Kroc Centres across the USA, funded by a $1.5 billion bequest from Ray and Joan Kroc, founders of McDonald’s fast-food chain. The centre had amazing facilities (swimming pools, gym, meeting rooms, etc) but was also pumping with Bible studies (in both English and Spanish) and staff and Salvationists intentional in their faith.
In Philly and New York, I stayed at the Adult Rehabilitation Centres (ARCs), residential homes supporting men and women on their recovery journey from addictions. I absolutely loved my time here having dinner with the men, discussing Jesus and life’s difficulties with them. The fellowship and food were amazing. The ARCs are fully funded by the Army in the USA and so they are unhindered and unashamed in their sharing of Jesus in their ministry. The Salvationists in the USA showed me, as we say in South Auckland, MAD love!
Learning in Missions
The third highlight from this trip was the other ministry work we joined in and learned from. My wife and I spent over three weeks at the Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) ministry headquarters in Oklahoma.
VOM serves over 360 million persecuted and suffering Christians around the world. We have previously served with VOM in Nigeria, China and other places. We also joined in on street evangelism and abortion clinic outreach ministries in Phoenix, Oklahoma and Philadelphia. Learning from others in mission and ministry is always a real joy!
In terms of next steps, I have more Borrin work to do overseas in 2023. I hope to develop some innovative and disruptive solutions to these legal gaps. Soli Deo Gloria—All glory to God!