How an Avid Star Wars Fan is Using 'The Force' for Justice: Interview with Rob Petkau
This article is part of a series featuring the amazing individuals who offer their time and talents to fundraise for us.
Rob Petkau is a long-time Star Wars enthusiast who turned a passion for Jedi culture into a full-time job designing and crafting custom "sabers". Recently, he launched a unique video contest campaign to spread awareness about human trafficking and the work that IJM Canada is doing to fight it.
Who are you and what is your organization?
My name is Rob Petkau and I own Genesis Custom Sabers.
Can you give us some history and background?
It all goes back to when I was 11 years old and Empire Strikes Back was one of the first movies I saw in the theatre. I was at a very formational age and just the idea of Star Wars and lightsabers made a big impression on my mind. And then I’ve always done odd things as hobbies, and I was making junk lightsabers that would hang on a belt. They were part of a costume, and then it took that to a level where it became a real passion and hobby of mine.
With the connection of other people I started getting a reputation, learning new skills, and what I did as a hobby for a decade then became my full-time work in 2010.
How did you learn about IJM?
I think it was actually the [Global] Leadership Summit. It was a simulcast/broadcast thing and one of the speakers was [IJM's CEO] Gary Haugen and he spoke about justice and IJM. A number of us [in the group] that I was there with talked together. It brought some sense to a story I heard probably a year before about girls being deceived away from their homes in the small villages, led to the cities with the promise of work so they could support their families and being abducted and forced into the sex trade.
How he was working with a group of others who were essentially rescuing these girls and then sending them home and helping them recover their lives again. My wife and I were so appalled and impacted by what we were hearing, that we knew that it was a very personal thing. You know like, people talk about seeing starving children on TV or whatever – in our culture we are so bombarded with these messages and images that very few of them get through; we become desensitized. But for whatever reason, that message we were hearing had a really personal effect on my wife and I. So from that point on we’ve been doing what we can in little ways to help organizations like IJM and do things to make a difference.
What's the campaign that you're running?
It’s called #TheForce4Justice and it’s aimed at getting Star Wars fans behind the cause to end human trafficking.
How does justice relates to being a "Jedi"?
Alec Guiness’ voice playing Obiwan Kenobi in [Star Wars] Episode 4 still rings in my mind: "For over a thousand generations Jedi were the guardians of peace and justice in the old republic”.
Every Star Wars fan knows that line. It’s foundational for every little kid who wanted to be a Jedi. Every grown up for that matter. This campaign is an invitation for every "Jedi” to become a guardian of justice for real.
What have you learned from your justice journey? What are your takeaways in terms of advocating for justice?
Well, specifically in regards to violence and human trafficking, I think I’ve learned a number of things. Much of that came from reading The Locust Effect, but given the importance of the cause and the following that I have, it's important not just to read it but promote it.
Just purely on the information [we've learned], I think our justice journey has transformed our recognition of how widespread the issues of violence, injustice and human trafficking are. Right across the board in every economic tier, every country, and every culture. But also [we've realized] how possible it is to make a significant difference, which is an interesting sort of paradox I guess. It’s like looking at grains of sand on the beach or stars in the sky-- it feels like it’s impossible to make a difference because the problem is so big. And yet the revelation is that it is possible to make a significant difference on a very large scale.
What would you say is your greater vision for the world?
If I’m going to talk in grander terms, I think my greater vision for the world would have to start and finish with my belief in God as the creator of the world. As an artist, I feel like I have a unique identification with my creator-God. As a designer, I get tremendous satisfaction when I create and design something that explains and succeeds at my design and what I intended for it. When it functions, when it’s beautiful-- I get tremendous satisfaction from that. I also get tremendous frustration when I see something that I intended a certain way not work out that way. And I think that gives me an insight into the creator-God, and that it’s not just the world, but each individual has a very specific design.
There’s a tremendous amount of satisfaction for our God when He sees a person step into their design. And there’s frustration when He sees they’ve walked away from that design. So I think my larger vision for the world would be a world where people are stepping into the design that the creator-God had for them from the beginning.
What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced within your faith or the process that you’re in?
The first thing that pops into my mind in regards to challenges… I mean obviously, every life journey has its challenges. It’s individualized, that’s part of what makes life beautiful – the quest and the challenges we face. But I think in terms of frustrations, we live in a world, in a culture where faith in God has become so politicized. The actual message of what it means to follow Jesus or the creator-God or scriptures is so watered down in the spin-off political issues of the day, that it’s hard to feel like I can represent my faith without being misunderstood. I hate being misunderstood. And I feel like it’s almost impossible to say or do anything without being dramatically misunderstood, and things can run away on social media. From a business point of view, I want to represent my faith, but I don’t want to put my business at risk, so there’s a real tension there. I want to be authentically who I am and be real clear about that, but I’m kind of running a risk, so I don’t like that.
What’s the number one tip or piece of advice for someone who wants to get involved?
Absolutely without a doubt, the number one tip or advice I’d give is start. Just start. Do something. It could be the littlest thing, but moving from idea to action is the largest leap of all. If something remains just an idea in your mind, it can be the most beautiful idea, but it’ll never be realized. That small sliver of movement from idea to action is so huge. But once you start, you’ll gain that momentum, the difference can be made, new opportunities will come up. You can become addicted to helping, to making a difference. When we started supporting IJM I think it was 6 bucks maybe 10 bucks a month or something like that. It was all we could do, but it was a start! We had to do something. So that would be my advice, just do something.
How can people get updates on Genesis Custom Sabers?
I’m pretty active on social media. There’s a Facebook group Genesis Custom Sabers, @MADCOWofGENESIS is my Twitter [handle]. Those are probably the best places to find me. And of course GenesisCustomSabers.com.
What is your biggest pet peeve?
The first thing that pops into my mind is those people who pronounce the word nuclear, "nu- cu-lar”. That is nuts! [laughing].