Poverty and injustice in the world cannot be eliminated without first addressing issues related to violence, Gary Haugen, president and founder of International Justice Mission, explained over the weekend in northern California.
Haugen is the author of the recently published The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence--a book he wrote "to see the authentic life of the poor." In a conversation with Menlo Park Presbyterian Church Pastor John Ortberg, Haugen explained why it is important for Christians to fight the epidemic levels of violence committed against the poor and oppressed.
Throughout the developing world, nearly 30 million men, women and children are held as slaves, and nearly two million are exploited in the sex slave industry. And sadly, the lack of reliable law enforcement exposes the poor to the worst predatory violence, undermining the good accomplished by the billions of dollars aid agencies spend annually to fight poverty.
"Picture a poor farmer trying to scrape his way out of poverty. Just when the crops have started to show promise, the locusts descend and devour all of that hard work. That's the locust effect-the way violence impacts the poor in the developing world," he said.
"Where is the Christian ministry when the problem is violence?" he asks.
To combat this debilitating issue, Haugen developed the International Justice Mission, a non-profit faith-based organization that works around the world to combat human trafficking, forced labor, police brutality and illegal land seizure through professional investigations and mobilizing interventions on behalf of the victims.
"God is angry and heartbroken about this horrible problem, and passionate about his people being engaged...because there is no justice and no one to intervene," he said.
"God is clear in Scripture that he hates violence and injustice. If you oppress the poor, you insult their maker. God creates these precious people and gives His son to be tortured and murdered so they can be with him forever, and now some bully wants to degrade and abuse them."
Christians in particular, Haugen, emphasizes, are to respond to God's Biblical command to help those in need.
"There is a unique problem of violence in poor people," he said, "there's a massive number of people suffering from violence in the world, and there's also a massive Biblical mandate to rescue the oppressed defend the orphan and plead for the widow."
Christians can best reinforce the work of IJM in local church communities by honestly exploring the ways day-to-day lifestyles contribute to violence against humanity and work to create communities where the poor are protected.
"Christians provide moral authority for ensuring that justice systems don't just serve a political faction [or] moneyed interests, or are used for extortion or corrupt purposes," he said.
"I hope Christians will recover their role in building communities where the poor are protected from violence. Christians played a wonderful role in sounding the alarm on the HIV/AIDS epidemic. They became world leaders, confronting it and engaging it. It showed the church at its best."