Gary Haugen is president and CEO of International Justice Mission (IJM), an international human-rights organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. IJM "is a human rights agency that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of violent oppression. IJM lawyers, investigators, and aftercare professionals work with local officials to ensure immediate victim rescue and aftercare, to prosecute perpetrators, and to promote functioning public justice systems." Haugen is author of Good News About Injustice, Terrify No More, and, most recently, Just Courage: God's Great Expedition for the Restless Christian (InterVarsity, 2008). Stan Guthrie, CT managing editor for special projects, interviewed Haugen.
With your new book, Just Courage, what do you hope to accomplish?
I am hoping American Christians will be infused with a great sense of hope in trying to engage justice issues around the world. We are trying to equip and empower Christians to think about injustice with the eyes and hope of Christ, to be able to look at it with courage. What I see is Christians preoccupied and discouraged by their own fears.
Fears of what?
All manner of things: they are afraid of what's going to happen to their kids, what's going to happen in the culture, what's going to happen to their material situation.
With the financial crisis, that seems like a valid fear.
But Christians are not supposed to live in fear. What people seem to find in International Justice Mission, in the stories of what my colleagues are actually doing in the field, is a picture of Christian faith that is liberated from fear. They think, As a follower of Jesus, maybe I can be liberated both from fears and from the triviality of some of those fears.
Yes, there is a need for Christians to be engaged with courage in the world, because people are hurting and need our help. But there is just as much a need for Christians who have resources and capacities to be liberated from a prison of small fears and triviality. For a lot of American Christians, the beginning is to realize that so much of the limitations of my Christian life are really coming out of my fear.
How has Christian engagement on justice issues changed in the decade since you wrote your first book, Good News About Injustice?
It's a sea change. Historians will be able to look back and see that there was a Christian community that was largely disengaged from the struggle for justice in the world, but that over a generation it moved to engagement. It's not a movement IJM has led or made happen so much as one we have been riding in the wake of what God is doing among his people. There is this wave of conviction that I believe his Spirit has generated. It has changed the picture of what mission means.
The first era of missions very much focused on the proclamation of the gospel and ministries of evangelism and discipleship. Then in the 1950s, we started to see this tremendous hunger and lack of medical care and housing and great human suffering that made it difficult for the love of Christ, the love of God, to be believable. And then at the beginning of the 21st century is a third movement that says, "Yes, people are suffering because they don't have access to the gospel, because they don't have food or doctors or housing, the basics of life. But there's another category of people who are suffering from intentional abuse and oppression."
It is a different set of neighbors who have a different set of needs not met by the other two thrusts of mission. Those things don't get to the issues of slavery, widows being thrown off their land, sexual violence, illegal detention, torture, police abuse—the things that have their roots in violence. Christians were very much engaged in those things in other eras. Now, Christian mission is recovering that third thrust.
So how do you balance proclaiming the gospel with carrying out justice ministry?
It's all either coherently about loving your neighbor or not. It is obeying Jesus and loving your neighbor that keeps it balanced. If you don't care anything about the spiritual health of the people you are helping, then that is not truly, deeply loving them. But if you are attending to their spiritual needs without attending to the man beaten along the side of the road, that's not love either. We tend to get unbalanced only when we unhinge our Christian missional activity from authentic love—treating your neighbor the way you would want to be treated, and doing it out of authentic discipleship.
How does IJM include witness and evangelism in its justice work?
It flows out of the authenticity of the Christians who are doing the work. It makes no sense as an authentic follower of Jesus to bifurcate those things. We have a tremendous emphasis on nurturing the spiritual health, the spiritual formation, of our staff, because from healthy Christians will flow authentic witness. We also make sure we do our work integrated with the local body of Christ, and also with an appreciation for the diversity of gifts within the body. We may be the ones relationally connected to some of the victims to share with them the faith out of which we work, but there will also be circumstances in which we are not well placed to do that.
How is the United States government doing regarding justice issues?
On the issues we address, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development have been eager to help. There are five forms of violence that afflict the poor where God has helped us reach some focus for our work: sexual violence, police abuse, illegal detention, slavery or forced labor, and illegal or violent land seizures. The U.S. government is eager to address these issues when the American voting public in congressional districts is engaged.
In Cambodia, we were confronted with case referrals from places outside Phnom Penh where hundreds of kids were on open sale to foreign pedophiles and sex tourists. We had documented all of this, and with careful, professional undercover investigation had provided very specific evidence to the Cambodian authorities, but they lacked the political will and capacity to address it. However, the U.S. government is a very significant partner for Cambodians in their national development and in regional matters.
We were able to leverage the concern of Americans, including Christian Americans, who had been increasingly focused on slavery and sex trafficking. When it was time for us to move the Cambodian authorities to do something, we were able to go to the American authorities and get the U.S. ambassador involved in a conversation that made this clear: "If you want to continue to have a good relationship with the United States, you need to demonstrate that you share our concern about addressing child sex trafficking." That made an indispensable difference not only for rescuing the almost 40 girls whom we had identified in that one instance, but also for funding and training the police.
How can Christians in America make a difference in such faraway places?
Rwanda was so vivid in 1994 for me. You could see at the end of the investigation that the Rwandan genocide was completely stoppable. It was this massive human tragedy, an intentional one of great atrocity, and we knew about it and clearly could have stopped it. The military histories have all been written about this. It would have taken a very modest international intervention. But our government was working hard to make sure that we did not get involved in Rwanda. Why? Because they thought it would be a political liability among the American people who were afraid to be stuck in some quagmire in the middle of Africa.
We had a relatively small but vocal minority of Christians in America who found it completely unacceptable that the United States would just stand by and do nothing when 800,000 people were butchered in eight weeks. They could have changed the political calculation and drawn the U.S. into an engagement that actually would have been effective. American Christians have this incredible stewardship-of-power issue that is before them in the struggle for justice in the world, in the confrontation with violence.
So we sit on this pivotal point of history. Will American Christians find rescue for their own lives and move into the more abundant life that God has called them to—one of joy, courage, and strength? And will American Christians seize the opportunity to steward the power God has granted them in a way that actually serves millions of people being crushed by oppression and abuse in the world? It's a fascinating, marvelous focal point for the American people—and American Christians—that relates not only to their most intimate, personal spiritual formation but also to the largest forces of history at work in the world today.
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Haugen's books, Good News About Injustice, Terrify No More, and, most recently, Just Courage: God's Great Expedition for the Restless Christian are available from ChristianBook.com and other book retailers.
Christianity Today also has more articles on social justice.
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