One night in December 2003, an 8-year-old girl named Yuri was abducted, raped, and brutally murdered in the remote Quechuan village of La Union, Peru. The next morning, her 11-year-old brother found her nearly naked body dumped on the main thoroughfare of their village.
Yuri's story opens The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence (Oxford University Press), the new book from Gary Haugen, founder of International Justice Mission (IJM). Yuri's murderers escaped prosecution, while another man was wrongly convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The book's first chapter, titled "What the World Can't See," pinpoints a basic source of entrenched poverty overlooked by well-intentioned outsiders: corrupt government officials who allow criminals to victimize the poor with impunity. For instance, national statistics find 90 percent of murders in Mexico go unsolved.
The lack of reliable law enforcement, Haugen argues, exposes the poor to the worst predatory violence, undermining the good accomplished by the billions of dollars aid agencies spend annually to fight poverty.
Haugen wants Westerners—and the aid agencies they support—to be as determined in fighting criminal violence against the poor as they are in relieving hunger and treating HIV/AIDS. He spoke recently to Timothy C. Morgan, CT senior editor of global journalism.
What is "the locust effect," and how does it affect poor people?
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. The traditional things we do to assist the poor to get out of poverty don't stop the violence. The Locust Effect tells the story of the hidden plague of violence.
Your book stresses the rule of law and law enforcement. We know churches don't have police powers or the power to prosecute, so what can religious leaders do?
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.
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. You can find again and again where Christian leaders led that fight 100 and 150 years ago.
Should Christians primarily work through churches to help create a more just society?
You can look to the struggle against slavery in the 19th century, to the struggle against child labor, to the civil rights movement. In each, the church had a critical role in not only being an advocate, but also deploying specialized expertise and skills in the work of justice. At the turn of the 20th century, the amazing police reform in New York City was influenced by a Presbyterian minister, Charles Henry Parkhurst.
Throughout history are hidden other stories of Christians taking up their biblical, prophetic role—not of seizing governmental power, but of using their power as citizens and their moral voice to ensure that the state's power was used to protect the weakest. In Scripture, God's people exhort the rulers, the authorities, to exercise their power with justice. The fight for law enforcement is now being engaged in the developing world. The violence manifest in the developing world is actually against the law.
The problem is not that the poor don't get laws. The problem is that they don't get law enforcement. There is a functional collapse of law enforcement systems in the developing world; the poor are left utterly vulnerable to violence. This is another historic opportunity for the people of God to be on the side of justice in very practical ways.
Critics might say this is yet another example of paternalism, of trying to cast off the white man's burden. How would you respond?
I've actually had a marvelous conversation with William Easterly, the author of The White Man's Burden. We're trying to allow countries to develop so that everyone thrives. The critique of traditional aid is that it ignored the on-the-ground political and governance problems that undermine the effectiveness of that aid.
There's a problem with pouring aid into circumstances where poor people are not protected from predatory violence. If what we're observing is true—that the poor are living in lawless chaos—then we are going to be significantly disappointed in the outcome of our poverty alleviation efforts.
You say violence against the poor has been invisible. How?
When people think of poverty, they tell you what they see: the shacks, the dirty water, the hungry families. Those are all the visuals that immediately come to mind.
What they don't see are the assaults, the slap across the face, the rape, the torture by police, and the extortion. It's intentionally hidden by the perpetrator. The victims are scared and ashamed, and it's difficult for them to speak. People don't talk about the things they don't have solutions for. People working in the development field and in poverty-fighting or public health don't often come from law enforcement.
What can the average American Christian do about violence against the poor thousands of miles away?
It begins by asking, "What about the violence in this community?" It's the same thing as the AIDS epidemic. There's tremendous shame around it. People do not want to talk about it. The World Health Organization says that gender violence [accounts] for more death and disability for women and girls between the ages of 14 and 44 than car accidents, malaria, and war combined.
Ask about the violence against women and girls. Observe whether people experience the police as people you run to or run from when you're in trouble. People who work intimately with the poor frequently are quite familiar with violence, but they don't know what to do, so they don't readily talk about it.
There is a solution for violence: the basic service the rest of us rely on every day, law enforcement.
Some Christians see the pursuit of social justice as less important than evangelization. What do you say to them?
If we say we love the God we can't see, and we don't love the brother who we can see, the Bible says the love of God is not in us. Jesus also said that to love someone is to do what you would want done for you in similar circumstances. Do unto others. This is simply saying that we love our neighbors who are suffering under violence when we come to their aid.
Our proclamation of the goodness and love of God simply has no credibility if we're unwilling to love them [at] their point of greatest need. The work for justice is a way of simply obeying the very explicit biblical command. Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, the Bible says. It's a simple act of obedience.
As to hierarchy of proclamation, the Bible says that we are to love in word and deed. Why would I try to create a hierarchy between breathing in and breathing out? You have to do both—to proclaim truth in the world and to love [your] neighbor.
Some Christians fear that church-based justice advocacy will eventually displace formation and discipleship as the church's core mission.
Almost none of those Christians would ever live that way toward the people dearest to them, their own family. What if the only thing you did was [tell] your children about the Christian faith and [you] never showed them love? That's just not the way Christian parents act. In fact, they know that if they preach to their kids but don't actually love them, that none of that preaching is going to convey the truth.
These tired, false dichotomies are from another era when the gospel was divided between word and deed. Historically, the people of God, when they [are] obeying Christ, are used [by] God to bring justice to people.
I'm on the side of hope. I've seen it with my own eyes, and I've seen it profoundly in history.
Who are the American church's ideal partners for fighting violence?
The ideal partner is the body of Christ around the world. Westerners are not going to parachute in and save the day. This is a fundamental struggle for justice that's going to have to be owned by the local community.
Another partner will be governmental authorities within that community, within that country. This recovers Christian interaction with government. Romans 13 says the authorities are actually ministers of God in order to do justice in the community. Christians in other eras shaped the way the government went about seeking justice and peace in the community.
What models can you point to?
In the city of Cebu, Philippines, IJM partnered with community leaders to rally the justice system to protect children from sex trafficking. That's Project Lantern. One critical partner was the church, Protestant and Catholic. The victimization of children in the commercial sex trade was reduced by nearly 80 percent because law enforcement protected the children instead of the sex traffickers.
What of that model could be reproduced elsewhere?
That's the exciting news. It's now being replicated in Manila and Pampanga. We're also seeing the government itself beginning to foot the bill and take the initiative. ijm is a partner, but it's no longer the prime moving force. The government itself is setting up specialized units. Fast-track courts are being established to address sex trafficking. Safe places for the survivors of sex trafficking are being established. It's being taken nationwide in the Philippines. We're at the front end of this effort.
Have you ever had a moment when you regretted getting on a plane bound for Kigali, Rwanda, to investigate the 1994 genocide? Your life hasn't been the same since.
Absolutely true. There were moments, when I was knee-deep in the carnage in Rwanda, when I was regretting having gotten on that plane.
But what I have seen is the way God, by his grace, has given birth to a reinvigorated movement of justice in the Christian community. He has used Christians to rescue thousands of individuals and to begin transforming whole communities.
I consider myself the most privileged person to see this transpire in my lifetime. It has felt like a hard and difficult journey, but the joy and hope and grace of God that I've experienced in it has felt like a profound privilege.
My own part in the story, honestly, feels quite small. He didn't really need me in any way in order to get that done, but he is so gracious to include me.
He has paid back with encouragement and fellowship from the most extraordinary people of courage. The church is now very eager to hear God's call to the work of justice. It's a great privilege to be a part of it.
Timothy C. Morgan is Senior Editor, Global Journalism, at Christianity Today. Follow him on Twitter: @tmorgan815
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