Walk into the International Justice Mission (IJM) offices in Washington, D.C., a little before 9 a.m. and you’ll find a small sign hanging from the door that reads “Stillness 8:30-9 a.m.” Signs of life slowly appear as you pass through the dimly lit corridors: individuals sit silently in their offices or cubicles, some with eyes closed, others reading from the Bible.
When one understands the work the people at IJM undertake, 30 minutes of solitude at the beginning of the workday doesn’t seem like a luxury. It seems like a necessity. At any given time during the day, the team at IJM may be making desperate phone calls to government officials negotiating the release of innocent victims; they may be in a foreign country executing an undercover operation to free sex slave children from the bowels of a brothel; they may be testifying in a foreign court against oppressors who must be stopped before they take more lives or land; or they may be traveling around the country educating audiences about the atrocities of these abuses. Every day, every minute, lives and freedom hang in the balance. IJM is an international human rights agency that responds to reports of abuse from faith-based ministries and other non-governmental organizations serving around the world.
Many cases referred to IJM in Southeast Asia involve commercial sexual exploitation of children. The human rights experts and lawyers at IJM deploy criminal investigators to infiltrate brothels and gather evidence using surveillance technology to take to the local authorities. Together they conduct raids to rescue the children. From there they work to bring the perpetrators to justice and empower the community to stop future injustices. In other regions, IJM lawyers and investigators tackle other abuses—forced slavery, illegal land seizure, unprosecuted rape, illegal detention and police brutality.
The work of IJM began 10 years ago in response to a study a group of human rights professionals, lawyers and public officials conducted to investigate stories from overseas missionaries and relief workers who were reporting abuses of power in the communities where they served. Without resources or legal expertise, these workers were powerless to come to the aid of the very people they were there to serve. It was after this study that Gary Haugen, former senior trial attorney with the United States Department of Justice, formed IJM.
The Harvard-educated and University of Chicago law school grad was employed by the Department of Justice’s police misconduct task force in the civil rights division, a place Haugen felt passionate about after working with leaders in South Africa who were struggling for racial reconciliation and social change during the apartheid in the mid-’80s. “I’d seen what it was like to live in a country where no one policed the police, and you don’t want to live in that country, so I thought it was a great way to build the kingdom of God in America but also to learn how to be a good lawyer,” he says. “And the Department of Justice is great for that.”
When Haugen first arrived in South Africa after graduating, the country was erupting in violence. “Nelson Mandela was in prison; thousands and thousands of people [faced] violence and death every day,” Haugen says. “I was there in the township for three days, and then marshal law was declared. So I was catapulted into this inferno of brutal injustice and oppression just as Michael Cassidy and Bishop [Desmond] Tutu were forming the National Initiative for Reconciliation. So basically I got to be a gofer for my time in South Africa just following around all these amazing Christian leaders who were trying to follow Jesus in a context of very, very brutal injustice.”
The most powerful part of his experience was seeing Christians living in tremendous violence and pain, and yet having a surprising lack of fear, Haugen says. “I think once you get a picture of what it looks like to live life without fear, at least for me, it sort of sets the course for what it is you want to [do] with the rest of your life. I think more than anything else, our lives as Christians are shrunken by fear … fear of big things, but also in our context in America, fear of small things. And the most attractive thing of living for Jesus is a freedom of fear.”
The Road to Rwanda
Haugen, 43, grew up in a home of six kids in Northern California. His father was a doctor, and his mother stayed at home. He credits her for bringing the children to church and introducing him to Jesus. But it was hearing the stories of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. that brought theology to life for him. “The drama of Honest Abe emerging from the woods and eventually becoming president and freeing the slaves in America—that whole story was so riveting to me. And I could sort of see in the story of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life a continuation of this drama … What you can picture is this very average, white-bread, evangelical kid in a suburb in Sacramento reading these stories of great drama and power, but it’s all in the world of books. Very little of anything was being experienced in the bubble where I was actually living.”
That started to change when Haugen went to Harvard University in Boston. “What I found were just a lot of those circumstances that shift the questions that you’re asking of your faith. There are actually homeless people you have to pass by on the way to class. Hmmm … I didn’t see that where I came from. That presents a different question. Racial violence and tension in Boston … urban poverty, people in homes without heat in the middle of the winter … Then you naturally start asking questions about faith: What did Jesus say about homeless people? About this racial hatred? About poverty? Fortunately, I found a Christian fellowship that would wrestle with those tougher questions and, of course, would find the wisdom from biblical teaching on that or Jesus’ own engagement with these issues.”
From there, the stakes got higher. After his time in Africa, Haugen worked at the Department of Justice, just as genocide in the small African country of Rwanda broke out in the spring of 1994. Approximately 800,000 men, women and children were killed in a period of eight weeks. After it ended, the international community formed an international criminal tribunal to bring the perpetrators to justice. Haugen was put “on loan” from the Department of Justice to the United Nations that summer. When he arrived, he found a slew of lawyers and criminal investigators with no idea how to move forward. Although Haugen was “the most junior person there,” he worked with others to create a plan for developing eye-witness testimony and physical evidence from nearly 100 mass grave and massacre sites across Rwanda. Then the United Nations placed him in charge of the entire investigation.
Haugen describes the scene: “When I arrived, there literally were lots and lots of bodies still laying around because a lot of the massacre sites had not been cleaned up … This is a special war, so there was broad chaos. A lot of the killing was done in churches and stadiums and schools, and especially there were many churches that had not yet been cleaned up. So there were literally thousands and thousands of corpses laying around in these places … I just spent day after day going from one of those sites to another … We could not thoroughly do an exhumation of these mass graves because it would take forever. I remember doing an exhumation in the Philippines of the victims of an army massacre that maybe dealt with half a dozen people, and we would take two and a half days to go over everything carefully. Now you’ve got a mass grave with 12,000 people, so we would just use what we could to unearth parts of the mass grave—[it’s a] horrible, horrible process that leaves you without a lot of good words.”
Responding to the Need
Haugen had already been thinking about forming IJM before going to Rwanda. But his experience there solidified the nature of the problem, the mandate of Scripture and the need for a vehicle for ministry. “When you are standing in a mass grave in Rwanda, the question that came to my mind was not the question that was coming to everyone else’s mind perhaps. I’ve had people ask me, where was God in the midst of all of this? But I could sense, at least from Scripture, what I knew of my heavenly Father, was that I knew where God was: He was right in the midst of all of that incredible suffering. The more relevant question for me was, where are God’s people?”
What most bothered Haugen about the Rwandan genocide was that it was completely preventable. “It would have taken a very, very modest international force to be able to stop the Rwandan garrison,” he says. “Rwanda is an example of a massive human disaster, man-made disaster, that (a) we knew about, and (b) we could have stopped, but (c) we simply chose not to. So I came home from Rwanda with a tremendous sense of what the need is: the need is all these people in the world who are suffering, not because they don’t have access to the Gospel or because they don’t have doctors or food or fresh water or shelter. These are the people who are suffering because of the abuse and oppression of other people, and these are the victims of injustice. Then what I also saw so clearly was the biblical mandate because when you go through Scripture with an eye for that, all of a sudden there are these very clear commands: Micah 6:8, ‘He has told you, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you, but to do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with your God,’ or Isaiah 1:17, ‘Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow,’ or Jesus is saying, ‘Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.’ So if you were being abused and oppressed by someone, what would you want someone to do? You’d want someone to intervene on your behalf. Rwanda was just the clearest example of what the problem was: the problem was violence and oppression.”
During the years Haugen launched IJM, he and his wife, Jan, had four children: twin girls who are 12, and boys who are 10 and 8. While the first years were exhausting, Haugen is intentional about his work and family life these days. He travels no more than six nights a month domestically, and takes no more than three overseas trips a year that range from usually 10 days to two weeks. “The work that we do is many times so dark, it brings you face to face with pretty much the most horrific and ugly evil that man is capable of, and God just didn’t build us to stare unrelentingly at that day after day after day without refreshment, without joy, without beauty, without laughter. My greatest source for all those things certainly is my family, and I just love being with them.”
A New Mission
Haugen predicts that this generation’s spiritual calling will focus on the concept of biblical justice, instead of evangelism and compassion work of the past. “If you look at the larger work of missions in the world, the first of the great movement of modern missions was largely one of evangelism and discipleship: the proclamation of the Gospel, totally central, totally necessary, at the core of missions,” he says. “Then after World War II, people started looking at, Oh my goodness, there are all kinds of people who are suffering because they don’t have food and water and housing and medical care, so if we really love those people to whom we are preaching the Gospel, we’ll also respond to those needs. And so the missions movement built these incredible ministries of relief and development that now push out more than $1 billion of care for the poor—like World Vision, World Relief, Compassion International, Food for the Hungry, so on and so forth, but none of those ministries existed before 1950.”
But more than 50 years of international aid does little good if oppressors prevent the needy from receiving it. “It’s like dumping trillions of dollars in foreign aid or assistance to the poor in situations where there is no rule of law,” Haugen says, which can mean wasted effort
To really care for the poor, you need to start with justice, Haugen says. “Just as the world is figuring that out, the body of Christ is also figuring out that missions is not just about evangelism and discipleship or relief and development, but it’s about the work of justice,” he says. “So what has been done here at IJM is actually going to be blown open to a whole new level by the emerging generation of Christians. This is the great work of this generation.”
IJM, which is federally and privately funded, has 13 offices in nine countries and currently employs more than 230 staff. Its work is also extending to the still-recovering Rwanda, where IJM is opening an office. “Our eagerness is to help Rwandans build rule of law in that country,” Haugen says. “For us, our sense is that the greatest need in most African countries today is rule of law, establishing working mechanisms for rule of law. You can give all you want to the poor, but if you are unable to restrain the bullies who take it away, you haven’t done much.
“We’d love to have your readers being engaged in/informed about/supporting what IJM is doing there, but also other ministries that are helping educate, helping to care for widows and orphans, helping to develop leaders, helping to train professionals, helping to build business opportunities in Rwanda. There are marvelous ways for everyone to get involved.”
For more information, visit www.ijm.org.