In 1993 Gary Haugen was pretty much minding his own business. He was a civil rights attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, living in the D.C. area with his pregnant wife, trading in his car for a station wagon, and figuring out how to keep the attention of the 6th grade boys to whom he taught Sunday School. Then, in 1994, the Department of Justice loaned him to the UN and Haugen found himself in Rwanda digging through mass graves full of rotting corpses in order to investigate the country's recent genocide.
Minding his own business was no longer an option.
In his previous book, GOOD NEWS ABOUT INJUSTICE (InterVarsity Press), Haugen shares how the Rwandan investigation opened his eyes to the oppression of his global neighbors and the faith-based reasons he launched the International Justice Mission (IJM) in 1997. Now, in TERRIFY NO MORE, Haugen continues to put justice issues in front of the public with the story of IJM's ongoing work to free victims of slavery, sex trafficking, and police brutality in the developing world.
The narrative revolves around IJM's efforts to dismantle the notorious sex trade in the Cambodian village of Svay Pak, a place where children as young as five years old are sold for sex to Western pedophiles and where grandmothers sell the virginity of their granddaughters to the highest bidder. It's a reality that's almost impossible for many of us in the United States to even fathom, but it's everyday life for millions of people across the world.
I've been aware of the IJM's work for a number of years and I like to think of them as a Christian A-Team --- flying just below the radar, defending the poor and vulnerable. But, in reality, the life of IJM staffers is a tad less glamorous --- more research and legal briefs than car chases and explosions (though death threats and close calls with angry pimps and slaveholders certainly keep the team on its toes). Haugen explains how his crack team of legal minds and undercover investigators gather information, lobby political leaders around the world, and research international law, all in an effort to pressure local governments to prosecute their criminals and release slaves based on their own laws. It's a tall order, especially when those governments are corrupt and benefiting from the illicit activity.
In the case of Svay Pak, policemen were protecting the brothels and would tip off their owners so that raids found empty buildings. It took three years to put together the operation that would eventually free almost 40 girls and result in the conviction of several key figures in the sex trafficking world.
TERRIFY NO MORE also touches on work IJM is doing in other parts of the world --- freeing slaves in India, defending street kids from police brutality in South America, finding adequate aftercare facilities for rescued prostitutes all over Southeast Asia. The fight they are waging against oppression and injustice can seem daunting. According to a 2003 report by the National Geographic, there are 27 million slaves in our world today --- not metaphorical slaves, but actual slaves. How can one group of people, even if they are the A-Team, start making a dent in those kinds of numbers? How do they maintain the motivation to forge ahead with their work?
For the staff of IJM, their work always has to be about the one. In a speech delivered at the White House, Sharon Cohen, IJM's vice president for interventions, explained it this way: "While there are millions of girls and women victimized every day, our work will always be about the one. The one girl deceived. The one girl kidnapped. The one girl raped. The one girl infected with AIDS. The one girl needing a rescuer. To succumb to the enormity of the problem is to fail the one."
TERRIFY NO MORE clearly is an effort to promote awareness of justice issues in general and the work of the IJM specifically. But these issues and this work are so important and honorable that it's impossible to criticize any support-raising motives. In fact, I'd go so far as to suggest that every American Christian needs to read this book and its predecessor, GOOD NEWS ABOUT INJUSTICE.
Given the rise of global media and information technologies, our neighborhood has expanded. We can know the plight of people around the world and with this knowledge comes responsibility. As Haugen writes: "Perhaps the saddest part of this story for those of us who have the ability to set a powerful example for others is not our own poverty of compassion, of purpose, of hope, but rather the way we end up leading others into or along the path of poverty.
"What would this nation look like if we began to lead with riches of compassion, grandness or purpose, and an abundance of hope? Indeed, I think the God of history takes attendance. And he convenes a tribunal of our grandchildren, who will someday ask us, "Where were you?"
"'Where were you Grandpa, when the Jews were fleeing Nazi Germany and seeking safety on our shores?'
"'Where were you Grandma, when they were marching our Japanese neighbors off to internment camps?'
"'Where were you, Grandpa, when our African-American neighbors were being beaten for registering to vote?'
"Likewise when our grandchildren ask us where we were when the weak and the voiceless and the vulnerable of our era needed a leader of compassion and purpose and hope --- I hope we can say that we showed up, and that we showed up on time. And that the very God of history might say, 'Well done, good and faithful servant."'
Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel on January 7, 2005