Founder of International Justice Mission identifies dangerous misconception Christians have about mission work

Founder of International Justice Mission identifies dangerous misconception Christians have about mission work

Gary Haugen, Founder, CEO, and former President of International Justice Mission, speaks during a Transforming the Bay with Christ event. | Transforming the Baby with Christ/ScreenGrab

Gary Haugen, founder of International Justice Mission, has identified common misconceptions Christians have when it comes to engaging the lost with the Gospel and highlighted the importance of fighting injustice while manifesting the fruits of the spirit.

“I've encountered some mistaken ideas of what it means to engage the suffering and the hurt and the darkness of the world,” Haugen said at a recent Transforming the Bay with Christ event, adding that many of the misconceptions stem from a “martyr complex.”

“It’s the idea that what really makes Jesus happy is if I go out there and I just completely destroy myself by overworking, by never coming up for air, by feeling guilty about if I ever enjoy my life,” he said. “But God actually wants us to enjoy our lives, even if we're involved very intimately in the work of justice and in the intersection of human hurt.”

Joy, Haugen contended, is the “oxygen” for doing hard things: “You will not do the work of justice or of caring for the hurting or engagement with evil unless you are in, as a spiritual discipline, coming up for air, for joy,” he said.

The idea that Christians shouldn’t enjoy their lives is a lie from Satan, Haugen warned: “Our spiritual adversary ... wants us to just grind all the time and just go down to where all of the darkness is and then just drown in it,” he said.

When Christians fail to re-invigorate themselves by spending time in prayer and engaging in activities that bring happiness, they fail to effectively lead, he argued. “There's nothing more powerful a leader can do for the team than to bring their best self to that leadership, and that requires a refreshment, a constant joy,” Haugen said.

He pointed out that on airplanes, passengers are told to secure their own oxygen masks before assisting others. The same principles apply to ministry.

“The work of justice and healing is a marathon, not a sprint,” he said. “We have to stay connected to joy.”

Haugen speaks from experience: A former prosecutor at the U.S. Department of Justice, he decided to start IJM after becoming aware of the chronically neglected global epidemic of violence against the poor while investigating the genocide in Rwanda.

“It seemed that there was something missing in our response to poverty, where we had solutions for those who are hungry and those who were suffering from disease,” he said. “The only thing we didn't have a response for was violence. Like, when your neighbor is suffering ... because a guy with a machete is coming at you, or they're coming to steal your land, or the police are coming to put a gun to your head to steal money from you, or they've just tricked your daughter to come with them to the big city where they've sold her into a brothel and now she's being serially raped.”

IJM’s mission statement is to “protect the poor from violence by rescuing victims, bringing the criminals to justice, restoring survivors to safety and strength, and helping local law enforcement build a safe future that lasts.” Since 1997, the organization has rescued more than 45,000 people from slavery and other forms of violence and helped local authorities arrest more than 3,500 suspected slave owners and other criminals.

Additionally, Haugen has been recognized by the U.S. State Department as a Trafficking in Persons “Hero” – the highest honor given by the U.S. government for anti-slavery leadership.

Everyone who works for IJM must make three affirmations, Haugen revealed. First, they must affirm the Apostle’s Creed; second, they must affirm that their intent to obey Christ in everything; and finally, they must commit to participating with “unguarded earnestness in the rhythms of spiritual formation.”

“Violence fights back and we were going to get crushed, and so we needed to be going in the power and presence of God to do this,” he explained. “Not only do we need the power of God in order to overcome evil and to not get destroyed, but we need the power of God within us to be the kind of people we want to be in the midst of that fight.”

Christians, Haugen said, must fight violent injustice while manifesting the fruit of the spirit: “The only way you could do that is to allow Jesus to shape you, to be like Him. ... It's taking seriously what's coming in the day and saying, ‘I need to be close to my father for this to go well today.’”

IJM has provided a vehicle for “very devout followers of Jesus who have these gifts and talents that they did not feel included in the traditional paradigm of ministry,” he said, from counselors and social workers to lawyers and technology experts.

“There’s this idea that you can be super spiritual, or you can be awesome professionally, but you can't be both at the same time,” he added. “I don't think those things are meant to actually be held in opposition. We have found a community of people who love putting those two things together.”

“They love Jesus and they love excellence,” he said. “If you can plausibly create an environment that says, ‘we value this,’ you're going to attract people who want that. And for people who are not into excellence, they self-select out, too. Likewise, if they're not into Jesus."

"There is not this trade-off between professional excellence and deep communion with God in the midst of work," he said. 

Transforming the Bay with Christ is a coalition of business leaders, venture capitalists, pastors, and nonprofit leaders, focused on helping to develop a grass roots activity that will transform the Bay Area through social compassion and service.

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