At the 2019 National Prayer Breakfast, Gary Haugen, CEO and founder of International Justice Mission, urged the nation’s political leaders to unite in fighting modern slavery, emphasizing that "even in this divided era, there is good that we all agree should be done."
Delivering the keynote address at the annual event held at the Washington Hilton on Thursday, Haugen, who formerly served as a human rights attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, said that while the “holy faithfulness of God” should keep people from "growing weary of doing good," it’s easy to become tired and discouraged — particularly amid what he called the "fracturing of the American family."
"I do sense that we are in a national moment of perilously mounting discouragement," he said. "Our tribal divisions, our institutional dysfunctions, our desperate winner-take-all contests of cultural resistance or survival, they seem to be pressing in our chests with a swelling anxiety of national disintegration."
While there are fights worth fighting, Haugen said, many people are discouraged “that all this fighting won’t ultimately end well" and even unifying events like the prayer breakfast can feel "increasingly thin or unreal."
“We can be so discouraged by all that is going wrong, we can be tempted to give up on seeking what is right,” he lamented, citing C.S. Lewis, who in his book "The Screwtape Letters" wrote, "Our spiritual adversary knows that despair is a greater sin than any of the sins which provoke it."
“In this moment, I’m praying for a word of encouragement that might help us take one big step away from that abyss of despair,” he declared. “In order to pursue the good, we have to actually believe that the good will ultimately prevail.”
While the negativity spread across the news cycle can be discouraging, Haugen reminded attendees that “it’s not the ruling arch of time.”
“The great canopy of history is firmly held in the scarred hands of a God who speaks galaxies into being,” he stated. “We know the One who is seated upon the throne will one day wipe away every tear, and death and pain and mourning will be no more.”
“The tricky part is this: While I’m eager to leverage this holy God for my consuming crusade of the day, I may not be listening as carefully to His voice about the good I am rushing past or the good I am trampling upon in my dash to the barricades," he continued.
Haugen charged that the admonition of Scripture is not only to “not give up in doing right,” but also to not give up "in humbly seeking what is right."
"Because I can miss it," he said. “This is the great tragic and gracious story of our nation. God worked through great heroes to bring waves of freedom, prosperity, and justice like the world had ever known.”
But at the same time, he said, those same heroes didn’t have the moral vision to share those blessings with the rest of the world. Still, God uses “messy men and woman” to advance His Kingdom, and bring righteousness and justice to the world.
“We are, in alternating moments, allowed to be His heroes and His heartache,” he explained.
Haugen, who 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, revealed that every single day, thousands of IJM employees around the world sit in silence for ten minutes in meditation and prayer.
“We want the moral majesty of God to make us tremble just a bit,” he said. “And, maybe that would be good for all of us ... we should not grow weary in humbly seeking what is right, for you and I are not all good, and we are surely missing what is right if we do not pause."
When political leaders, regardless of party affiliation, all agree on the good that needs doing, they "should just do it," Haugen said. He pointed out that even in this divided era, there are causes everyone can support such as criminal justice reform, healing a broken foster system, resolving the opioid crisis, and fighting modern-day slavery.
“We all would readily agree that slavery is evil and should not be tolerated,” he said. “But few of us may know that there are actually more people in slavery today than in any other time in history.”
“Modern slavery is as vast and brutal as it has ever been,” he said, pointing out that there are an estimated 40 million people currently enslaved around the world, with more than 70 percent of them being female, and one in four a child.
The current generation, he stated, is the first that could actually end slavery. He revealed that on a bipartisan basis, Congress has approved a new tool for winning the fight: The Global Fund to End Modern Slavery.
“With proper funding each year, we could see this ancient sin end for good,” he said. “If we all do our part, all of us, to raise our voices and to raise the resources, millions of God's children can note the freedom for which they are made.”
If everyone does their part in seeking good, they will see the God of Exodus "sweep slavery into the dustbin of history," Haugen contended, adding: “Do not give up in doing what is good, for at the right time, you will reap a harvest if you do not give up."
Following Haugen’s message, CCM artist Chris Tomlin sang “Amazing Grace,” a hymn originally penned by John Newton, a former slave ship master.
“It’s amazing that this song was written from a once slave trader and is probably the most beloved song in all the world,” Tomlin said. “John Newton said God saved him in a dramatic way, and he wanted to spend the rest of his life preaching the good news and the freedom of God.”
In his remarks, President Trump said Haugen and IJM are "truly doing the Lord's work" in "rescuing people from the bondage of human trafficking."
"And as you know our administration is doing everything we can to make your work easier ... Together, we will end the scourge of modern-day slavery," the President stated.
The annual multi-faith breakfast is held on the first Thursday of February each year. Members of Congress, lawmakers and religious leaders from about 70 countries gather at the Washington event. Every president since President Dwight D. Eisenhower has attended the annual breakfast, first organized in 1953.