The January 19 issue of The New Yorker profiles a guy who has to rank among the planet’s more admirable–if overlooked–evangelicals.
I’d never heard of Gary Haugen until I finally got around to thumbing through a magazine that had lain on my nightstand a week.
“The Enforcer: A Christian lawyer’s global crusade,” by Samantha Power, caught my eye. It documents the work of Haugen’s International Justice Mission, a ministry that provides legal help to the third-world’s poor.
“Haugen believes that the biggest problem on earth is not too little democracy, or too much poverty, or too few anti-retroviral AIDS medicines, but, rather, an absence of proper law enforcement,” Power writes.
Haugen may be correct. In the United States, we take for granted a more-or-less honest, impartial justice system. But according to studies cited in this article, that’s not the way things work in many nations.
Seventy-nine percent of people surveyed in Cameroon, and 72 percent of Cambodians, reported paying bribes in the previous year to obtain basic services. In Kenya, 64 percent of people deemed most or all of the police corrupt.
Sometimes the problems are less about corruption than overload. India has 11 judges for every 1 million people, and more than 20 million legal cases pending. Nearly 70 percent of the detainees in Indian prisons have never been convicted of any crime. Some Indian civil cases take 20 years to reach court.
Since 1997, International Justice Mission’s lawyers, investigators, and social workers have assisted nearly 15,000 people trapped in such circumstances. They’ve exonerated a man wrongly accused of car theft in Kenya and battled through Cambodia’s dysfunctional police system to free child sex slaves and prosecute their pimps.
The mission’s employees are Christians, but they’ll represent poor people of any faith. The group’s budget has grown from $200,000 1997 to $22 million in 2008. Most of that money comes from donations.
Haugen, 45, was educated at Harvard and the University of Chicago Law School. In early mission trips abroad, he saw that, in Power’s words, “while other Christian organizations fed the hungry and sheltered the homeless, no Christian organization that he knew of had heeded the Bible’s appeals for justice (‘Break the arm of the wicked and evil man; call him to account for his wickedness that would not be found out’). He resolved that Christians serving God had to do more than pray for the victims of cruelty; they had to use the law to help rescue them. ‘This is not a God who offers sympathy, best wishes,’ he later wrote. ‘This is a God who wants evildoers brought to account and vulnerable people protected–here and now!'”
Here’s my favorite of Haugen’s observations: “Prayers help. Prayers and a lawyer help more.”