I first heard about the work of International Justice Mission the summer of 2005. Like many, I was overwhelmed with the stories of rescue, and my initial responses were fueled by the urgency of that work.
Five months later, Troy and I found ourselves on a trip to Rwanda with IJM president, Gary Haugen. We were part of separate groups with some intersecting purposes. Troy and I were traveling with a coffee-roaster friend who partners with Rwandan farmers, and Gary was paving the way to open an IJM office in Kigali. We were honored to be quiet witnesses to his first trip back to the region since he had been there as an investigator with the UN working to exhume mass graves, and document the genocide there. There were many surreal moments during that trip. I remember standing in front of a church that is preserved as a genocide memorial when Gary pulled a photo from his coat pocket of the same church, ten years earlier. The memorial was hard enough to comprehend with it's organized shelves of skulls, but the photo of the same spot was incomprehensible - it was a small, jarring testimony to the depth of chaos and violence that was a reality there.
I have to add here that when the Rwandan genocide was happening, I was teaching US History. To my sorrow, the only thing I could remember bringing up in reference to the genocide, as it was unfolding over 100 days, was one question on a current events quiz about Clinton's reticence to use the word genocide to define events in Rwanda. Now we were in Rwanda, ten-years removed, hearing searing testimonies from survivors, and moving through the country with a guide that had been a unique witness to its history.
It was in this context, on the steps of that church, that I first heard the concepts behind The Locust Effect. As Gary spoke to the group about his experiences, there were questions imbedded in his story - Who is addressing the issue of violence against the poor? How can we strengthen rule of law so that the most vulnerable in the world are safe, or safer? How many resources and how much time will we put into aid before we address the locusts of violence that systematically descend and devour everything in their path? It was in this context that my heart was open to history's bigger questions and responses, and I could see that this vision is the deeper, more pivotal work of IJM.
And we were seeing it first hand. Our role on the trip was to learn about our friend's efforts to partner with co-ops of farmers by building more accessible washing stations for their coffee beans. But in the end, the story wasn't about accessibility to washing stations, or co-op development - the main issue was power and intimidation. The industry of coffee has a long history, and in that history, the farmer has had very little power. The farmer can't be empowered without taking power from someone else, without messing with the way things have been for a very, very, very long time.
In the end, we realized that there are systematic injustices at play, here, and everywhere, and nowhere with more repercussions than in poor communities. On those steps, Gary spoke with conviction that there are ways to address this type of systematic violence against the poor. This is a much larger conversation, and a very important one. Undercover investigations and rescues are still of extreme importance, but they are one part of a larger vision to shore-up leadership and systems of governance that will protect orphans, widows, and the most vulnerable among us.
The Locust Effect is the most articulate presentation of this vision that I have read yet from Gary Haugen, and I am grateful for it.
It is important to note that if you buy the book before Feb 15th, your purchase will be matched, and in addition, all author royalties go directly to the work of IJM.
Read more here.