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Nothing to fear

Books | Feeling bored with your Christian life? Author and activist Gary A. Haugen says fighting injustice is the answer

Issue: "2008 Daniel of the Year," Dec. 13, 2008

We are entering a winter of discontent for some U.S. evangelical conservatives. Not only does darkness come early and (in many areas) cold weather descend, but the economy is frozen and our politics may be as well. Even more icy is what Gary A. Haugen sees: "a palpable restlessness among faithful, earnest Christians who feel like they are on the journey with Jesus, but somehow missing the adventure." His new book, Just Courage (IVP), offers a gutsy alternative to sad stasis.

Haugen until 1997 was a senior trial attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Now he is president and CEO of International Justice Mission, a nonprofit that in 12 countries helps to rescue victims and prosecute perpetrators of sexual exploitation, slavery, and other abuses. IJM investigators collect evidence and work with local authorities to rescue victims; then IJM lawyers seek to prosecute the traffickers.

Q: What is the cause of the subtle but deep discontent that you see among many Christians?

They feel this way because they thought that the Christian life would offer them something that was somehow bigger, more glorious-but at the end of the day, they find themselves wondering, Is this all there is? Christians seem to be yearning to be liberated from a life of accumulated triviality and small fears, and I see in Scripture a clear pathway to freedom-namely, in answering Christ's call to join Him in His struggle for justice in the world.

Q: You give three reasons why many Christians miss larger callings and settle for little.

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First, ignorance-many of us are simply not aware of the massive, urgent need for rescue in the world. The vast abundance and isolation of the world's affluent communities mean that many Western Christians miss God's great calling to a life of heroic rescue simply because they are oblivious to the need.

A second reason is despair-sometimes it's not that we don't know enough, it's that we know too much. With so many accounts of child prostitution, slavery, racial violence, and torture, we have absolutely no idea what to do about it, or how the seemingly small skills or gifts we have to offer could make any difference at all.

And finally, fear-responding to God's call to justice requires us to embrace the unknown, things beyond our control. It sounds scary, uncomfortable, exhausting, and probably dangerous.

So in our ignorance, despair, or fear, many of us miss the great and glorious adventure God has in store for us when we trust Him wholly and walk with Him.

Q: You use cul-de-sacs as a metaphor concerning the search for safety. What have we learned about them?

When we began to build cu-de-sacs here in the United States, it was to address homeowners' fears about traffic in their streets. The thought was that these closed-off streets would eliminate the kind of traffic that could be dangerous to children playing on the sidewalks. But now, studies reveal that cul-de-sacs are actually the most dangerous residential set-up for kids. Far more children are injured by cars backing up than by those moving forward. So, the safety we thought we were securing was just an illusion.

In the same way, I find we've built spiritual cul-de-sacs for ourselves, believing that when we feel safe and secure, we can most experience the fullness of God; but in this illusory safety, we instead find ourselves restless, longing for a way out, and somehow missing that closeness to our Maker we thought we would find.

Q: How do we become brave?

First we have to recognize fear as the problem. Fear is embarrassing, so we tend to want to believe that something else is holding us back. Then, once we're able to recognize our fears for what they are, we have to choose not to be safe. We need to bring our gifts, passions, and strengths beyond places of safety and control, and into a sphere where we actually need God. God dignifies our existence with choices-and one of those is whether we will choose to follow Him beyond the limits of our own small fears and interests. And when we make this choice, we see God show up. This then builds our confidence in Him, and we find the true basis for being brave.

Q: Why did you start IJM?

When I was working as a lawyer for the Department of Justice, I had many friends who were serving some of the poorest people on our globe as missionaries and humanitarian workers overseas. They were caring for those suffering from hunger, from sickness, from spiritual emptiness-but as they worked in areas of great need, they were surprised to learn that the root of much of this suffering that they saw among the world's poor was violence.


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