Violence: Primary Cause of Poverty in the Developing World – #LocustEffect

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The reality of poverty in the developing world seems ever present. Which week goes by without television or web based news reports showing us thousands of people in refugee camps, or poverty stricken communities coping with natural disaster?

There are also many wonderful non-government organisations seeking responding to the plight of the global poor. Child sponsorship programs like Compassion, World Vision, and others do a tremendous amount of good to develop world communities.

Recently I have read and reviewed The Locust Effect, by Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros (Oxford University Press). This ground breaking book exposes a dimension of global poverty that we simply have not seen: the primary factor perpetuating poverty for the poorest and most vulnerable people on earth is violence. Violence accounts for the reality that despite the generous international aid provided by wealthier nations, and despite the wonderful work done through child sponsorship and other compassionate programs, the plight of the developing world’s poorest people has not changed in any meaningful sense.

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Law enforcement and justice systems in the developing world are generally broken and dysfunctional. Worse: The Locust Effect cites case after case where police, far from protecting the most vulnerable people in the developing world, actually perpetrate violence against them. The justice systems which are supposed to restrain evil are so broken that they often intensify the violence and suffering of the poor.

The Locust Effect shows us that ending the violence and transforming systems of justice is the missing piece of the puzzle in assisting the poor of the developing world. We need to realise that in terms of our compassionate response to the plight of the global poor, all our efforts will only have limited value if we cannot stop the plague of violence tearing away at the life and hope of the world’s poorest.

There are important implications here for Christian and denominational aid organisations. We certainly need to continue what we are doing to assist good mission, grow Gospel ministry, and to address the needs of the communities we are working with. At the same time, Christian aid and mission organisations need to partner with agencies like International Justice Mission. As they do, they can assist in the reformation of justice systems long broken and dysfunctional. This will also provide much needed support for those who have suffered, and continue to suffer, at the hands of violent perpetrators.

If this is any interest to you, I urge you to buy a copy of The Locust Effect. The authors are deeply Christian men, and the organisation they work with, International Justice Mission, does profound and valuable work coming to the aid of the world’s poor. The Christian worldview evidenced in IMJ’s work harmonises wonderfully with a Christian reformed heritage. There are many opportunities for collaboration.

In future posts, I will examine some more specifics of why violence is likened to a plague of locusts. Until then, please order a copy of The Locust Effect.

While the book is published in an academic format (footnotes, etc) it remains exceptionally readable. For me, it was an eye opening and, in places, confronting read. It has been incredibly valuable in deepening my understanding of global poverty, and how we should be responding as Christians. I heartily recommend it to you.

All copies of The Locust Effect sold during the week of Feb 03 will attract a $20 donation to IJM from a very generous friend of the organisation (US buyers only). So, for those of you in the US, buying the book is like making a donation to this very important work! Brilliant!

All general book royalties go straight to IJM

A better story – and why I haven’t blogged for the last six months

Let me start by apologising for not posting anything for the last six months. You might be wondering what happened…

Well, over time, I had gone cold on the whole idea of posting. My feelings varied. One day I wanted to pick it up again, and the next day I’d be thinking ‘who wants to read this anyway?’

I suppose with everything that happened with my exit from Redlands, my confidence had been slam dunked. I would be the first to say that I do not always find criticism easy to manage. But in this case what was said (admittedly by a small number of people) disturbed and appalled me. It left me bruised, broken, and damaged.

You can move on physically and take up residence on the other side of the country. But those voices stayed with me. They worked to undermine my desire to write regularly. They attacked my ability to pastor with confidence, to preach with a sense of urgency and passion, to do anything worthwhile, really. Maybe it was only those close to me that noticed my struggle, or felt it. Most of the time I survived by pushing through these darker times, praying that God would help me through, and that he would enable me to stand.

It’s an odd thing, really, how voices of untruth and ungrace can be so dogged and persistent in your mind. Rationally, of course, you can work it all through. You know what has been said is a lie. You know it is untrue. You’re aware of all the other dynamics in the situation. But beyond all your rationalisation, the evil one delights to use these voices as his own. He uses them to undermine the reality of what Jesus has done in you and for you. The accuser always attempts to recast Gospel reality into an ugly, chaotic falsehood.

In my case, those voices spoke to my own insecurities. They exposed my tendency to want to do things in my own strength. To protect myself with my own defences. To answer the voice of accusation with my own resources. What a curse self reliance is. How much better to have answered as Jesus did, throwing himself on the faithfulness of the Father, and citing the Word to the accuser’s face.

So, in reality, an absence of writing was an indication that the voices of the past were still demonising me.

So, what has changed? Well, I am seeking to live more in the strength of Jesus and his work in me and for me. It is his reality which determines who I am today and what I do. His truth sets the agenda, and it conquers every malicious voice the accuser might seek to use.

Of course, I have known Jesus’ reality for around four decades now. And it’s true that I never ‘unknew’ those wonderful truths. But it’s also true that everything which has happened has given me a fresh opportunity to embrace and own the good news again. It’s a daily decision to follow truth, and to place your trust in it.

Over recent months I have been reading posts from Don Miller’s Storyline blog. Miller’s blog has example after example of people impacted deeply by the grace of Jesus, and who want to live in that reality.

A few years ago, I read Miller’s book ‘A Million Miles in a Thousand Years’ Here again, the book works with the story metaphor. It challenged me to think of what kind of story I am living, what kind of part I am playing, what kind of character I am becoming.

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Then, a few weeks ago, I had one of these ‘aha’ moments. It is reflected in how often the first person pronoun is used in the last sentence of the previous paragraph. Here is the profound reality: I get to make the decisions about my story, my part, my character. Sure, God is sovereign, and I believe that were it not for his love my will would be bound in all rebellion and the fall. But in his grace I am still a free agent. Jesus calls me to live his new life and his better way. On top of that, Jesus lives in me through his Spirit, recreating my inner nature, and empowering me – albeit imperfectly – to follow where he leads.

…because of Jesus, I get to decide how my story will unfold…

Here’s the point: Because of Jesus, I get to decide where my life is going, and how my story is unfolding. And those voices? Well, they don’t get to shape my story any more. No longer do they have the capacity to influence the unfolding events of my life.

I own my story. And in Jesus’ name I am embracing his work of change and transformation. Those ugly voices will still appear from time to time. But the grace of Jesus speaks a more beautiful and liberating reality.

Thanks for listening…


An Appeal re: Asylum Seekers

Last night I tossed and turned, and woke way too early. My mind was occupied with the current debate on Asylum Seekers, and how both major parties were about to reinvent the harsh policy of indefinitely detaining asylum seekers who arrive by boat.

I know this subject is incredibly complex, and that there is a wide spectrum of views. Even so, I rose early and wrote this letter to my local MP, Melissa Parke. I should also say that I sent it to a few other MPs as well 😉

I wanted to share it with you, and encourage you to prayerfully remember those who for no fault of their own are fleeing for their lives. Please also remember that around 90% of people who come on ‘the boats’ are eventually recognised as genuine refugees. Further, many of them are unable to follow the standard channels of seeking a refugee visa through an Australian Embassy in their country. As the letter implies, in some places, Australian Embassies are in secret locations.

Anyway, here’s my email to Melissa Parke, MP:

August 15, 2012 06:48

Dear Melissa,

Having spent a near sleepless night thinking through the current discussion in federal parliament re: asylum seekers , I wanted to write to you as my parliamentary representative and appeal to you to seek a solution on this matter that does not include indefinite detention on Nauru or Manus Island.

I must acknowledge that I do not have an exhaustive understanding of all the relevant polices, nor do I grasp all the complexities that face those seeking asylum or those government representatives and officials who are seeking to deal with their arrival and subsequent request for asylum. Even so, I am deeply disturbed by the option currently being discussed in Parliament.

My question: Given that our goal seems to be to stop the boats and stop the deaths at sea, why can’t the Australian Government develop a strategic partnership with Indonesia to process requests for asylum on Indonesian soil?

The typical track for most refugees arriving by boat is via Indonesia. It appears that most ‘people smugglers’ operate out of Indonesia, or have key staging operations there. If a collaborative Australian/Indonesian approach would establish processing facilities or camps in Indonesia, it would therefore stop the boats from leaving and immediately end the market for people smugglers. Asylum seekers would see this as a preferred option to risking their lives at sea.

These processing facilities could be staffed by Australian Immigration officials with a clear brief to expeditiously assess the bona fides of asylum claims. There should be clear time limits for each person’s claim so that people are not detained indefinitely.

It seems most people currently coming through Indonesian channels are people to whom the ‘normal’ paths of asylum request (seek visa via an Australian Embassy) are not open, for example an Afgan Hazara fleeing the Taliban cannot go to the Australian Embassy in Kabul because according to DFAT its location is secret. As the normal channels are not open to such people, we cannot expect them to use those channels. We must provide some other means for them to seek a life of freedom and peace.

Please consider my appeal, and act compassionately in the interests of those who have no voice, and who have no means to come to Australia via the proper channels.

Grace and peace,

Dave Groenenboom

Rethinking Refugees

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I have just had a vivid dream. And not being one who dreams a lot, I thought it was worth sharing.

I was at an outdoor venue listening to my daughter (@melodyjoyg) speak about Australia’s current treatment of refugees. Melody always speaks with passion and warmth, and this time was no exception. Except that I can’t remember anything she said. Toward the end, though, she said “I’ll now show you how we should welcome those who have risked all to come here…”

She asked us to close our eyes, and when we opened them Melody had transformed herself into a Old English Sheepdog puppy. I know. That’s pretty crazy. But think about it: what do you do with an old English Sheepdog Puppy? You walk up and pat it, cuddle it, play with it. You love a puppy like that, and you want to take it home, and make it part of your family.

So, how does all that work when we’re thinking about refugees?

Well, we all know that there are good processes to determine the bona fides of those seeking to be recognised as refugees, and we know Australia needs to guard her borders.

We should also know that over 90% of those who come to Australia in boats are eventually recognised as refugees. That is, nearly all have a valid case!

While not neglecting due process and assessment, my dream is that we can love and receive refugees warmly and openly and lovingly. As Australians, we need to learn how to ‘take them home and make them part of our family’. Like how we are drawn to embrace a puppy. We want to give them a home so we can care for them and provide shelter and safety. It may sound childish, and it probably should. Then again, children tell us a lot about how to treat people in need.

Yesterday I heard one voice that breathed a little light into the refugee question. Foreign Minister designate Bob Carr, almost as an aside in his press conference with the Prime Minister, said he was passionate about the plight of refugees. That’s what we need here: the language of heart, instead of the fear driven three word slogans of ‘Stop The Boats’.

Truth be known: Melody doesn’t work with refugees, although in her position with Compassion Australia, she has a great opportunity to bring the plight of the broken and the needy into our lives.

And really, I still think the whole sheepdog puppy thing is a little weird. But I know this: refugees need safety and care. They need love and friendship. They need to know there is a place where they can live without fear, where the nightmares can be stilled, and where they can breathe again.

Australia, we can do this.

Q: what are your thoughts about how we treat refugees?

Next: one inspiring example of how this has been done

Will God really protect me?

One of the primary questions people ask about Christianity is whether it produces actual outcomes: whether it makes a real difference to their lives. We know that Jesus is God’s son, that he died and rose again, that he rules the universe, and that he is returning to complete his restoration of all things. But does this make a difference to how we live?

This morning I read in Ps 94 how God is the avenger of those who are victimised and oppressed. He judges the earth. He does not reject his people or forsake his inheritance. He rises up for his people against his enemies. God is our fortress and our refuge.

Can you see how our view of God influences how we engage with our world and how we live in it and how we live with others? If God is our fortress, I don’t need to bolster myself with my status, or my possessions, or my reputation. If God is my refuge, I don’t have to take refuge in my orthodoxy, or in my church.

My comfort is that God’s plan will come to fruition irrespective of my circumstances

Today, my day is in God’s trusting hands. I move into my day knowing that I am working in his plan, so I don’t have to cajole him into working in mine. My comfort is that God’s plan will come to fruition irrespective of my circumstances. This is true for his plan for me, as well as his plans for my world.

Here’s the question we all need to ask: Do I actually believe God will protect me today? In my work, my living, my witness, my relationships, at my rock and my hard place?

Or are these things just nice thoughts to start the day with, but they have no ultimate power to impact my reality?