A Life-Changing TED Talk

There have been a handful of times in my life where I can viscerally remember my world being turned upside down. I can remember where I was, what was said, and how everything changed in that moment.

Hearing Gary Haugen speak was one of those moments.

Like so many of you, I am someone who has a picture of a sponsor child on my refrigerator. I have supported missions trips to build water for clean wells, written checks to educate girls, bought a stake in a goat to feed a hungry community.

But until I learned about the Locust Effect, it had never crossed my mind that it was little use to provide a vegetable garden to a widow in Uganda, if her greedy neighbor can steal her land and produce and get away with it. It is of little use for me to pay for school fees and uniforms (and menstrual supplies) so that girls can go to school, if they are so afraid of being raped on the way that they cannot go. It is of no use at all to send clothes and books and staples to impoverished communities in India, if the people are enslaved and physically cannot leave the property to avail themselves of help.

Compassion needs to move us to address the heartbreak of poverty. (And, thank God, it does.)

But wisdom needs to inform our compassion so that, in addressing poverty, we are also addressing the violence which so often keeps poor people poor.

Maybe you’re not a reader. Maybe books like the Locust Effect and Half the Sky are not your thing. But maybe you have twenty minutes to watch a video clip, or to cue this up to listen to as a podcast. It’s a game-changer.

Please listen. This is the best TED talk I have ever listened to. And, I dare say, probably the most important. (Click on the picture, and it will direct you to the talk.)

Share the video, find out more and follow up with International Justice Mission here.

“History will convene a tribunal of our grandchildren, and they will ask us…. “what did you do?” – Gary Haugen

I want to have a better answer to that question.

Finding God On The Streets – {a guest post by Brenna Lyles}

In February I had the pleasure of spending a few hours in amiable car conversation with four college women. They were magnificent: they turned a commute (boring!) into a road trip (wildly fun!) We were on our way to hear Gary Haugen speak about the Locust Effect – so I already knew from their interest that they were women with deep convictions. I also discovered that God had gifted some of them to write. A few weeks back, you heard from Tifani Oaks. Today, please welcome my other lovely driving companion, Brenna Lyles, to the Words That Changed My World series!


It was my freshman year of college when I began to take initiative in my faith.

A series of “college experiences” gone sour led me on a path to a on-campus Christian fellowship. Despite growing up in the church, I had never experienced such a group and I was both intrigued and inspired. I immediately began immersing myself into this community of young people who were sharing their lives together and living with an indescribable fire.

As I grew in relationship with God and fellow believers in the following months, I came to understand the realness of my faith. It was more than just a book filled with intangible theories and moral codes, it was life. And I was finally ready to make it my life.

Suddenly, it seemed the chandelier that was my life went from dull to noticeably lit.

For months, I had heard a voice from within telling me that there was so much more in store for me, that God had a greater plan for me… if I was willing to change. These words came in parallel with a weekly sermon series on the Apostle Paul’s notion of “putting off” the old self and “putting on” God’s best version of me.

So, I started small and changed some things. The obvious things. I stopped swearing, realized the toxic effects of gossiping and my judgmental attitude, made myself accountable to several friends and mentors, and ended a relationship of two years that I knew was both disobedient and holding me back in my walk with Christ.

And, gradually, life seemed brighter and I began to experience a deep sense of peace. So, I dusted off my hands, sat back, and let God take it from there.

I’ve changed. I’ve done my part, I figured. It’s time to wait for God to follow through on that great promise.

But it didn’t come on my time, which left me discontent and irritated. I still had many areas of my heart that needed a little fix-me-up, but I neglected that small detail.

Was all this “putting off” for nothing? I began to wonder as time went on.

I felt God telling me it would take yet some more work.

Perhaps a month or two later, I read Francis Chan’s Crazy Love. The book, in conjunction with my quest for putting on a new self, inspired me to spend a day feeding our town’s homeless people – a population I knew very little about but very harshly judged for their “poor life choices.” I recruited my best friend; we made some PB&Js and drove downtown.

Expecting to simply hand out sandwiches and walk away, I was shocked when these individuals leaped into conversation with me – me, a complete stranger. It was clear they had a deep longing to share their lives, their stories, their downfalls, their journeys, their misfortunes. They spoke of broken homes, running away, addictions, oppression, and – incredibly– God’s grace. I sat on the sidewalk and soaked it in.

I cannot say it was one particular phrase or statement that did it, but I came home that day with their words pulsing through me. I felt renewed and filled and radically changed. I knew I had landed upon something.

A bit selfishly, I continued pursuing encounters with this community both in and outside of my town. Street ministry became my comfort zone. It always starts with a, “Hi, how are you today?” and ends planted on the sidewalk, immersed in conversation.

Each story I am told, each vulnerable soul I meet softens my heart – something the Lord knows I need. I am humbled by the people I have met, as I’ve realized that we are broken just the same. I am uplifted to experience an overwhelming percentage who are in love with Jesus.

Paul’s words in Romans 8:38-39 are reality for me, as I’ve realized that other’s sin and my sin are no different; drug addictions are no worse in God’s eyes than shopping addictions. Neither are outside the bounds of God’s forgiveness; neither can separate us from His love.

I have learned to better love everyone without judgment; to strive to meet the relational needs of others; to understand God’s love more fully and deeply. I yearn for a different kind of justice.

The words I felt God speaking into my heart over a year ago and the words of the poor and powerless have truly changed my world.

I’m putting off a hardened, self-focused self for a new, humbled, loving, empathetic, and selfless (yet still imperfect) me.

This coming fall, I will serve as a leader in a community service ministry team within my Christian fellowship. I hope and plan to make serving the homeless community and seeking justice my life’s work in whatever capacity the Lord calls me to.

This was the great promise.

1654409_10203230162420911_385578085_nBrenna is an aspiring journalist, blogger, and Communications and Economics student. In her down time, she can be found training for half-marathons, dancing around her apartment, sipping coffee, or cooking up a delicious, healthy meal. Brenna is a lover of breakfast, country music, public radio, theological books, and quaint downtowns. Her life’s passion is listening to and telling stories of extraordinary people. Brenna blogs at http://aninterviewwithexistence.wordpress.com/, and you can find her on Facebook.

photo credit: James Lee Flickr – Creative Commons

P.S. South Africa: watch out for the locusts

locust_effectReading Gary Haugen’s new book The Locust Effect was a consuming affair. It was sobering, thought-provoking, illuminating, and an emotional punch in the gut. Drawing from years of experience in seeking justice for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, the book is a call to awareness and action. I confess that even though I was born and raised in Africa, even though I have a law degree, even though we have experienced violent crime first hand, even though I have been on mission trips…. I didn’t know.

I didn’t know that for the poorest in the developing world, violence is not just a problem. It is THE problem. 

But as I read, and formulated my thoughts on how to tell others about this reality, this challenge, this opportunity… there was a niggling thought at the back of my mind. A niggle which wouldn’t go away, and which I need to articulate here: The Locust Effect is a book written about the world’s poorest. It speaks of the poverty stricken in the developing world, and how crushed public justice systems have left them vulnerable to every day terror. Like a plague of locusts devastate everything in its path, so too violence destroys the little the poor have to live on, and threatens their daily existence.  (My review on Amazon is here, and my blog post on a beginner’s guide to the locust effect is here.)

But the niggle is this: the book may be talking about the poorest in the developing world, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was talking about South Africa too. South Africa is among the most developed and the wealthiest of all the countries in Africa: it is politically stable, it is economically robust and developing. But South Africa knows about the locusts of violence. It knows about the terror of vulnerability.

As such, I want to commend the Locust Effect to South African thinkers and talkers and prayers and community leaders – as a case study and conversation starter. The book offers case studies drawn from around the world, seeking understanding about why public justice systems in post-colonial eras have struggled to protect the most marginalized. The book highlights two reasons which are particularly relevant to the South African conversation:

1. The checkered history and development of law enforcement.

Haugen recounts the insights he gleaned from Kirpal Dhillon, the Former Director General of Police in the Indian states of Punjab and Madhya Pradesh and Vice Chancellor, Bhopal University, India. Dhillon’s experience and research into the history of the Indian police has given him invaluable insight into how policing in India got to be how it is today, with millions left without any protection or shelter from the law, and thus vulnerable to slavery, sex-trafficking and a host of other horrors. Dhillon explains that part of the problem in his endorsement of The Locust Effect:

“In a remarkably sensitive study, very aptly named The Locust Effect, the authors have provided many new valuable insights into the intimate relationship between poverty and violence plaguing the billions of global poor in many post-colonial societies across continents. This is also probably the first time that Western observers have come upon the unpleasant reality that it is, in fact, the native political establishments in South Asian countries themselves who stubbornly refuse to break away from the colonial ruler supportive police and criminal justice systems, concepts, laws, procedures, and mind sets imposed by the imperialist rulers, thus denying their peoples the benefits of a citizen friendly law enforcement system. An invaluable companion to all criminal justice studies.”

His point is that law enforcement in India was first established to protect the interests of the colonial rulers, not the everyman-on-the-street. Structurally, philosophically and logistically, they sought to protect those in power FROM the masses, not to protect the masses from abuses of power. When colonialism ended, the new structures of the country adopted the existing system without ever re-thinking or re-organizing the purpose of policing again, and the every day poor remain as unprotected by the “new” police as they were by the old.

South Africa is not where India is. The systems are not the same. But the question is an important one, and those in law, politics, public safety and policy formation would do well to ask – are we asking fresh questions for a fresh set of challenges, and helping our public justice system to serve the needs of the new South Africa? Or are we expecting an old system to do a new country’s work, and getting frustrated when it crumbles under the pressure?

2. The parallel system of private security

The second issue Haugen raises is to consider the effect that the rise of private security has had on justice for the poorest. In countries where violence happens and public justice systems are crumbling, those with means have responded by buying their own protection. Private Security is the biggest employer in Africa. Those who can afford it, can pay for a security guard to protect their place of business, a neighborhood watch patrol for their neighborhood. They can pay a lawyer or private investigator if they need to deal with public justice, to help them navigate the system. They can BUY the protection that the justice system should afford.

South Africans know all about this.

What The Locust Effect points out, though, is that when those with education, means and influence can pay for private security – they lose the need to advocate for better public security, and effectively abandon the system to further decay. Why get embroiled with an overworked public prosecutor when you can hire your own attorney to expedite a civil claim for relief? Why campaign for better training and resourcing for the local police when you can hire a crowd of better-paid, better-managed, neatly-uniformed security guards to keep your home safe?

The result is that less political will, less community urgency, less debate and pressure and leverage goes towards making a public justice system that is better for ALL.

South Africa has not been razed by a plague of locusts yet. But we know about violence, and my nagging feeling is that there are helpful lessons to learn from others’ experience. We cannot afford to give up on the police and courts in South Africa. For the sake of the WHOLE country’s vulnerability to the locusts of violence, we can learn lessons and glean hope from others’ experience. The Locust Effect is about how the end of poverty requires the end of violence. And the implications are clear: when we take a stand against violence, we will push back against poverty too.

I’m giving away two copies of the Locust Effect this week on my blog. You can enter here.  You can read more and watch some incredible short videos on it at the Locust Effect Website. And the book will be available in South Africa in April 2014: order your copies from Kalahari or Exclusive Books.

An incredible movie and a book giveaway – The Locust Effect

Yesterday I introduced you to a book I believe is going to change the way we look at global poverty: The Locust Effect. If you missed yesterday, here’s the link to The Beginner’s Guide to the Locust Effect, and the  link to The Locust Effect website. Today: there’s a free movie and free books (yes! that’s plural! BOOKS!) up for grabs.

Watch the Movie

Maybe wordy words are not your thing. Maybe a picture is worth a thousand words. If so, here is a short video to introduce The Locust Effect.

This week, we are spreading the word about the plague of everyday violence and the urgent need for us to address it for the sake of the billions of vulnerable and victimized poor in our world. This calls for courage on our part: courage to not look away, to ask hard questions, to get involved in something messy for the sake of loving the least of these.

Share and Win!

The goal this week is to be AWARE and SHARE. We want to get the word out. IJM has generously offered to let me give away a copy of the book. A hard back copy of The Locust Effect is up for grabs to all entrants within the USA. However, I want to add another book to the prize pile – and so I am offering a Kindle version of the book to a winner outside of the USA, which can be received by email. That’s right folks – there are TWO COPIES OF THE LOCUST EFFECT UP FOR GRABS!

To enter, leave a comment and tell me what action step you took from the suggestions below (share on Twitter, sign the petition, watch the video, etc…). For multiple entries, leave a separate comment for each action step you took.  I will choose a random winner on February 9th. Suggested action steps:

Spread the word about the Locust Effect: Shine a light into the dark places by talking about The Locust Effect with friends and sharing links on social media.

  • Share the video on facebook, twitter, google +, or email it to someone.
  • Share the Locust Effect website
  • Share a blog post about it.
  • Sample Tweet: Can watching a video change the lives of the world’s 4bil poorest? Maybe not, but it’s a start. Watch: http://bit.ly/TLEveryday#LocustEffect
  • -Sample Tweet: It’s time! Buy @garyhaugen’s #LocustEffect this week & $20 will go to @IJM to fight violence against the poor. A win-win:http://bit.ly/BuyTLE

Grab a button and make it your profile picture or cover photo:



TLE Facebook_Cover

Buy the book It is available in major stores and online. (From now until February 8th, $20 will be donated for every copy of The Locust Effect sold, up to $40,000 or 2,000 copies. This would fund 8 rescue operations and rescue hundreds! All author royalties go to IJM to help fight violence against the poor.)

Sign the petition – Send a message to the U.N. now. Ask that violence against the poor be elevated as a global issue. (You can sign with one-click by connecting to Facebook, it only takes a few seconds)

Donate – IJM (the International Justice Mission) is on the ground all over the world bringing rescue to victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression. Give freedom, give justice.

Be creative – share about the Locust Effect in your small group, mention it in a lecture where international affairs are being discussed, write a letter to a newspaper, write a song and share it, shoot a short video with some friends saying “I know what the Locust Effect is!” and upload it onto youtube.

Leave a comment with your action step to enter, and don’t forget to say whether you’re a US or International entrant. Good luck, and thank you for helping spread the word!