Darrow Miller and Friends

The Sinister Link Between Poverty and Violence

Violence and poverty go hand in hand. That shouldn’t surprise anyone, but until recently I had not appreciated just how closely these two evils are related.

God broke my heart for the plight of the poor when I was in college. Since then I have invested my adult life in fighting poverty. For 27 years I worked with the international relief and development organization Food for the Hungry.  For the last five years my efforts have been through the Disciple Nations Alliance.

For many years I have known about the work of Gary Haugen and The International Justice Mission, self-described as follows:

 International Justice Mission is a human rights agency that brings rescue to victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression. IJM lawyers, investigators and aftercare professionals work with local officials to secure immediate victim rescue and aftercare, to prosecute perpetrators and to ensure that public justice systems – police, courts and laws – effectively protect the poor. 

Gary Haugen wrote The Locust Effect about the link between poverty and violenceIn his new book, The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence, Haugen makes the compelling link between violence and the poor. As the subtitle indicates poverty will not end until violence ends. In the introduction, Haugen describes his trip to Rwanda in 1994, weeks after a million people (mostly Tutsis) were murdered by their fellow citizens and rival tribesmen, the Hutu, wielding machetes. He had flown in with a team of lawyers and criminal investigators to document the atrocities.  This experience changed his life.  He writes:

Our task was to assemble from survivor testimony and the horrible mess of physical evidence a very precise picture of how mass murder actually happens. And over time, the question began to take a fierce hold on me. I couldn’t stop trying to picture it in my mind. What is it like, exactly, to be pressed up against the back wall of this church with panic on every side from your terrified family as the steel, blood-soaked machetes hack their way to you through your screaming and slaughtered neighbors?

What eventually emerged for me, and changed me, was a point of simple clarity about the nature of violence and the poor. What was so clear to me was the way these very impoverished Rwandans at their point of most desperate need huddled against those advancing machetes in that church did not need someone to bring them a sermon, or food, or a doctor, or a teacher, or a micro-loan. They needed someone to restrain the hand with the machete—and nothing else would do.

Having worked among the poor for over a quarter of a century, I am familiar with evangelical methodology: preach the gospel and provide food, clothing, shelter, healthcare and micro-loans to those who respond. I have also seen the impact of violence firsthand. But I had never made the direct connection, as Haugen has, between ending violence and ending poverty.  Haugen calls the violence the locust effect.

Without the world noticing, the locusts of common, criminal violence are right now ravaging the lives and dreams of billions of our poorest neighbors. We have come to call the unique pestilence of violence and the punishing impact it has on efforts to lift the global poor out of poverty the locust effect. This plague of predatory violence is different from other problems facing the poor; and so, the remedy to the locust effect must also be different.

In the lives of the poor, violence has the power to destroy everything—and is unstopped by our other responses to their poverty. This makes sense because it can also be said of other acute needs of the poor. Severe hunger and disease can also destroy everything for a poor person—and the things that stop hunger don’t necessarily stop disease, and the things that stop disease don’t necessarily address hunger. The difference is the world knows that poor people suffer from hunger and disease—and the world gets busy trying to meet those needs.

NGOs, governments and churches can respond to the crying needs of hunger by providing food, can respond to disease by bringing medicine and health education, to ignorance by bringing schools, to homelessness by providing housing. But what do individuals, churches, and NGOs do about violence? This is the question Haugen addresses in his book. And stopping the violence, Haugen states, is the key to ending poverty.

But, the world overwhelmingly does not know that endemic to being poor is a vulnerability to violence, or the way violence is, right now, catastrophically crushing the global poor. As a result, the world is not getting busy trying to stop it. And, in a perfect tragedy, the failure to address that violence is actually devastating much of the other things good people are seeking to do to assist them.

With Haugen, we need to begin to think creatively for ways to bring the rule of law to bear on the violence behind  poverty. We need to begin new  institutions that flow from this principle to bring greater social peace to ravaged communities around the world.

For more on this see Gary Haugen’s book.

Darrow Miller 08 21 09 051 (2)–          Darrow Miller


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Darrow is co-founder of the Disciple Nations Alliance and a featured author and teacher. For over 30 years, Darrow has been a popular conference speaker on topics that include Christianity and culture, apologetics, worldview, poverty, and the dignity of women. From 1981 to 2007 Darrow served with Food for the Hungry International (now FH association), and from 1994 as Vice President. Before joining FH, Darrow spent three years on staff at L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland where he was discipled by Francis Schaeffer. He also served as a student pastor at Northern Arizona University and two years as a pastor of Sherman Street Fellowship in urban Denver, CO. In addition to earning his Master’s degree in Adult Education from Arizona State University, Darrow pursued graduate studies in philosophy, theology, Christian apologetics, biblical studies, and missions in the United States, Israel, and Switzerland. Darrow has authored numerous studies, articles, Bible studies and books, including Discipling Nations: The Power of Truth to Transform Culture (YWAM Publishing, 1998), Nurturing the Nations: Reclaiming the Dignity of Women for Building Healthy Cultures (InterVarsity Press, 2008), LifeWork: A Biblical Theology for What You Do Every Day (YWAM, 2009), Rethinking Social Justice: Restoring Biblical Compassion (YWAM, 2015), and more. These resources along with links to free e-books, podcasts, online training programs and more can be found at Disciple Nations Alliance (https://disciplenations.org).