By Shannon Jammal-Hollemans, M.Div. student
Nicholas Wolterstorff once wrote, “As we wind our way through this world and come across injustice, we meet a wounded God.” This past January, the wounds of God were all too evident on the trip that Dr. Mariano Avila led of eight students to Honduras. Yet the sound of God’s voice and glimpses of God’s face were unmistakably clear as well. The clarity of this vision of God was made manifest in the people touched by and working through la Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa (ASJ), a Honduran Christian organization working for justice. Our trip was facilitated by Association for a More Just Society-U.S., a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit that supports the Honduran organization’s work.
Whether by securing land contracts, investigating criminal activity, offering micro-loans, or reporting on corruption, ASJ and other agencies serve as Christ’s hands and feet in the nation with currently the highest murder rate in the world. Its members do this because they understand that being an agent of God’s shalom means having and living a risky faith.
Seventy percent of Hondurans live in poverty. Outside investors hold many of the resources and manipulate the system to maintain their power. The profit they make is not reinvested in the Honduran economy but sent to their own countries.
The crackdown on the drug trade in Mexico and Colombia heightened the drug trade in Honduras. Eighty percent of the cocaine imported into the U.S. comes through Central American countries. As a result, the murder rate in Honduras is presently eighty-two per one hundred thousand people (as compared to five per one hundred thousand people in the United States).
While the evangelical population in Honduras is growing, violence, corruption, gang activity and drug trafficking are increasing as well. The country has no long, abiding constitution (the current one was written in the 1980s), and thus respect for the law is low, particularly among politicians. Various ministries have been working here for years, starting small Christian schools and health clinics. However the depths these efforts can go in reforming Honduran society is limited. This is where ASJ comes in. Their approach focuses on changing systems of injustice and intercepting the cycle of poverty.
ASJ works to honor life and defend justice with complete dependence on God. ASJ understands that, as in the United States, there are systems in place that work to actively maintain poverty. Justice is, at its core, an issue of power. The abuse and misuse of power is the root of injustice. ASJ has begun to address corrupt systems and change them by seeking justice. While the efforts of many ministries are limited to acts of mercy, ASJ seeks both mercy and justice—that is, to meet needs and bring about systemic changes for a more just society.
The staff at ASJ acknowledges the fact that proclaiming the gospel means risking ones’ self for others. The four issues ASJ addresses include violence (sexual, domestic, and gang), corruption, land rights, and labor rights.
One program our class learned about was Rescate or “Rescue from Child Sexual Abuse.” Rescate is an arm of ASJ which works to seek justice and healing for sexually abused children. The program has three components: investigative, legal, and psychological. In each area, ASJ has capable and passionate people working to serve those whom society often neglects. They work with police and the public prosecutor’s office to see that perpetrators receive justice, that victimized children are kept safe, and that they and their families receive therapy to work towards healing.
Another ASJ program is an independent news source, Revistazo.com. The site publishes stories of corruption, such as the 15,000 people (mostly friends of politicians) who received salaries as teachers in schools they did not teach. Revistazo.com publishes lists of teachers on the payroll at each school so that communities can ensure their funds are being properly spent. Revistazo.com also exposes companies that exploit fast food, security, and cleaning workers by publishing investigative findings as well as filing formal complaints against them for human rights violations with the government.
Nueva Suyapa is a central site of ASJ’s efforts. There are forty-four evangelical churches located in this small community. We had the privilege of speaking to the leaders of two of them, Pastors Luis and Ramon. Pastor Luis is from the Brigades of Love denomination, and works a great deal with both members and non-members his church on drug rehabilitation. Pastor Ramon is the leader of the Christian Reformed Church in Nueva Suyapa. He told us, “If you are not willing to give someone something to eat, don’t bother sharing the gospel.”
ASJ works towards a more just Honduras with a functional government no longer in need of external aid. Today, however, the basic needs of many Hondurans are not met. One of the organizations helping to fill these gaps is Diaconia Honduras, an agency formed by the Christian Reformed Churches in the country to respond to the overwhelming demands of poverty. They work in a variety of ways, both preventative and restorative, to serve as Christ’s hands and feet. These efforts include ecclesiastical training, community development, preventative health education, scholarships, and water projects.
In all of the work our class was able to observe while in Honduras, the Biblical vision of shalom, of desperation and courage met by restoration and healing, was evident. The approaches to ministry vary, but the diversity is a blessing. It is a wonderful gift from God to have people working to change broken systems as well as healing in the daily lives of Hondurans. Whether by educating children or offering micro-loans, working to prosecute criminal activity or educating lawmakers, these activities are tangible ways of presenting the gospel message that brings life both here and now, and in eternity.