Jessica: Hey, friends. Welcome back. This is Jessica Honegger, founder of the socially conscious fashion brand, Noonday Collection, and this is The Going Scared Podcast, where we cover all things impact, entrepreneurship, and courage.
Today’s guest is Gary Haugen, and I am a long-time friend and admirer of his. He’s the CEO and founder of International Justice Mission, otherwise known as IJM. IJM is the world’s largest NGO dedicated to ending slavery around the globe. Before founding IJM in 1997, Gary was a human rights attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice. And you’re gonna get to hear more of his story today. In 1994, he served as the director of the United Nations investigation in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. He’s the author of a number of books. I’ve read every single one of them. And the most recent one is called The Locust Effect, and it dives deep into how IJM has created a model of ending slavery that’s both totally unique and completely world-changing.
Today’s conversation with Gary also launches a special series of shows that I am so excited for you to be a part of. This week and every week for the next couple of months, we are going to be walking through the message of, you guessed it, my new book, Imperfect Courage. We’re gonna take this one chapter at a time, and I’m gonna take you through the journey of what it means to live a life of purpose by leaving comfort and going scared. And Gary carries this message so well. He loves to talk about courage and that’s so much of what we spend time talking about today.
To get the most out of this podcast series, I would recommend that you hop on over to Amazon and purchase Imperfect Courage. You are going to get so much more out of these interviews if you also can read along. And for ordering now, for being an early adopter, hop on over to jessicahonegger.com and see all the goodies that you can get including winning the entire new fall collection from Noonday. So, head on over there. Sit back. This is an incredible interview. Don’t forget, today, we are all about choosing courage.
OK. So, I don’t know if you knew this, but you have been in my brain trust for a very, very, very long time now. And I have interviewed a lot of people on this podcast, but you’re the first member of my brain trust to join me today.
Gary: Wow. OK. Well, that sets a pretty high bar. So, I’ll just be the best I can.
Jessica: So, you’ve been talking about courage for a long time, I think before any of us were talking about it. And I think you are really one of the first people that kinda broke courage down and made it more attainable for the everyday person. And there’s so many different ways we could go on this podcast. Actually, we could talk all day, which I know you would not appreciate it because you’re a very busy man. But I really wanted you to take us back to the beginning because your founding story is very much related to Rwanda. And I have a son from Rwanda, which is how Noonday got started, and I feel such a kindredness in there. And I know you get asked all the time about your founding story. But I find that you’re such a passionate founder. When you recall it, it feels like you were just there yesterday. So, I’d love for you to just take us back to the beginning.
A Plague of Violence
Gary: Yeah. So, I was a young lawyer at the U.S. Department of Justice. I was a prosecutor doing police abuse, police corruption cases for the U.S. Department of Justice. And my wife and I had just moved out a few years before from the West Coast, and we were actually expecting twins in the summer of 1994. And that was when this Rwanda genocide broke out. And in this little country most of us had never really heard of before, but about 800,000 people had been murdered in about 8 weeks’ time. And so, at the end of that summer, the international community wanted to try to, you know, bring the leaders of that genocide to justice. And so, I was sent over there a few weeks after the end of the war to be the director of the UN’s genocide investigation.
“And to see the way violence devastated all the other attempts that have been going on for decades to try to help the Rwandan people get out of poverty, to try to thrive, but all that effort was just completely destroyed by violence.” Gary Haugen
And I mean, as anyone might imagine, it was just a completely overwhelming task because I was given this list of a hundred different mass graves and massacre sites where we were just supposed to sort through the forensic evidence of how this genocide had taken place and who had let it. And I think just…because the thing that impacted me so powerfully was the reality of violence. That is to say the way…as a human problem, violence is so viciously different than almost anything else because it’s not a form of suffering that comes because of bad luck or because of bad germs, or bad weather, or something. It comes because another human being wants to hurt you, right? There’s an intentionality to it.
And there I was sorting through thousands of people who had been just butchered. And to see the way violence devastated all the other attempts that have been going on for decades to try to help the Rwandan people get out of poverty, to try to thrive, but all that effort was just completely destroyed by violence. So, that aspect about how special and terrible violence was, came to me, you know, just in incredibly almost grotesque clarity. But also, then, that just draws you to the problem of fear—that violence makes us all scared. So, not only does it hurt people, but it makes the rest of us scared to try to do anything about it because violence fights back.
Launching International Justice Mission (IJM)
And so these were a whole jumble of things you can imagine I am wrestling with every day that I’m there in Rwanda. And the way it connected then to the founding of IJM was that I just sensed this passionate desire that there should be an organization that dealt with the problem of violence against the poor because I didn’t see that that was really a need that we were meeting, because there was this tremendous global effort to address poverty—to make sure that people were not hungry and sick, and homeless. But who is responding to the problem of when the poor are victimized by violence, when someone’s coming at them with a machete?
So, that’s how IJM got started. I, shortly thereafter, left IJM, gathered with some friends to get International Justice Mission started. And so, that’s what we’ve been focused on, on how do we protect the common poor from violence and how do we actually make them safe so they’re not living in fear, and how do we, as the common citizens of the world, overcome our fears of not only stepping up to address the violence that’s threatening the poor, but how do we actually start to become honest about all the other fears that are holding us back from being all that we could with our lives?
Jessica: You are singing my song because I think we first have to recognize the fear and become conscious of that, so we can name it and then overcome it by going scared and demonstrating courage. And I actually visited that Rwandan genocide site with your wife, Jan, a few years ago. And it was such a profound moment for me to be standing there with her and knowing the story that she has now…you know, she’s been such a huge support and ignited you in starting this organization.
And also standing with me was Norbert, who was our attorney, to bring Jack home. And his entire family…actually, he had been macheted during the genocide. He’s a genocide survivor. And now, he was an adoption applicant, and now, as an adult orphan. And then, he went on to become an attorney for International Justice Mission. And standing there in that site, knowing that you could have gone home and gone into a deep dark pit of despair over humanity, which, I think, is a lot of our response right now. I think a lot of people look into the world and see a lot of darkness. And often, that can be paralyzing instead of motivating. But to stand in that moment knowing you took that and you ignited a movement that is shifting all of our paradigms and it’s helping us to own all of our courage, and it’s helping us to humanize the genocide and humanize the devastation that takes place around the world. And you do it with so much hope. So, take us from that moment where you have now come back from Rwanda. Now, you’re running International Justice Mission. How is IJM addressing this issue of violence?
“I think a lot of people look into the world and see a lot of darkness. And often, that can be paralyzing instead of motivating.” Jessica Honegger
Gary: Yeah. Well, first of all, I want to say Jan loved that trip with you. I mean, I’m sure there were, indeed, these very, very deep moments of confronting the painful realities of Rwanda, but she also just spoke of how much joy you guys had together, so…
Jessica: We had a blast. We were trading lipstick colors and giving each other massages. It was a fabulous trip, yes.
Gary: I mean, I didn’t know how many of these details we really wanted to, you know, share with your audience. But you all had a good time is what I think is also the case. But that’s what it’s about. It’s about embracing the wholeness of life, both in depth of sorrow and grief, but also to say that’s not the whole story either. And I think that’s what we try to do with International Justice Mission, is both things, is to say "OK. Let’s have the courage and really stoutness of heart and sort of iron in our spine to actually look at the hard truth about violence. The stuff that is perhaps scariest. But then, let’s also have the courage to understand that that’s not the end of the story, that that is not all that there’s ever been in history, is slaughter and plunder. What there’s also been is love and truth, and mercy, and compassion, and rescue, and heroism, and the invitation that, you know, we actually can live heroic lives. And what’s so interesting about that, to me, is it’s that heroism always of just the common and ordinary person.
Starting Small to Make a Big Difference
Jan and I were just a family, like anybody else, struggling with young kids at home, trying to make a real professional career. But then, trying to just step out beyond the typical fears of the day and say, "I wonder if we can gather with friends and put together the beginning of a movement that just does what we can do. It doesn’t change the world really, but just rescues the one." Because that’s the way International Justice Mission started, is—yes—after this massive picture of genocide where you have this sort of epic catastrophe on a mass scale, the response, really, in my heart, was not "Well, now let’s stop there from ever being another massive catastrophe on a huge scale." It was, "You know what? Who is the one person now threatened by violence and threatened with sexual assault or slavery, or being thrown off their land and they’re being abused by these bullies just because they’re vulnerable and the bully is stronger?
We may not be able to do this for all who need it in the world. But is there not that one widow that we can secure to her land? Is there not that one girl who’s being held in a brothel, who’s being serially raped that we can rescue out? And so, that’s the way IJM started. It was, number one, with friends, with people who were willing to join together to do something hard and beautiful, and then not try to do it everywhere for everything but on behalf of the one, to love the neighbor who was threatened by violence.
“We may not be able to do this for all who need it in the world. But is there not that one widow that we can secure to her land? Is there not that one girl who’s being held in a brothel, who’s being serially raped that we can rescue out? And so, that’s the way IJM started.” Gary Haugen
And so, the first few years—honestly, Jessica—it was just rescuing the one, the two, the three. And at the end of the year, if we had had 486 successful cases of rescue and restoration, that totally counted as a success. But what happened, of course, is when people saw that, "Oh, maybe we can step out and actually make a difference," everyone starts to see what it is that they can do. And that’s how the movement builds. And as the movement builds, it acquires strength and power. And so now, after 20 years of doing this, there are more than 47,000 specific individuals who would stand up and say, "I was being threatened by violence. I was being abused. And the International Justice Mission was able to come and get me out of that place and bring me to a place of restoration." And now that you have the testimony of tens of thousands and you have those tens of thousands then building a movement of their own, we’re starting to see whole governments change so that they actually protect their own citizens in very poor communities. That’s the larger revolution that IJM is seeking. But that big movement began with just a set of friends in a family, seeing if they could not just help one.
Jessica: Wow. The impact, the scale of what just that moment of saying “how can we rescue the one?” and “what’s that done?” is really the hero’s journey. And, you know, you, for me, were one of the first ones to break down courage for me and make it accessible. Because I think I did identify this word or this idea of courage with Martin Luther King and with the firefighters of 9/11, and really big things. It didn’t feel like, "I could demonstrate courage. I could be part of this hero’s journey." And I remember you talking about this moment and it was the good news about injustice, where you were sitting on a bus after you’d returned, and you’re reading the paper, and everyone’s going about their normal life. And you’re thinking back to what you had just witnessed and what you had just seen. And I felt like that was such a waking up moment for you of, "I’m gonna take this. I’m gonna do something about it." Could you tell us a little bit more about sort of this hero’s journey, the wake-up moment that one needs to have in order to become aware of the problems so that they can also be a part of the solution? What do you find is a moment that you see as you’ve been walking with people and waking them up to their courage over the last…well, a couple of decades now?
Overcoming the Isolation of Distance
Gary: That moment you speak of on the bus was just produced by the complete miracle of airplane travel now, right? So, it was actually a matter of hours. I don’t know. Maybe 28 hours or something from the time I was actually physically on the ground in Rwanda, in the midst of genocide. And then, I just take this plane flight. And it feels long at the time, but it’s only really just a matter of hours. And then, I’m back home and I’m actually just on a commuter bus now back to my job into the city. And I’m on a bus now full of people preoccupied with everything in the world and of their lives, and we all have messy and wonderful, and rich lives. But absolutely not on their radar screen that morning was the fact that I was in a pit of genocidal carnage just a few hours before.
And so, part of it was trying to figure out how do we manage that human beings live on different planetary systems, right? Like, right now, I’m having this day where I get to talk with Jessica on a podcast and I maybe get to listen to this discussion, and I’m feeling reasonably safe. I’ve got, you know, problems and stresses in my life. But we’re reasonably well fed and we’re not threatened right now with somebody taking our home away or enslaving us, or brutalizing us. But, oh, my goodness, what I woke up to and began to understand more is this thing that the UN found when they did this careful study around the world, and it was that most poor people live outside the protection of the law, the study says, “outside the protection of the law.”
And now, that doesn’t mean much to us as an American, but I remember reading a story of a young woman in Oregon, just not too long ago, who was alone one night in her house. And she lives in this rural area, and so her house is quite isolated. And it’s dark on a Saturday night, and she hears this man tearing his way into her house. So, this is completely terrifying for her because the same guy had actually assaulted her and put her in a hospital just two weeks before. So, she’s terrified. She picks up the phone, of course, and she calls 911. But what happens is she has this incredibly painful conversation where this 911 operator in rural Oregon, in our country, the United States, has to explain that because of budget cuts in the county, there actually isn’t any law enforcement available on the weekends. And this is a Saturday night. So, she says, "I’m sorry but we don’t have any law enforcement. There’s no one to send for you." And, of course, horrifically, this woman was terribly assaulted and brutalized.
And what this was such a huge wake up for me on is that, yes, there are millions who are hungry and are homeless, and are suffering from all the traditional things that we think of when we think of poverty. But what is most oppressive in their life is the fact that they can’t even begin to address those other problems as long as there is someone coming after them to brutalize them, to hurt them with violence.
The Courage to Resist Violence
And so, I do think that over the march of our years and our maturity, what we do is we just start to have bigger eyes and a bigger heart for what’s going on in the world. And just as we’ve needed to learn how important it is for women and girls to get educated if they’re able to see their communities come out of poverty, how important microfinance is, how important job opportunities are, what we’re trying to do at IJM is make sure that we’re opening up our eyes to the fact that the common poor person right now is living in non-stop fear of everyday violence and that there are things that we can do to actually stop it. Because almost everywhere in the world, like, today, where you and I, as we said at the beginning, are actually enjoying a nice day because we’re reasonably safe, that’s because we have a nice system of law enforcement that actually is protecting us. And it’s not perfect, but we are having a good day because of it. And this, the same gift of security and a sense of feeling safe can be available to everybody as long as we just wake up and do our part to join the movement to bring that kind of safety and change.
“What we’re trying to do at IJM is make sure that we’re opening up our eyes to the fact that the common poor person right now is living in non-stop fear of everyday violence and that there are things that we can do to actually stop it.” Gary Haugen
Jessica: I just love this whole concept that you’ve now put into words for all of us.
Gary: Thank you for that.
Jessica: And I was on The Locust Effect launch team, and it’s something…I had experienced this in our work with Noonday Collection and working among the poor. But I hadn’t yet made that strong correlation. And, you know, when I travel to Uganda and meet with one of our artisans that’s been through domestic abuse and hear about how continual, you know, trips to the police station has done nothing, where a woman who has been raped on her way to work and the police are doing nothing, you know, without some sort of bribery. And so, you put this to us in words that we can really grasp and understand.
I know the book was a little bit different from what you had written in the past. And I imagine that took a lot of courage. So, what gave you the courage to write this book? And what have you seen that it’s accomplished since you came out with it? It’s been two years now?
Gary: Yeah. Coming up on three years, I think. And I think, you know, the subtitle to The Locust Effect is "Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence." And it’s one of the things that it was meant to do is to uncover the hidden reality of violence. I mean, this is what is so powerful, isn’t it, with the “Me Too” Movement right around us, is that there is this violence, this intimidation, this abuse that’s going on pretty much 24/7 in the lives of women and girls. But it can just be underneath the surface and unacknowledged. And change doesn’t begin until we bring it to the surface.
When Fear Stands in the Way of Progress
So, what The Locust Effect was meant to do is just very simply to bring the hard reality of violence up to the surface. And it has taken some, I think, you know, steps of courage to do this because it requires that you turn your face to see some of the most, I think, just ugly and most intimidating realities of our world, and then to actually ask the question, "Well, am I going to be overwhelmed by that or am I going to step up and see what I can do to be part of the solution?" And even I may have to express, Jessica, the way that the Noonday Movement has likewise just joined in and been part of that and the way you’ve helped use your platform to bring attention to these things, the way that some of our survivors are actually part of these artisan circles of finding not only healing but also ways to contribute, that’s all this courageous act of saying, "Yes, I’m gonna acknowledge violence is real, as scary and as intimidating as it is, and I am simply going to leverage what I have right before me to be a part of the solution." Man, it’s all about everybody recovering hope, getting out of the, sort of, the shrunken prison of fear, finding one another and saying, "Come on, let’s move forward."
Jessica: What do you think…because there really are two clear, distinct responses, like what you said, and there is the courage to face the hard realities of the world. And when we turn to face these realities, we are either paralyzed or we act. What keeps us from acting? Is it fear?
Gary: I think overwhelmingly, it’s fear. If you actually just look at our lives, at what it is that keeps us from our greatest joy, in my experience, it is fear. It’s the big fears. But almost always, it’s the little fears. And that’s why, you know…and in just a little while, I’m gonna go sit down and speak with a bunch of our young interns here at IJM. We have about 20 young folks in their 20s who are here working with us. And almost always, the thing I’m just so eager to share with them is…because they’re looking about their future, right? And when you have a huge future in front of us, it tends to be full of anxiety and fear because you don’t know how this thing is gonna work out. And the main thing I just try to share with them is to follow the joy. I think sometimes when we start out by saying, "Hey, don’t be afraid." It’s like, "I would love to not be afraid." It’s like, "I got to do another favor for somebody in the universe by not, like, being afraid or something. But I’m just scared. And I do have this fear."
But where I find myself starting in the conversation is to say, "What’s the life you really wanna have? Where’s the joy greatest for you? Where have you glimpsed at most deeply? And just don’t let fear keep you from that thing. I mean, it’s not conquering fear because you should or you ought to. But it’s conquering fear because you can and because so much better things are on the other side of that. So, I find that when we follow and pursue just relentlessly what we know to be the places of greatest joy, then we just don’t tolerate the fears. We name them and we just say, "No, sorry. You’re not winning this one. I’m going after the joy."
“I mean, it’s not conquering fear because you should or you ought to. But it’s conquering fear because you can.” Gary Haugen
Jessica: Yes. I love that. And it really requires a vision then of a flourishing world that requires that vision of hope. So, you almost need to start off with the question of what do I want and what do I have to give? Because I think we often come from a comparison mentality of like, "Well, I’m not Gary Haugen. Oh, my gosh. I…do I have to start something huge like this in order to actually make a difference?" Or, "I’m not like Jessica Honegger and I actually don’t even care about fashion," or whatever it might be. And I love that idea of, "What do I have and what do I want?" And you’ve gotta have that vision, I think, in order to overcome your fears.
And of course, this is The Going Scared Podcast and we’re all about making fear our friend. And I get worried when I’m not experiencing fear because I think, well, a life of fearlessness is a sham. My life has gotten way too comfortable, and I talk about that. Actually, my first chapter, I quote Andy Crouch about how the only thing that money can buy is bubble wrap. And we need to rip the bubble wrap off of our lives and choose to walk into the uncomfortable places. And I can imagine that those uncomfortable places have changed for you over the years. What are some places of discomfort that you continue to embrace in order to reach this vision that you have of ending violence in our lifetime against the poor?
Being Honest Puts Fear in Its Place
Gary: Well, you just hit on so many rich themes in that. I think the first thing that has meant so much to me over these years has been actually slowing things down much more so that I can excavate what are my real fears that are holding me back from what it is that I really want. Because I do agree with you that it begins with desire, like, "What do I really want?" Then, it’s being honest about, "What are my fears that are holding me back?"
I have to tell the story that just is at the core of it for me, which is I almost didn’t start IJM because of fear. But when I think back about it, the reason…the fear that was preoccupying me was not the fears that you would think. You’d think, "Wow, maybe don’t start IJM because you’re gonna confront violent people and you may get hurt." That was real. Or you’re abandoning your career at the Department of Justice to go work for a not-for-profit that doesn’t exist. OK. That’s a real fear. Or you are now about to have your fourth kid in three years because you started with twins. And how are you and Jan going to manage that? All those are real fears about going to do this thing.
But to be, I mean, completely frank, those were all the respectable fears. Those are all the ones that you could explain to people and they’d say, "Oh, well, yeah, that’s a really good reason. You gotta be wise. You gotta be prudent." But when I slowed everything down and I was honest with myself, those were not the reasons I was afraid of actually doing this, of trying to start IJM. The reason I was afraid of trying to start IJM was the fear of it failing and me looking like a loser. That’s it.
Now, I wasn’t actually afraid of the failure because so passionately, you know, then all these people wouldn’t get help, or I would never get to be able to get a job again or something. Those things were things to consider. But what was actually preoccupying me in my real soul, in the inside, was this fear about what other people would think of me if I came out with my big idea, I’m gonna try to do this thing, and like most kinds of projects like this, it turns out to fail. And then people, like, "Yeah. See? There it was. It was a bad idea or it’s a great idea, and he was just a bad leader, so…" and playing all these tapes of the way people would think about me.
Now, what was so helpful is when I could be honest about that and say "Oh, that’s what I’m really afraid of," then I could ask myself the question, "OK. Is that the thing you want to stop you from pursuing this, Gary?" Is this the thing when you’re 50 years old you say, "Yeah, I never did that thing I really wanted to try. And honestly, the reason I didn’t was because I was afraid people would think I was a loser if it failed." And I could say to myself, "No. That’s not good enough. I’m gonna do this anyway." And that, to me, has been so helpful.
Freedom and Power Beyond the Comfort Zone
So now, throughout my life, I just pause and I say, "Wow, I’m feeling anxious about this. I’m getting angry even about this or I am not doing what I really think I probably should do about this." Or, "I’m not seizing the opportunity." And rather than immediately go with, "Well, because here’s all of the reasonable concerns," instead, I’m looking, "What is in my deepest place, the really unnecessary fear? What’s the…that just place of insecurity where I need to just find a place of strength and truth, and step past it?"
Jessica: And that really is what ripping off the bubble wrap is. I think fear can insulate us. I mean, it protects us in this weird way even though it’s a false sense of protection because it keeps us paralyzed and not living into our true self and doing the thing that we’re meant to do in the world. How do you think we as listeners can notice when we’ve got bubble wrap around us? How do we notice that we’re actually insulating ourselves with fear?
“I think fear can insulate us.” Jessica Honegger
Gary: I think that if we are not growing in our capacities for love, then we know we are not being stretched by reality and by truth, and stretched by fear because as we grow our capacities for love, we will encounter fear. All great dreams about the future, all great ones are rooted in love, right? I yearn for this for my children. I yearn for this for my community. I yearn for those who are hurting in some way to be taken care of, to be comforted, to be attended to, to have their stories heard, to just know that they are cared for. And now, when you start to pursue that, then all of the fears about actually executing on that dream come to the surface. And now, the attention has shifted from love of the one who’s in need to now preoccupation with self. “Oh, dear, what’s gonna happen to me?”
And I think that what I do find in the deepest teachings of all history about being human have been about…we find greatest joy, greatest meaning in love. But that love is demanding and scary. And so, we can’t get to what it is we most want, which is this generous and very free capacity for love if we’re being hindered by fear. And all of that has to do with, well, who are the people I’m willing to love? Who are the people in my circle of care? Because a lot of times, what we do is just make a smaller and smaller circle of care.
Widening Our Circles of Care
Jessica: That’s…yup. That’s true.
Gary: And then, we just get super focused and like almost just weird on how much we are just preoccupied with the people and the events within our small circle of compassion. But if we broaden that out to other people, to other communities, we will start to find there are challenges to that, and it will start to stretch us. You know, anybody who’s tried to get themselves physically healthy, whether they’ve had to go to physical therapy or whether they are an athlete and they’re trying to sort of reach peak performance, they understand that you actually have to stretch yourself. You have to extend yourself in order to get to that place of strength.
“And I think that what I do find in the deepest teachings of all history about being human have been about…we find greatest joy, greatest meaning in love.” Gary Haugen
And I think that’s the way it is with love. And one of the things that we’ve just simply tried to do at International Justice Mission is to say, "OK. There’s 40 million people in the world who, in 2018, are actually living in slavery." So, let’s just ask what would it mean to love them. Because if we or our family were in slavery, what would we wanna do for them? Now, I’m talking about a huge circle of compassion, right, these are people who are far away, generally unfamiliar to us. And so, we’ve just invited everyone in to begin to explore—if you wanna take the bubble wrap off—how we will look at what’s happening to those who are living in actual literal slavery today? That will rip the bubble wrap pretty much immediately off. And then confront, what are the immediate fears and hindrances that are rushing in to stop me from actually making a difference? Not as you would say, like, heroic or high-profile Jessica or Gary or something, because we never…no one ever starts out in that place. Everyone always starts out with who they are in the moment and putting, offering up what they have to see what kind of a difference can be made.
Fueling Change with Love rather than Fear
Jessica: It’s interesting because fear, actually, can be a motivator, the fear of failure or the fear of not wanting to let other people down. But it certainly will not sustain us through the long haul. You have to change your fuel tank. You cannot draw from fear if you want to grow and be a change-maker. And you guys have been running on love. I mean, you are 20 years in. I am so excited. I’m speaking at Liberate, y’all’s gathering in Dallas.
Gary: Thank you so much for coming. Man, if I could just get everybody to one thing, I just don’t know how to find the right words to express what is gonna happen at Liberate, and I’m so thankful you’re going to be there with us.
Jessica: I have to say I went to your Global Prayer Gathering two years ago and I know the sentiment will be very similar. And it is something…it is hard to commit to because it is ripping the bubble wrap off. It is going and purposely saying, "I am going to sit. I am going to expose myself to the suffering in the world. And I find what prevents me from wanting to enter in that is that feeling that I’m not gonna have enough love to give. Like, that I’m gonna be paralyzed or that I’m gonna hear about suffering that I can’t do anything about. And that is really just fear-based thinking. So, I love how you set us up to switch our tanks to love and believe there will always be enough love, like, love is not a finite resource.
Gary: Yeah, and that’s…I mean, this is something that Jan used to just help me with so much because we would feel that exhaustion within the family, right? Because when you got four kids…well, first you got two arriving right off the bat and you just feel like, "Wow, I feel overwhelmed with one, but I’ve got two. And then now, there’s three. And now, there’s four." So, you do feel just like physically, "I can’t love this much." But the truth is, our love does grow. There’s no way that we could even imagine life without our youngest because our hearts have just completely filled and grown to extend just joyful, joyful love, even though the physical, logistical demands are greater. And I do think…one of the things I’ve also tried to learn from is to ask myself, "That challenging thing, did I regret going or participating, or was that actually something that I can imagine not having participated in?"
You know, many times, we have these experiences where we’ll go on, I don’t know, a mission’s trip or we’ll go spend time with someone who is maybe hurting or some act where we actually extended ourselves in care and in love, and overcame some sort of hindrances to doing so. And the question always is, "But how did you feel coming home?" And I have always been just so thankful that I went. And that’s what I’ve always…the Global Prayer Gathering and, likewise, this Liberate Gathering, the way it has grown to thousands and thousands of people coming is not from spectacular marketing because you can’t really communicate the depth of what people are experiencing. It grows and grows because people say, "I can’t explain this to you. But dear friend, just come with me" because they know that if they go to…if this friend goes with them to this place where they’re actually gonna hear these incredible stories of what’s going on in the world and meet the incredible people who are bringing change in the world, they are going to be utterly inspired.
“You know, many times, we have these experiences where we’ll go on, I don’t know, a mission’s trip or we’ll go spend time with someone who is maybe hurting or some act where we actually extended ourselves in care and in love, and overcame some sort of hindrances to doing so.” Gary Haugen
I mean, at Liberate, number one, just so your audience knows what this is, so this is after 20 years, we’re gathering the entire IJM staff from around the world, about a thousand of them. And it’s going to be the most extraordinary gathering either. There’s a young woman in India who has led about more than 150 slavery rescue operations. She may be the person in history who’s rescued, actually hands-on, more people from slavery than anyone in the world. And she is about 4-foot-10…I don’t know. She’s this very diminutive, young, Indian woman, but boy, is she amazing.
There’s another one of those slaves who was rescued 15 years ago who’s now one of the lead prosecutors, or one of the Cambodian informants for IJM years ago who was working, actually, in a bar that was a center of sex trafficking. He was just a DJ. He came to become a lawyer, works with IJM, and has prosecuted more sex traffickers than anybody in this country.
Now, there’s gonna be a thousand of these incredible heroes in one place looking at 20 years of what God has done of justice and love, and this is a simple invitation to—if you are feeling like you wanna engage the world—tear off the bubble wrap and live a real life of strength and meaning. Come join someone who once was a slave, but now is freeing thousands. Come join someone who was once an informant in a sex trafficking operation who actually is now changing his country. Come meet the survivors of these kinds of abuses and see the way they are now championing change in their country. If you wanna see a story of people starting with a place of…I mean, deficit isn’t even the right word. It’s a place of devastation. But by finding hope and truth, and community of love with God, my goodness, hope is overwhelming.
So, I would…I’m so thrilled you’re gonna be there with us, part of the conversation and the experience.
Courage Is Choosing Love—Even When We’re Afraid
Jessica: I am, I am. I mean, love is what drives out fear. And this event is filled with people who love others with a courage, with a hope, and that’s so contagious. And that’s what I find I have to do. Because our tendency is to put the bubble wrap on and we can have these experiences, even you and I in our work of justice every day. And we’re so passionate.
I mean, last week, I had…I was asked to share my founding story and I was…honestly, last week, I was having a burn out week. We’ve had some suffering going on in our personal lives with my dad’s health. Then, I was just like, "How am I gonna do this? How am I gonna show up right now and bring it?" And I showed up and I started sharing, and I’m crying because it is in my soul. It is in my soul. And yet, even with that, even with passionate founders, we tend to play it safe. I mean, that’s our tendency.
And so, I have to put these things in my life that…where I am saying this is a time where I am consciously going to take off the bubble wrap and believe that my heart can expand. My heart can embrace the slavery in India. It can embrace the abuse in Guatemala. It can embrace the widows in Uganda. That if we can trust that love will always be there, then we can live this life of abundance and really be the change-maker. Because I know you don’t want anyone burning out and I know that that is a real threat in your work when we’re walking in this work of justice. But I love how you have reframed that for us to really know that when we’re driven by love, then we can do this for the long haul.
“If we can trust that love will always be there, then we can live this life of abundance and really be the change-maker.” Jessica Honegger
Gary: Yeah. I think…I mean, one of the things that just immediately came to mind, Jessica, is this discovery I just felt I learned some time ago of where I wanted two things that were completely irreconcilable. I wanted to be both brave and I wanted to be safe at the same time, right? Because our heart just yearns to be strong and brave and heroic, right? But then at the same time, I also really would like to be safe. I would like to not be threatened by various things or be in a place of peril or risk. But then, I realized, "Oh, darn it. I actually have to make a choice. Would I rather be brave or would I rather be safe? Because they just…I can’t be both. I can’t go on an adventure without risk because an adventure is defined by the fact that there’s risk involved. And so then, once you make the decision, "OK. I really…" Again, it begins as you suggest from the very beginning of our talk, what do you really want? And if I really do want to be brave, then, I’ve got to take some risks. I cannot be safe.
I love this thing… I remember years ago on NPR, they did this story about the cul-de-sac, you know, which is the sort of picture of suburban safety. And the amazing things this radio show talks about was it turns out the cul-de-sacs, and sad for any listeners who are living them, but they’re dangerous. Because the cul-de-sac started as a place where children could play away from traffic, right, away from roads. But it turns out that most kids actually get hurt from cars backing up out of cul-de-sacs.
Now, it was just this idea of…it can seem like safety is the answer for us. But the way God has designed us, it’s actually not the place where real life is found. But then, as you say, once you step into that road of taking risks, opening yourself up to what’s hard in the world, you do have to find community and you have to find a way to do it sustainably so you don’t burn out.
Jessica: Don’t drive back into the driveway. I’m gonna go park in the driveway now.
Gary: Well, you have to, you know, find others who will refresh you with joy because if you just wallow in the darkness and the suffering, and the hurt of the world, you will just run out of the oxygen of joy. And we say at IJM that joy is actually the oxygen of doing hard things. And another one, I get on an airplane and they say, "Please secure your own oxygen mask first before assisting others." And so that’s the sort of mature next step is, "OK. I’m not gonna be just safe. I’m gonna actually try to be brave. But now that I’m seeking to be brave, I’m not gonna try to do it by myself and I’m not going to do it without this refreshment of, indeed, stepping into some safe places of respite and refreshment where I can be cared for by others. So then, I can be strong to re-enter the adventure."
Jessica: All right. I hope we got you excited about Liberate. And guess what? IJM has partnered up with Noonday to get you a special discount code from today until August 8. So, use code Noonday for a discounted $99 ticket. Head on over to liberategathering.org. And don’t forget, order Imperfect Courage now so that you can get the most out of this podcast series. Head to Amazon, Target, wherever books are sold. And last thing, if you liked what you heard on this episode, go subscribe.
Thanks so much, guys. And thanks so much to Ellie Holcomb for today’s music. And The Going Scared Podcast is produced by Eddie Kaufholz. And I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time. Let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.