By Katerina Parsons
In an urban neighborhood just outside of Honduras’s capital city Tegucigalpa, the streets at night go quiet. People retreat behind closed doors and lock them shut. People do not walk alone or go out at night because they are afraid of what could happen, afraid of becoming another statistic in a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world.
In the rural coffee-farming communities nestled high in the lush green mountains of Honduras, schools are few and far between. Students walk along narrow mountain trails to arrive at a classroom that may not have school supplies, desks, or even running water. Worse still, these students may arrive to find no teacher and be forced to return to their homes without class.
These empty streets in town and empty classrooms in the hills are the result of failures in government systems in Honduras that affect subsistence farmers, single mothers, widows, orphans, the poor, the marginalized, and the displaced.
Recognizing the needs of this country, Christians have long been sending aid and mission workers to Honduras. But often these visits focus on charity projects such as giving away food or clothing or serving people with short-term medical brigades. Very few mission groups or Christian organizations in Honduras address systemic injustices such as violence and corruption. That work can seem too scary, too difficult, or too political. But it is exactly the type of work God calls Christians to do.
God’s Heart for Justice
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8, 9).
This biblical calling echoes throughout the Bible—from the Mosaic law in the Bible’s earliest books to the courageous prophets who criticized and challenged Israel’s failure to respond to the needs of the poor. Jesus sought this justice, and the call is repeated in the apostolic letters.
This call is summarized well in Micah 6:8 “to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God,” and the command in Isaiah to “seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow” (1:17).
Yet when this message is not being preached, we become content with a watered-down idea of justice where prayers are not connected to action. Because of this, many of us have not witnessed the powerful things that God can do through us when we seek his justice.
Facing Violence & Corruption
A group of Christians in Honduras working to improve the lives of their neighbors grew frustrated that their efforts seemed to fall short in the face of unjust systems of laws and government. They realized that what Hondurans most needed was not only Bibles, shoes, and painted schools—they needed legal systems that protected them, government officials who served them, and structures that promoted peace.
With this in mind, they founded an organization called the Association for a More Just Society (AJS) and began challenging the root problems behind the empty streets and the empty classrooms; in the process they are also bringing Honduras closer to the kingdom of God.
The founders of AJS live in one of the most dangerous communities in one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Nearly every one of their neighbors have been touched by violence. Many have lost sons or fathers—many live in fear. Victims of violence in this neighborhood had few options. They knew that some members of the police were aligned with gang members or criminals and that reporting a crime could mean putting yourself in danger. No one trusted the courts—only 4 percent of murders in Honduras ended in a conviction.
To seek justice and correct oppression as God called would require far more than the church’s usual response. It would require changing the costs and benefits of violence in the area—by showing murderers that there were consequences for their actions.
AJS hired an ex-police investigator and a lawyer, both of whom understood the Honduran justice system, and more importantly, knew which police officers could be trusted. They came alongside victims and families of victims and walked them step-by-step through the legal process, navigating the complicated and dangerous process of reporting cases and testifying in court.
The work began to show fruit. Over several years AJS walked hand in hand with local police officers to help them capture dozens of murderers, taking them off the street and changing the culture of violence in the area. While violence in the country increased, murders in the communities where they worked dropped by 75 percent. Hundreds of lives were saved.
In their pursuit to love their neighbors as God loves them, members of AJS also recognized other serious problems facing Honduras. Public services such as health, education, and infrastructure were not reaching the people who most needed them. One reason for this was corruption. The abuse of power for private gain is an indirect violence that affects the provision of services essential for well-being.
Honduras’ education system was among the worst in the region. AJS found this was true, in part, because as many as 25 percent of teachers were not showing up to teach class, and classrooms were sitting empty—closed for an average of 1 out of every 3 required school days. To address this injustice, AJS did not give away school supplies or offer tutoring—they went to the root of the problem and advocated for the government to comply with education laws. It worked—teachers are now showing up, classrooms are full of children learning, and education in Honduras is being transformed.
Enacting Justice Where You Are
The brave Christians who work for AJS in Honduras are an inspiration—but it is easy to think of violence and corruption as things far away from our reality. It is easy to become blind to the injustices that are taking place in our own backyards. Yet there are places in the United States that are just as dangerous as Honduras—where streets also go quiet at night. There are schools in the U.S. that limit children’s potential. And there is also corruption in American institutions.
God’s desire for justice calls us to ask ourselves the same questions that members of AJS asked in Honduras—who are the oppressed and vulnerable in my community? What issues most affect them? How are we called as brave Christians to address systems that contribute to the marginalization and oppression of these groups?
This is not work for the weak hearted. Since they began their work challenging those in power—from violent criminals to government authorities—AJS has faced threats and many dangerous situations. But they are animated by God’s repeated call to “be strong and courageous, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
In our work to seek justice for our neighbors, we grow closer to God’s vision of a future where streets will no longer be quiet and empty from fear, but where “men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets” and “the city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there” (Zechariah 8:4, 5).
Katerina Parsons lives in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where she works for the Association for a More Just Society.