International (MNN) — There is an area east of India known as the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS). It is composed of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, and the Yunnan province of China. This region is critical to understanding how poverty works and effective ways to fight it.
Dr. Ravi Jayakaran is the Director of Community Transformation at e3 Partners. He says in the GMS there are four financial groups: the well off, the ok, the poor, and the very poor.
When these six countries opened borders to trade with one another over two decades ago, the goal was to benefit the economy. However, the poor and very poor faced the negative consequences of this move.
All of the sudden, international markets uprooted much of the local market. Those that depended on the local market for income, mainly the poor and very poor, were out of business.
“They became victims of trafficking, they ended up living on the streets, literally. Many of them, children were becoming street kids, and then women taking to desperate measures, becoming prostitutes, selling their bodies just to make a living and feed their children,” Jayakaran says.
Things haven’t changed much since then.
According to the US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report published last week, this area is one of many regions struggling to put up a fight against human trafficking. In fact, Myanmar is now considered a tier 3 country, meaning they do not meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards and are not working to do so. The other five countries are either a tier 2 or tier 2 watch list.
Prevention requires knowledge of the cause
In order to stop human trafficking, you have to address the patterns pushing people into it. From this example, we see that at least one of the causes is poverty.
Jayakaran says, “The reason issues like trafficking occur are when the stability of the community is affected. Somehow it gets disrupted.”
These disruptions come in the form of natural disasters, war, government decisions, changing markets, technology, etc.
“Suddenly this community that was quite stable and sustainable has found itself disrupted,” Jayakaran says.
Those in the margins have no protection from exploitation in these cases. They become vulnerable to doing illegal work as a prostitute or running drugs.
Problem, cause, but what about the solution?
e3 Partners believes community development, or community transformation, is one way to address the deep-seeded ruts of destitution. The format they work through is called integral mission.
“Integral mission is proclaiming the Gospel and demonstrating the Gospel in balance. This is the way Jesus practiced His ministry, this is the way the disciples practiced ministry, this is the way the early church practiced missions,” Jayakaran says.
The first thing that must happen is these overlooked people must be noticed, and then they must be given a voice.
Many times, if people are forced out their homes because of a building project, they’ll be compensated in some way. If they’ve lost farmland, the government may compensate — but with land that is not able to be farmed.
“When major decisions like this are taken, someone has to be there to see what are the consequences of this, how has it disrupted the lives of the people who are living there.”
Giving them a voice means there has to be someone standing up for them to negotiate full compensation and provision from those who are disrupting their lives.
The next step is making sure these people can adjust to their new environment in a healthy manner.
To do this, e3 relies on a set of tools to make sure they are working towards sustainability and stability.
Poverty and God
When someone reaches the point where they will do anything for food, they stop valuing the things they once used to.
“Poverty is something Satan has almost strategized to do; people are squeezed into this mold where they’re left with no options,” Jayakaran says.
When they have no options, Jayakaran says, they are desperate to receive. And when they reach that point of desperation, it’s hard for them to be open to the Gospel. “It’s no longer possible for them to visibly see God as a loving father.”
He continues, “In a sense when there’s excruciating poverty, it distorts their view of who God is.”
They begin to look at God as a way of getting something they need. In some instances, people will convert to Christianity because they think they will get food this way. It is because of this that missions have to be administered thoughtfully and carefully.
“Even before they get into those desperate circumstances, we have to reach out to them otherwise it becomes very difficult when they’re extremely, desperately poor for them to truly receive and be transformed.
“We’ve had people then who claim to have become Christians but their hearts are not being transformed. It’s just their stomachs that are being fed. So we have to get involved before circumstances become too desperate.”
Partnering in integral mission
E3 does community development in nine countries, but wants to expand the work to all 50 countries they work in. They are also looking to partner with other organizations to teach them how to incorporate integral missions into their own work. They want to share some of the tools they have with others.
This month they are planning on meeting with missions and church leaders to talk about what the training would look like. They are also looking into doing regional workshops in the United States.
He asks others to be praying as e3 looks forward to these workshops.