How Faith-Based Organizations Empower the Marginalized Across Contexts [Part 1 of 2]

 A group of Peace and Hope's young Quechua beneficiaries celebrate together in Andahuaylas, Peru.  Photo Credit: Peace and Hope International

A group of Peace and Hope's young Quechua beneficiaries celebrate together in Andahuaylas, Peru. Photo Credit: Peace and Hope International

These articles are meant to strengthen the capacity of all faith-based organizations to live out their faith-based missions. If you are already a Sacred Sector participant, log into the Participant Portal to access the toolbox resources. If your organization is interested in becoming a Sacred Sector participant, click here.

Recent contentions surrounding the term “Evangelical” have forced Christians to reckon with the differences embedded in their faith community. As disagreements arise and counterpoints are exchanged, it is becoming increasingly clear that the terms “Evangelical” and “Christian” can mean a variety of things to different people. Yet despite political or theological divisions, one thing Christians can agree on is Scripture’s uncompromising call to empower the oppressed.

Still, Christians have various responses to helping the less-fortunate, from serving locally through service projects or nonprofit work to appealing to government solutions such as welfare or foreign aid. Christians can also disagree about which groups are most in need of service.

Peace and Hope International is a Sacred Sector participant and faith-based organization that operates in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Colombia and is currently working to open offices in Chile and Brazil later this year. As a Christian organization, it responds to the biblical call to serve the oppressed. Yet unlike many organizations, Peace and Hope International acknowledges how a group’s marginalized status may change depending on its context.

“We work with marginalized populations and, depending on the country and region where we work, those groups may be different,said Dr. Vilma “Nina” Balmaceda, President and CEO of Peace and Hope International. “In Peru, for example, most of the population we serve are individuals from remote indigenous communities in the Andes and the Amazon regions, while in other countries, we are particularly focused in opposing violence and other forms of abuse against people of African descent and other minorities in impoverished urban areas.”

Peace and Hope International’s unique commitment to serving vulnerable populations in different contexts is an example of the innovative contributions faith-based organizations make to global justice and development work. To enact these solutions, Peace and Hope International works closely with local communities while also pushing for legislation and policy reform on the government level. Its sacred mission is central to all its efforts. By integrating its faith-identity into its public policy engagement, organizational practices and public positioning, Peace and Hope International demonstrates how faith-based organizations can empower the oppressed through comprehensive solutions.

Public Policy

Peace and Hope International was founded in Peru in 1996. It is committed to working with impoverished communities in Latin America, and aims to promote human dignity and eradicate violence and injustice through three strategic approaches: prevention, intervention and reform. Specifically, it works to aid children at risk; protect women, children and people with disabilities from violence; assist communities impacted by natural disasters; support indigenous communities and minorities and engender peace where groups are in opposition. Peace and Hope International’s justice work is holistic. It partners with both local communities and government institutions, and it incorporates strategies such as training and education, financial support, public relations, advocacy and capacity building.

Peace and Hope International must be aware of how a particular country’s legislation impacts its work so that it can effectively operate in a variety of locations. To help faith-based organizations such as Peace and Hope International navigate key issues like legislation, Sacred Sector provides educational resources. One resource, the Nondiscrimination Laws Public Policy Toolbox, says, “FBOS must know the requirements of the applicable laws and regulations. They also should consider carefully what their religious beliefs say about how people ought to be treated in various circumstances.”

Peace and Hope International takes its faith identity into account when determining how to interact with local and federal policies and legislation. It lives out its sacred mission through its advocacy efforts, which draw the attention of the respective governments at the local and national level to the particular needs of marginalized groups. Balmaceda said, “We work to advocate to governments regarding vulnerable communities such as people with disabilities so that they are fully integrated in society and have access to quality education and have meaningful work opportunities. We also actively advocate to local governments for appropriate measures to protect women and children, especially from violence and other forms of exploitation.”

The organization’s advocacy efforts have contributed to significant changes, particularly on the local level. Balmaceda explained that Peace and Hope International, in collaboration with other civil society organizations, advocated to establish the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Peru after the armed conflict that impacted Peru for two decades. They also advocated to create police stations in remote areas, and to staff the stations with female agents. This was done so that “when a woman or child has suffered violence, they can feel more comfortable telling what happened to a police woman rather than a man,” Balmaceda said.

Another example of how Peace and Hope International engages in its public policy context is by removing corrupt officials. Balmaceda said that one of the organization’s greatest achievements was removing a Peruvian judge with corrupt dealings in human trafficking. Balmaceda said, “Judges have a lot of power in Latin America’s small towns, so this had quite an impact. It was very dangerous for our team. Although they received death threats and defamation, they are working there and the judge is not.”

By working closely with local communities, Peace and Hope International can be attuned to local needs and  advocate for changes that will allow communities to thrive. Its ability to shape policies and legislation through advocacy indicates how faith-based organizations can enact lasting change when they effectively engage in their public policy context. To learn more about how faith-based organizations can shape public policy, see the Sacred Sector Nondiscrimination Laws Toolbox.

Conclusion

Though Christians may dispute how best to serve those in need, all Christians are called to care for the oppressed. Peace and Hope International’s commitment to meeting the unique needs of a given country exemplifies how faith-based organizations can respond to this biblical call through innovative local and government solutions. By considering how its faith identity shapes its interactions with policy and legislation, Peace and Hope International contributes to lasting change and demonstrates the substantial contributions of faith-based organizations throughout the world.

If you are not a Sacred Sector participant and would like access to resources on public policy, organizational practices and public positioning for faith-based organizations, sign up to become a Sacred Sector participant here.

Kathryn Mae Post is an intern with the Center for Public Justice (CPJ). She contributes to two different initiatives at CPJ: Sacred Sector and the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance (IRFA). She is graduating from Calvin College in May of 2018 with a BA in both political science and English.