Dr. Kurt Ver Beek, co-founder of the Association for a More Just Society, has come face to face with corrupt politicians, powerful land-grabbers, exploitative employers, and violent gang members—and along with other association members has helped achieved justice and healing for thousands of poor individuals in Honduras, the Central American country Ver Beek and his family have called home for over two decades.
Ten years ago Kurt Ver Beek and his wife, JoAnn Van Engen, moved with their family from an upper-class neighborhood to one of the poorest, most violent communities in Tegucigalpa, the dusty capital of Honduras, Central America’s original “banana republic.” They haven’t looked back—but more and more people in Honduras and around the world have been looking with interest and admiration to cutting-edge justice efforts carried out by Kurt, Jo Ann, and a group of courageous Hondurans they work with.
Kurt and JoAnn moved to Central America soon after graduating from college in the 1980s. For six years they worked for a Christian community development organization overseeing agriculture and literacy programs in rural areas, and since 1996 they’ve directed a study-abroad program for Calvin College (Grand Rapids, Mich.).
Along with a group of Honduran friends and colleagues, they also helped found the Association for a More Just Society, an organization dedicated to putting the message of social justice found in the Bible into action in Honduras. In recent years AJS has…
- won groundbreaking convictions in cases involving torture of prison inmates and the assassination of a human rights lawyer.
- helped some 60,000 poor families obtain land titles.
- provided legal, investigative, and psychological services to hundreds of poor individuals affected by domestic, sexual, and gang violence, and reduced crime in one target neighborhood by 80%.
One target of AJS’s efforts has been the violence in Kurt’s neighborhood. By building up relationships of trust between neighborhood residents and justice officials, resulting in higher arrest and conviction rates for the neighborhoods most violent gang members, and by providing more opportunities for at-risk youths, AJS has helped slash crime rates in the neighborhood by 80%.
In response to the 2009 political crisis in Honduras, Ver Beek and other justice advocates associated with AJS have also spearheaded Transformemos Honduras (Let’s Transform Honduras), a Christian anti-corruption movement that in its short lifetime has uncovered million-dollar scandals and brought pressure to bear on Honduras’ highest-ranking government officials, right up to the president.
Ver Beek’s and AJS’s work has won applause from groups as diverse as Catholic and Evangelical leaders, the World Bank, Honduran law-enforcement officials—and thousands of residents of poor urban communities in Honduras. But they’ve also roused the anger of powerful interests unhappy with their unbalancing of a status quo that favors an elite few at the expense of the poor. AJS labor rights lawyer Dionisio Díaz García was assassinated in 2006 in retaliation for his work. In recent months several staff members have received threatening text messages and phone calls, and two were threatened at gunpoint. As a result, Ver Beek and other AJS members must often be accompanied by bodyguards, assigned by the Honduran Government in compliance with an order from the Inter American Human Rights Commission.
Ver Beek will be in the Seattle – Vancouver Corridor from Sunday, March 6, through Sunday, March 13, for various speaking engagements, and will also be available for media interviews. Speaking engagements open to the public include the following:
“Love Fearlessly, Do Justice” – Presentation and Q&A Session Tuesday, March 8, 7:00 p.m. Holy Spirit Lutheran Church 10021 Northeast 124th Street, Kirkland, WA 98034-6798
Kurt received earned his Master’s in Human Resource Development from Azusa Pacific University, and his Ph.D. in Development Sociology from Cornell University. In addition to leading off-campus programs and being a driving force behind AJS, he has conducted research on maquilas (clothing assembly factories) in Honduras, the effects of short-term missions, and the role of faith in community development.