Investing to overcome violence and corruption

The freedom to live without the imminent threat of violence is a privilege that some people in dangerous communities have never experienced. As both a resident of Chicago and a periodic visitor to the Central American country of Honduras, businessman Dave Dillon was all too familiar with this fact.

Dave and leaders learning about AJS violence-reduction strategies in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

But in 2015, he started to feel that God was calling him to do something about it.

“In Jeremiah 29:7, the Bible teaches us to work for the shalom [peace, wholeness, prosperity] of the city,” says Dave. “We are also called to be peacemakers throughout the Scriptures. I have directly observed gun battles in Chicago and ridden in buses in Honduras protected by men carrying machine guns. The violence in Honduras and Chicago is continuing at a rate much too high for us as Christians to be complacent about it.”

In November, 2016, Dave and other leaders in the Chicago area decided to turn their hearts and minds to solving the notorious issue of violence and crime in the Windy City. But their journey started with a trip to Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras, where work against crime and corruption had already proven highly successful. They were there to visit the Association for a More Just Society (AJS), which was co-founded by Kurt VerBeek, a professor of sociology from Calvin College who Dave had met in the United States.

Beneath a mural of an AJS lawyer who had been assassinated for his justice work, Dave and his friends listened intently as AJS leaders described their impact on reducing violence in the gang–ridden communities of Honduras.

Over a period of five years, the communities where they served had seen a 75 percent decrease in the homicide rate. In addition, AJS had taken on the monumental and extremely dangerous task of purging the Honduran police force of corruption and building trust between the new police force and Honduran communities. Dave thought of how a similar effort could work back in Chicago.

The violence in Honduras and Chicago is continuing at a rate much too high for us as Christians to be complacent about it.

But first, AJS needed help. Due to the nature of their work and their willingness to speak out against powerful and violent people, AJS employees were under constant threat. In 2005, Dionisio Diaz Garcia, the lawyer memorialized in the mural, was killed for his work defending exploited security guards. More recently, AJS’s directors have received death threats for their work reforming the Honduran police. In 2016, an attempt was made on the life of one of their board members. His bodyguard was killed in the incident.

In light of these grave threats, AJS’s headquarters, improvised out of several houses in a regular neighborhood, offered insufficient security. Their growing organization needed more office space with greater protection for both staff and beneficiaries, which came with a hefty price tag.

That’s when Dave and a group of fellow Chicago businessmen came up with an innovative idea to partially fund the building of a new facility for AJS through his supporting organization at the National Christian Foundation (NCF).

A supporting organization of NCF is a separate, tax-exempt, public charity, under the oversight and control of NCF, which helps to carry out and support NCF’s charitable purposes by making grants to other charitable organizations. NCF provides administrative, grant-management, and investment-management support to the supporting organization. A giver like Dave can be a member of the board of a supporting organization, thereby intimately participating in the grantmaking decisions of the organization.

Dave and the rest of the board of the supporting organization approved a plan to make a loan from the organization to AJS, with terms that charitably take into account AJS’s charitable plans and capabilities. Dave and 10 other NCF givers directed more than $1.7 million to the supporting organization to help fund the construction of a new building.  AJS’s payments of principal and interest on the loan then go back into the supporting organization for additional charitable granting.

Thanks to this innovative funding strategy, crews were able to break ground on the new facility last May. The building will be equipped with a state-of-the-art security system, so employees can work in safety.

Jill Stoltzfus, Executive Director of AJS in the US, recently visited the nearly completed building. “Thanks to the generosity of hundreds of donors (including Dave) and the National Christian Foundation, we will have an office space that is designed for our specific security and operational needs,” Jill says. “Not only will this directly impact our staff members, it will support their work on a national level, work that is benefiting millions of Hondurans.”

“At AJS, we value partnership,” Jill continues. “Our relationship with business leaders in Chicago is a beautiful example of how we can learn from each other, sharing our unique experiences in a way that supports this kingdom work in both Honduras and the United States.”

Since the project in Honduras is underway, Dave has turned his attention to overcoming violence in his own backyard, Chicago, where he serves as President and Co–Founder of Together Chicago. “We are grateful that the violence in Chicago so far in 2019 is down somewhat from the extreme levels of 2016. Still there is much work to be done to deal with the root causes of much-too-high levels of violence and lack of opportunity in our beloved city. Pray for us and other Christian ministries who are on the front lines of work in these areas.”

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