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IJM Fellowship

A Great Unknown

According to my plane ticket, 6 weeks from now I should be boarding a flight to South Asia to begin my year-long legal fellowship with IJM. I’ve spent the past 6 months preparing for life in this most colorful, sensory-overloading of places. I’ve studied books on the culture, researched the legal system, found a church, located an apartment, and identified the necessary vaccines, bank accounts, cell phone plans, clothing, medicines, and toiletries that I’ll need to bring with me. I’ve connected with friends of friends and other NGO workers currently living there. Oh, and I’ve fundraised $20,000, given up my apartment, and essentially quit my job in anticipation of this year. Going to this particular country to do this particular work has been a dream for 15 years.

But a few days ago, I received a dreaded email from the South Asian government stating: “Your passport is being returned with a stamp – VAF ‘Visa Applied For’. This stamp does not constitute a visa and will not allow you to enter [the country].” While not a flat out denial, this “stamp” indicates that the government will likely deny the visa.  IJM has never seen a visa granted after a VAF stamp is given. Obtaining a visa was the last step in the journey and I’ve had a whole team of people praying it would go through. One of the other volunteers who’ll be heading to the same location, received her visa in just a few days.  Even though I knew getting an employment visa from this particular country can be tricky, I thought since I’ve spent so much time in prayer over this and feel a sense of “calling” to this work, surely my visa would come with ease.

Logistically, what comes next? Well, there are a number of possibilities.  One is that my visa could miraculously be granted. When my passport arrived back to me, there actually was no VAF stamp, but there was also no visa. I received a letter reiterating that the consulate was waiting for clearance from the governmental authorities.  This could take weeks or months. The government could also deny my visa flat out, in which case I’m not sure if I could appeal it or reapply.  So, if my visa is denied, or doesnt go through in a timely manner, the next option is that IJM could reassign me to a different country.

That’s right, with only 2-3 weeks notice, I could be packing my bags for a year in: Uganda, Ghana, Thailand, Cambodia, or the Philippines.  Each of these places is so different from each other and from South Asia. Each of these places involve different types of legal work. And honestly, while I can find beauty and magic in any country, none of these places were my first choice when I signed up for IJM. And even more honestly, I don’t know if I would have gone forward with the year long volunteer program had I been initially placed in one of these countries.  This is not because the people in these countries are any less valuable than in South Asia, but rather, my 15 year sense of call to South Asia and to bonded slave labor issues were a huge part of the calculus in deciding that it was worth giving up my current job (which I’m passionate about and could see myself doing forever) for a single year volunteer program.

However, one thing I know is that God’s ways are higher than our ways. There have been many times in life where I was certain I would “hate” a place only to have it be a locus of huge transformation and growth. Proverbs 16:9 says: “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.” I knew this year would be a journey of faith, but it is already proving to require me to step out in faith beyond what I imagined. Its requiring me to let go of the path I thought I was supposed to be on and to be open to roads that I never thought of trekking on.

Another reflection on this situation comes via a conversation with my pastor this Sunday. He said: “Remember, you are committed to the person of God, not the plan of [South Asia].” Wow. Powerful words. This year, and really, all of life, is about following the heart of God. I know that God loves people of every nation beyond measure. I know that God’s heart breaks for injustice of any type, anywhere. It breaks for widows and orphans (“You must not exploit a widow or an orphan. If you exploit them in any way and they cry out to me, then I will certainly hear their cry.” Ex. 22:22-23). It breaks for laborers treated unfairly (“Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The wages you held back cry out against you. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.” James 5:4)  And it breaks for those oppressed by society (“LORD, you know the hopes of the helpless. Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them.” Psalm 10:17).

One thing that had brought me comfort in this journey was the notion that God had given me a specific calling to South Asia.  Although its nice to feel that God has ordained a “specific will” for me to follow, a wise mentor once said that as we mature in our faith, God often gives less specific directions and lets us make choices about how to serve Him. Anything that reflects his heart is within His will. But its scary sometimes to make choices because if things get difficult, we have to wrestle with that choice. Its easier just to “blame” it on God.  Moreover, sometimes God just lets this broken humanity play out as it without intervening. Perhaps my visa wasn’t granted just because someone working at the consulate was skeptical about having a foreign lawyer coming over and working for an NGO. God doesn’t promise to remove every obstacle, but He does promise to be with us wherever we go. Ultimately, there is greater comfort in knowing that regardless of where I end up and why I end up there, God goes before me, and behind me, to my right, and to my left.

So, some final thoughts. Yes, I am a bit anxious given the uncertainty of where I will be six weeks from now. I worry there won’t be enough time to make the mental shift and prepare for all the logistics before I leave. Its really weird to think that I’m (God-willing) going to be hopping on a plane to somewhere for a year, but not knowing where that is. I am nervous that I will feel like I’m bumbling around at the IJM orientation in D.C. in 3 weeks when everyone breaks out into groups by assigned country. I worry that I will be placed somewhere with less activities to do than in South Asia, or where its harder to find community.  I could go on. But beyond all this, I know that worry is futile. I am not in control of the logistics here, only how I respond to them. I want my response to reflect the truth that God is trustworthy. I can cast my cares upon Him. He will direct my steps.  God has given me a spirit of adventure and its time to let that part of me shine. In ways, I’m excited about the unknown, the endless possibilities of people I’ll meet- who will impact me and hopefully visa versa, of the places I’ll encounter ways that God will transform me there.

In conclusion, I’m reminded of lyrics to a song I posted on this blog when I started this journey and that has become my anthem for this year “You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown, where feet may fail. And there I find You in the mystery, In oceans deep, My faith will stand”

Please join me in praying that my faith will stand in the midst of this great unknown.

 

 

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What Fundraising Feels Like

Fundraising feels like that time I went scuba diving and ran out of air so had to breathe off of someone else’s tank. Totally humbling, scary, and yet fills me with gratitude for the support of others.

buddy-breathing

People Are So Nice; God Is So Good

“One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn’t as individuals. When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress, and perhaps help them find self-confidence and inner healing.”
― Jean Vanier, Community And Growth

In chronicling my journey as an International Justice Mission fellow, I want to highlight the amazing support I’ve received early on.  I find myself surrounded by love and community which has given me the courage to jump into this adventure.

As soon as I learned that I needed to go through an interview process with two South Asian staff members from IJM’s overseas offices, I immediately sent out an email requesting prayer. I was overwhelmed by the responses.  People were just so nice.  I am incredibly grateful for the encouragement and assurance that I received.  I sent out another email after learning I had been given the fellowship offer and once again, was flooded with caring  messages congratulating me and letting me know that I was covered in prayer.

The night of my interview, I happened to be at the home of some new friends and took time out of hosting a dinner to gather a group around me to pray for my interview.  The comfort and wisdom I received from their prayers guided me as I answered unexpectedly difficult questions that night.

Three other groups of friends set aside time to pray for me as well: the healing room team from church, the youth leaders from Young Life, and friends from my community group.  Its so humbling to be singled out and prayed for!

I’ve also received so much enthusiasm from co-workers.  Their responses to the news of me going off to do human rights law has warmed my heart.

Since finding out that I’ve been accepted, I’ve had multiple people buy me meals so that I could save money for my trip. This kindness has not gone unnoticed.  I’ve had other friends privately message me to ask how they can support me- again, so nice!

A tangible need was also met in an unexpected way.  I knew that flights to South Asia and to Washington DC for orientation would be some of the biggest expenses of this volunteer year. Last week, a guy from my church prayed that God would provide free flights.  That was such a bold prayer!  Lo and behold, three days later the prayer was answered.  Two friends offered to donate miles to me (in response to my FB status), which covered the cost of my roundtrip ticket to DC!  It also turned out that I had enough rewards points on my new credit card to cover my flight to South Asia!!!  Amazing.

Finally, even my grandmother, who died when I was 11, contributed to this wave of kindness.  My mom randomly found some savings bonds that she bought me on each birthday of my childhood.  I was able to cash them out and the money will go a long way to covering my pre-trip costs!   What a surprise!  And it was so fun to read her sweet birthday messages on each bond envelope.

This process of depending on God and others has been almost embarrassing because of the lavish love I’m experiencing.  I am so grateful.

 

Where Feet May Fail

I experienced utter joy upon receiving a legal fellowship position with International Justice Mission.  I’ve dreamed of working with IJM for over a decade and have been telling people for years that someday I would likely live in South Asia.

However, a couple weeks ago, I hit a fear slump.  The reality that I’m going to be uprooting my life and moving to the other side of the world by myself (and with God) really sunk in.

I want to be vulnerable and transparent in this IJM journey, and also to process things,so I’m listing the top fears that have come up.  God-willing these fears won’t come true, but here they are in no particular order:

  • That I’m crazy for giving up a well-paying job I love
  • That I’ll be lonely
  • That I wont make friends or find community
  • That I should be married by now and raising a family instead of doing this
  • That I’ll be physically harmed abroad
  • That I wont be capable of the work assigned
  • That I wont raise the money I need
  • That people back home will forget me
  • That I will get homesick
  • That I will get physically sick
  • That I won’t find a job when I’m done with the volunteer year
  • That I wont make it through the volunteer year
  • That I won’t pick up on subtle cross-cultural differences I’ll need to adjust to
  • That I’m just a silly girl going on a big adventure
  • That either I will bring my dog and she’ll get sick and die in India or I will leave her home, miss her, and something will go wrong with her here
  • That I will wind up loving the people I meet in Bangalore and not want to leave

So this is a pretty heavy list, but I know that God is bigger than our fears!  The song “Oceans” by Hillsong United has been a source of comfort and inspiration to me.  One of my favorite lines proclaims:

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

I know that God has a way of turning our fears into growth opportunities and deepening our faith in His love, goodness, and faithfulness. I can’t wait to experience all that lies ahead!

A Journey Begins

garden-in-japan

Halfway through 2016, I knew that I was ready for a change.  I had an angstyness inside of me that was longing for something new and exciting.  Although some of this was promulgated by a breakup following the first relationship I’ve had in a number of years, it went deeper than that.  I needed a new challenge that would grow me and stretch me outside of my comfort zone. On what felt like a whim-but was actually the result of more than a decade of contemplation-I decided to submit an application to International Justice Mission (IJM), which is the world’s largest anti-slavery organization.

I learned about IJM 15 years ago when I was studying to get into law school. IJM employs investigators to find instances of human rights violations, social workers to provide aftercare to victims, and lawyers to help represent victims in court, prosecute offenders, and work for systemic change.  The large majority of their paid positions go to local nationals so they rely on Western professionals to volunteer their services. The work they were doing to combat systemic human trafficking and bonded slave labor motivated me to study hard in the hopes that one day I would be able to use the law as a tool of social justice and maybe even volunteer with IJM someday. Their South Asia work stood out to me the most for some reason.

Throughout law school and into my legal career, I would visit the IJM website and read about IJM’s rescue operations in brothels and brick factories and their efforts to hold the perpetrators accountable.  However, before I could volunteer with IJM, it was important for me to develop a skill set and get work experience.  I have been so fortunate for the past six years to represent people facing execution and would not trade this time for the world.

Two years ago, I actually had the opportunity to visit an IJM office in South Asia.  I was in South Asia on a missions trip that was intended to double as a discernment period to figure out if God was calling me to work with IJM at that time.  Although I was incredibly impressed by the work that IJM was doing there, I didn’t feel that the time was right to give up my job and move across the world.

Fast forward to 2016. In exploring different options for bringing change into my life, it suddenly hit me that maybe THIS was the time to work with IJM. I immediately went to the IJM website and completed a pretty hefty application for a legal fellowship.    For almost 5 months, I heard nothing. I figured that they had found other volunteers to fill their legal fellowship position.

Then on November 29, 2016, I received an email asking if I could interview by phone in 2 days.  A super gnarly, long second application was attached to the email.  I agreed to the interview and stayed up late filling out the very personal, in-depth form.  A couple days later I had a 30 minute phone interview with an American recruiter.  I told them that I would be willing to go to any of their field offices around the world, but that South Asia or Africa were my top choices. I thought the interview went pretty well, but I heard nothing for over a month.  I tried not to be too hopeful during this period.

In early January 2017, I got another email asking if I was available in 3 days for a 9:30pm Sunday night phone interview, this time with people in 2 different South Asia offices (it would be Monday morning there).  I knew that this would be the interview to determine if my 15 year desire to work with IJM would come to fruition.  Before my interview some friends from church surrounded me in prayer which I was so grateful for.

The interview was intense.  I fielded questions ranging from how I’ve used data analysis to make persuasive arguments, to my view on working within the “system”, to my assessment of South Asian countries. Honestly, this was the most thorough and difficult interview I’ve ever had.  I got off the phone genuinely not knowing whether I would get a fellowship offer.

Starting the next morning, I began checking my email incessantly.  I couldn’t contain my excitement at the prospect of going to South Asia with IJM. Luckily IJM offered me a fellowship after only a couple days of waiting.  I was given 7 days to decide whether to accept the offer.

The reality of giving up my job and certain salary for a year began to hit me. I began to think about what it means for a Westerner to go overseas to “help” another culture.  The “white savior complex” has resulted in hurting more than helping in so many circumstances. I began to wonder if I am qualified to do legal work in a country with whose laws I’m unfamiliar. I worried about whether I could take my dog, Astor, with me. And the task of raising money seemed daunting.

Ultimately, my nervous excitement, longing for adventure, and the weight of the work that needs to be done won over.  I accepted the offer.  Now the preparation phase begins. There is so much that needs to align in order for this to happen but I am trusting that God is with me, has given me all the resources I need, and will continue to guide me as I go.  As Rose Goes will follow this journey.  Please join me!

 

 

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