Persevere to the Dawn

IJM’s Global Prayer Gathering began over a decade ago with a few dozen people meeting in a room together to pray for the work of justice. Today, it is a full weekend held at the swanky Gaylord Resort, with over 1,200 attendees and room to grow. As an intern, I had the true privilege to serve and participate in GPG this year. These are the reasons this past weekend was awesome.

5. Testimony

All 18 international Field Office Directors pause their work abroad to take part in GPG. There is nothing like hearing a story firsthand from the people actively engaging in the fight to protect poor people from violence.  Christa Sharpe, the FOD in Cambodia, is a force of positive energy and action, and her update was especially exciting. She shared that a decade ago, the Cambodia office faced rampant impunity – acts of violence went unpunished, so perpetrators disregarded the law Christa shared that police are actually protecting underage girls from sexual exploitation. Today, it is difficult to even find cases of underage sexual exploitation anymore, and rehabilitation centers there are some of the best in the world. The Cambodia office’s next long-term goal is to eventually pull out and allow the country to handle sex trafficking crimes independently.
Griselda, a former Guatemalan client who now works at IJM, even came to share her story personally. After such hardship, she still beams with joy and confidence, grateful for the work IJM has done on her behalf.

Both Griselda’s renewed life and the fact that the Cambodia office may be nearing its end after only ten years are incredible – evidence of a mighty God moving forcefully through the world.

4. Hard work

I recently learned that IJM doesn’t do GPG at a more convenient time when more people could come (like the summer) because they so heavily depend on interns to pull this huge event off. That’s alright with me, though; I thrive in long, laborious days in which I am freely serving and contributing to something far greater than myself. It’s great bonding time, and there are even pockets of fun to be found, like riding on hotel dollies at the age of 21. After a week of GPG prep, the interns packed up, played real-life tetris loading everything into one U-Haul, unloaded countless boxes, set up prayer rooms…and then did all of those tasks again in reverse order. Fortunately, the exhaustion didn’t hit until GPG was over, so I had Sunday to recuperate.

Go to all measures – including the floor – for GPG
Show us how you really feel (She’s actually a good sport…I just think this picture is funny)

GPG planning extraordinaire

Preparing journals!

Luggage dollies: Useful for moving: a) luggage b) GPG boxes c) people d) all of the above

Planning a big event takes a lot of organization

3) Community

If you step out of your group, you’re bound to meet some cool people at GPG, and all of them shared stories of great things God is doing in their lives. As I set up the Rwanda prayer room, I met the FOD and was later able to give him a small prophetic word of encouragement. My neighbor during the Thursday evening dinner happened to be the former mayor of Tennessee, who wants to use his retirement years to confront sex trafficking in America.  There is a couple from Texas who were integral in a race benefitting IJM, which, ironically, I had been using to create a toolkit at work. The list goes on. In each interaction, I got the sense that they were, if not ordained, at least affirming the way the Holy spirit moves in other people’s lives.
Post-dinner: Room for a dang lot of people

2) Worship

I love worship because I’m able to glorify God with lyrics far more artistic and full of truth that anything I could come up with in prayer. It’s a good time for processing and personal reflection, too (more to come on revelations and my future plans soon!). Plus, Sara Groveshas an angelic voice, and she was kind enough to take a picture with the interns. As another intern said, I’m “practically famous” since I’m standing right next to her. J

Yes, that is Sara Groves. Yes that is me on the left.

 1) Justice re-calibration

When I’m in the thick of IJM for eight hours a day, it’s easy to miss the bigger picture and lose sight of why I do the work that I do. Or why I care about justice and advocate for it at all. In Gary’s opening talk, he said that we must use God’s light to Shrink the Shadows, Dispel the Darkness, Melt he Mountains and Call Forth Healing. I’m not going to go into the metaphorical details of each of those steps, but GPG is a reminder that God invites us into a monumental challenge that we cannot accomplish by ourselves. Not only does He want us to be a part of it, but He wants us to ask Him for help. We have prayer as a real tool that bears results far greater than what we ask or imagine.
My prayer in the Rwanda room

Even after the work of justice is well underway, Gary discussed a final step: we must Persevere to the Dawn. This applies literally to casework in the field, to keep moving forward in tough cases and convict criminals, but ultimately to press on until all things are made new. Persevering to the dawn is for all of God’s people, too, though. We are to persevere in remaining close to the Father through His word, and persevere in talking to Him about His work. We will rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, and persevere in prayer. I’m already looking forward to GPG next year!
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Unguarded Earnestness

When Jesus says to “let the little children come to me,” He seems to be calling His followers to certain attractive “child-like” qualities – humility, wonder, joy and unguarded earnestness.
In anticipation of the Global Prayer Gathering, IJM staff have corporately been considering the idea of entering next weekend in a posture of Unguarded Earnestness. What does that mean? What does it look like? I think of “earnestness” as utmost sincerity, approaching something with the fullest intention of doing it well or treating someone with lavish kindness. Perhaps you’ll still mess up, but your intentions and efforts reflect a desire to give your all.
For me, “unguarded” is the scarier part. That translates to straight-up vulnerability – being totally open, able to be at best molded into a truer reflection of Christ and at worst trampled upon, left seriously hurt and wounded.
It’s that vulnerable sincerity, though, that turns prayers into true faithfulness. When we approach the Father, our prayers should not only be honest and genuine, but our petitions should be, as we say at IJM, crazy pants prayers – “big, hairy, audacious” ones that only a loving Father far more powerful than ourselves could answer. There is no way we could make that prayer happen without God, so we come to Him fully dependent, with unguarded earnestness, faithfully believing that He not only hears our prayers but answers them also.
I’ve been thinking about the way unguarded earnestness could transform more than our prayers. What about everyday life? Our actions toward others, our work, our after school activities or the strength of our relationships would all be transformed! It looks like having an “all-in” attitude, combining the belief that what you do matters and not allowing anything to hold you back from giving it your full efforts. Giving friends your full attention because they matter more than the task at hand demonstrates your value for them. Not half-assing a project because you believe that your contribution makes a difference. Believing you can break 20 minutes in your next 5K or that you can make a goal at the next game brings more diligence and purpose to your practice. Even in a relationship conflict or marital problem – wholeheartedly devoting yourself to righting wrongs because you believe that the other person is worth it. All of this from a posture of unguarded earnestness.
At the same time, we don’t want to be “childish” – foolish, immature, irresponsible, unstable, silly or naive. If I run a 25 minute 5K, just hoping that it will be 20 minutes next week would be irrational. There are nearly 30 million slaves today. Praying that injustice will be eradicated tomorrow would show a lack of analysis and reason. Just imagine Stephen Colbert and Tina Fey making fun of the Global Prayer Gathering. Right. 1200+ people are going to get together and pray, and as you stand there and worship the sky, people will be brought out of bondage. Ha!
It’s easy to be cold-hearted and have fears of judgment of being naive about very serious, big issues. But the posture changes the approach. If we approach prayer or our everyday life issues with the child-like quality of unguarded earnestness, we come knowing that prayer does work and our interactions with others will shift. We come desperately needing Jesus’ grace and abundant life. We come eager and expectant for His power, attentive to Him and fully devoted; strengthened, refreshed, fully present and utterly grateful for every good gift the Holy Spirit gives. We’re not worshiping the sky. We’re worshiping a God with an unchanging character – One who for all eternity has heard the cries of His children and longs to bring life and freedom. 

The Locust Effect

The first American pioneers were a scrappy, unfortunate lot. For emigrants settling the unknown frontier, there were plenty of very real dangers to those who embarked on the journey; people did not make this trek for kicks. Other than the lustful adventurer or risk-taking businessman, most who left were desperate for new lives, drawn by the allure of free land under the Homestead Act of 1862. Poorer than the dirt they would soon be tilling, these hopefuls believed that with diligence and hard work, fortune would turn in their favor. They staked their plots, sowed seeds and, with a few months of favorable weather, were encouraged by growing, luscious crops. Soon, the farmers would reap a plentiful harvest.
                                               
But no one anticipated the nightmare arriving at noonday. A dark shadow descended from the sky, and in mere minutes, droves of locusts descended upon the land and decimated the farmers’ crops. Almost nothing was salvageable, as one farmer quipped, “They ate everything but the mortgage.” After departing from familiarity and venturing into a new life, after all the grueling manual labor and menial farm preparations – the sunrise to sunset workdays, the aching backs, the lack of resources –,  after the hopeful expectation of a rich harvest season, these pioneers found themselves in a more dire situation than before they moved west.
Today marks the official launch of The Locust Effect by Gary Haugen, president and CEO of International Justice Mission (IJM). With it, the conversation on our approach poverty is about to change. Haugen compares the locusts of the American frontier with a much greater pest present and thriving today – namely the bullies of everyday violence. In the stream of humanitarian efforts toward those living in poverty, a broken leak is significantly reducing the effectiveness of our help. Like locusts destroying unprotected crop, those of power take advantage of the helplessness of the poor. A widow in Zambia cannot utilize donated farm tools if she is a victim of land grabbing. Girls who endure regular sexual assault are not benefiting from their school scholarships. Legal entitlements to the poor in Thailand are of no use if a birth certificate was never issued. A micro-loan entrepreneur cannot run a successful business when he and his family are kidnapped into a brick factory and work fourteen hours a day as modern day slaves.
Everyday violence – this perpetual cloud of fear hovering over the unprotected – is the poor’s constant reality. In America, laws are generally enforced; police seek to protect citizens. Sadly, for the majority of the developing world, this is not the case.  When it is more likely for a rapist to be struck by lightning or slip in the bath tub and die than be imprisoned for his crime, impunity is rampant. In The Locust Effect, Haugen provides a few facts and statistics, but he mainly invites readers to discover the stories of regular poor people. Rather than violence restraining the oppressed from lives of freedom, it is time for us to fix the leak in the system and begin restraining the hand of violence. Fortunately, we are dealing with simple bullies who lack courage. When they realize that there are repercussions for their actions, they back down. Beyond rescue and aftercare for victims, IJM works to imprison perpetrators and create structural transformation within the justice system. Their vision is “to rescue thousands, protect millions and prove that justice for the poor is possible.” The exciting part is that IJM is showing that it is possible, and it is happening.
If any of this motivates you or catches your interest, I invite you to join me in three easy actions you can take today.
First, with the launch of The Locust Effect, you can  buy the book*. Not only will all proceeds benefit the mission of IJM, but this week only, for every book bought, a generous IJM supporter will donate $20 to help bring justice to the poor. The goal is to make it on the New York Times Bestseller list – not to brag about book sales, but to gain more credibility and attention behind the concept of protecting the poor from everyday violence.
Second, read the book. Take these stories to heart. Preparing for the launch of The Locust Effect has been the predominate focus of my marketing internship at IJM thus far. Even though I may already know the ideas behind The Locust Effect, I will be joining you in this endeavor. I have heard it’s not the lightest reading (What?! Reading about the tough lives of poor people isn’t for your coffee break? No!), but it is enlightening and important. Together, we can learn more about the problem of everyday violence and begin a more global, united conversation on changing our approach to poverty.
Third, please sign the petition urging the UN to protect the poor from violence as it decides its 2015 long-term goals. It is short, and you can opt out of receiving e-mail updates if you choose.
All of these steps will help you easily engage and begin to join the team of those committed to protecting the poor from violence. This is an exciting time, and momentum for a tidal wave of change is building. You can be a part of it.
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.  -Isaiah 1:17

*If you buy more than one book, please buy them from somewhere other than Amazon.com, such as Barnes & Noble. No matter how many books bought at once on Amazon, the whole purchase only counts as one book bought on the bestseller list.

D.C. Experience

It has begun. The city of suits. The Hill of politics. The morning metro of young, driven professionals perpetually climbing the achievement ladder. Here, there is always a new performance, a fine food to taste, or an exhibit to explore. If you’re bored, you’re blind. I find myself thrown into the bustling city life of our nation’s Capitol, where my “y’all’s” don’t sound right and my wrung on the ladder feels low, but at least my walking pace fits it. This is Washington, D.C., and for the next three months, it is my home.
For those of you who don’t know what the day-to-day life of Jessica Compton looks like in this new season, I am living in a swanky pent-house apartment just across the Potomac. I have the Lutheran CollegeWashington Semester to thank for this unreal opportunity. The LCWS trifecta made up of Dr. Joyner, Laura, and Doug have been the springboard for the beginning of a great semester, providing central housing at a fraction of the going rate, two evening classes, and a field trip every Wednesday.
Here is my typical day.
Promptly at 7:50 a.m., I catch the metro to InternationalJustice Mission’s headquarters, where I am acclimating to an eight hour work day and learning the ins and outs of marketing and social media. I sit on intern row with eighteen other fantastic friends who also have a heart and work ethic to protect the poor from violence. We’re all learning the menial ropes of the corporate world together, like how to manage the Outlook calendar and navigate SharePoint. At 8:30 sharp, the whole office takes part in “stillness,” a time to pray, read scripture, and be filled by the Holy Spirit before the start of a very fast-paced day. My peppy, talented area coordinator, Karen, sets a task list for a whole two hours, and then what do we do? Pray more. This time we pray corporately for the ongoing cases throughout the world. Like most D.C. interns, my position is unpaid, but if I was an IJM employee, I would be paid to pray for an hour every day. How great is that?! It certainly is rare.
Most of my work lately has revolved around the final days before the launch of The Locust Effect,by Gary Haugen, the founder and president of IJM. It’s about how the problem of everyday violence is inhibiting the humanitarian aid already offered. I’ve heard many of the stories of the oppressed are unforgivingly real and difficult to digest, but it is an important, eye-opening new perspective in our approach to help the world’s most vulnerable. We can discover it together on February 3, the official launch date of the book.
Following lunch, I continue to bolster the marketing team until 5:30. Other than learning how to walk around the office in heels (DC’s professional “costume of credibility, as Gary calls it), I only have praise for my new internship. The IJM team values and takes care of the interns, and I am so grateful to be actively contributing in some small way to the work of justice.
I am also taking two night classes – Global Agenda on Monday and Public Relations on Wednesday. No, these are not your typical English major classes. I’m making it work for my curriculum, though. Since I’m exploring marketing, I figured I should also dip my feet into the parallel universe of PR. One of my goals for this semester is to gain some real clarity on where my future career may be headed. I’m not going to make some perfect, unrealistic plan, but I only have a year left until I am out in the unforgiving “real world,” and it’s time to figure some things out. You can also thank PR for regular future blog posts about my time in D.C. (nothing motivates me like a grade!)
It’s time for a little heart-to-heart, though. I am doing really well; I love all that there is to do and see for a dork like me. But this is about the last new transition I can handle for a while. I feel like a plant who is struggling to really flourish. Every time I start to settle in, when I really become comfortable and make good some friends, I am uprooted again. Even people who love adventures desire some stability. I am only just beginning to get to know my new roommates, much less the other students in the program. I am going to have to learn when to spend time with interns, when to hang out with LCWS students, and when to catch up with all of the Charleston, Roanoke, and Italy friends I’ve made prior to this semester. Life – it’s a balancing game isn’t it? I suppose all of that will work itself out as the days march on.
They will press forward, of this my life has taught me time and again. Here in D.C., I will do my best to keep in step with their patriotic time.

Right By Me

Tonight, I have a story to tell you. On the surface, it is about where I am headed in mere days and what I will be up to, but more importantly, it is a testimony of depending on God and watching Him come through. I won’t hold my plans for the end; I’m too excited to craft that suspense. As some of you already know, rather than returning to Roanoke this Spring like most students who have already studied abroad a semester, I will be headed to Washington D.C. to participate in the Lutheran College Washington Semester, in which Roanoke is one of several affiliated schools that is a part of the program. LCWS sets up everything for us – housing and roommates, night classes, weekly field trips…they even help many students find an internship. This semester, I am living in a pent-house apartment in Rosslyn, taking both a Public Relations and Global Agenda class, and, most exciting of all, working as a full-time marketing and event planning intern at the Headquarters of InternationalJustice Mission!
This is how it happened.
In the fall of 2012, my friend Evelyn and I sat in the back of RC Admissions making money doing homework and not giving tours. She said she was going to do a study away semester in D.C. that spring, and she encouraged me to join her. The application deadline was only a few weeks away, and I already had a lot of campus commitments that year, so I opted not to join her. She got me thinking, though. Aside from finances and too many classes, the primary reason most students don’t study abroad is because they love their school so much; I understand that. If I went to Clemson, king of football tailgates, school spirit, and community, leaving for a semester would have been a lot harder, even if it was for an unforgettable world experience. But Roanoke and I don’t share that same bond. Our relationship is improving, but I could count on one hand the things I would really miss (my best friend Kayla, small group, Restoration Church, hiking, the English department). Two close friends chose to end their misery and transfer, making the possibility of a year away all the more tempting. I didn’t, and still don’t, loathe Roanoke enough to permanently leave, but why shouldn’t I go? I would be taking advantage of the opportunities Roanoke offers and encourages. By Christmas break, I was in planning mode.
Slavery, one of the world’s worst and most ancient injustices, is more rampant than ever before. Several years ago when I became aware of the estimated 30 million people enslaved today, I began considering a future career to help combat human rights oppression. I still have no idea what form that could take, or even if it is where I am still headed. I do know that, with God’s help, the staff at International Justice Mission already successfully seeks justice, freedom, and protection for thousands of powerless people. IJM is a non-profit human rights organization that protects the poor from violent forces of injustice. Comprised of Christian attorneys, social workers, criminal investigators and support staff, IJM partners with local law enforcement to rescue the poor. Case by case, over 10,500 victims – families toiling in brick factories, young girls imprisoned in brothels, widows whose land has been stolen – have found freedom in the past five years.
To learn more, you can check out Suhana’s beautiful story of redemption.
Once liberated, many of them receive counseling and guidance in aftercare homes, a crucial aid as they begin a new, restored chapter of their lives. IJM goes on to prosecute the perpetrators and ensure that the local public justice system is working properly, bolting oppressors behind bars and enabling communities to prevent future abuses. With each rescue, IJM is proving that justice for the poor is possible. I have wanted to be a more active supporter of their work for many years, so when I decided to go to D.C., I also began researching the possibility of an internship at IJM.
I made it, I will be joining 19 other interns in a week, but through the whole process, God kept me on a string, teaching me at each progression that this would work only through His will, His power, and my submission to Him.
How? How do I know this was God and not some retrospective bias or my hard work or just coincidence? The past certainly does clarify the way the Holy Spirit has already been moving, but I know primarily because I barely made it. Too many things went wrong; I should not have been able to even apply. Something would still go right, though, and in a small, uneventful way, the Lord would pull through yet again.
Summer gives you the feeling that you have plenty of time before you. Even I, Miss List-maker herself, inevitably put off to-dos for another day. My three tasks for August: work, IJM application, pack. I think I can handle that. I kind of kept thinking the application was due toward the end of August. Turns out the initial, very lengthy application, as well as all references and paperwork were due August 14, and I realized it a mere week ahead of time. Fortunately, a week is just enough.
On August 7, I journaled:
I guess this application process is teaching me that it’s all in Your hands. It’s not by any act or will of mine. Thank you for saving the opportunity and still allowing just enough time to have everything submitted.
And that kind of thing just kept happening. I was so interested in this opportunity that I saved the application to my computer last winter. I later filled it out, worried that the references that had to be mailed wouldn’t make it in time. I did not realize for several days that the file had since been updated. The references and transcript could now be e-mailed. Whew.
My first interview went pretty well. I didn’t really know which intern position I wanted. I’m a competent, joyful worker, but I still lack a specific skill set, and I had been praying (and worrying) a lot about what kind of career I might have someday. I remember the interviewer saying, Well it sounds like you have a good bit of experience with event planning. Would you be interested in that? Um, heck yes. That sounds perfect for me. Why had I never considered that before? So with the first interview, God laid aside, at least temporarily, some of the typical young adult worries I had carried of late.
I get placed for a second interview as a marketing intern. While the description to “assist with projects that help further the movement of IJM, raise public awareness of IJM’s mission, ongoing work and fundraising efforts” sounded good, the details of working with a lot of Google statistics and analysis did not. This isn’t event planning! I thought. Do I even want to do this? Should I look for a different internship? I prayed and considered it for a while. I still felt like this was the place; the possibility of working in that kind of environment for a cause I cared about was too good to pass up. Besides, I could learn some new skills.
I was well into my time in Italy when the second interview was finally scheduled.We decided to talk over FaceTime Audio, and I was to call at an appointed time. I was a little nervous, but prepared. I had tested out the audio with my roommate to make sure I knew how to use it. All seemed well. I called the number. It didn’t work. My heart started beating significantly faster. I am not trying to create an impression of irresponsibility here! Ahh! This is not happening right now. I e-mailed immediately. Fifteen painstakingly slow minutes later, the interviewer called me back on a landline the old-fashioned way. She sounded wonderful. I was frank and told her I don’t know much about Google stats, but I’m willing to learn. She tells me there have been some departmental shifts, and that is no longer part of the marketing intern description. It really would mainly be event planning. Hallelujah, praise the Lord! Quite literally. She goes on explaining everything and it honestly already sounds like I have the job. I get a little confident inside. At the end of the interview, she says she still has a few more people to talk to, but that the department should make a final decision shortly.
Dear goodness. This process has been so long. When we get off the phone, I am still seriously depending on the Lord. I ask for prayers from the gals in my Bible Study in Italy. Please Lord. I want this. If this is right, help me.
I’m supposed to get an e-mail by October 15. It comes and goes. I keep praying.Two days later, I check my school e-mail just to make sure. Low and behold, there is an e-mail from several days before with my status. They invited me to join the team! I need to accept or decline in the next two days. Once again, it worked out. It almost did not, but it still did. I accepted with enthusiasm and apologies for my slow response.
I was, and still am, stoked. On January 1, my family and I are hopping on a nine hour train ride to Washington, D.C. to help me move in, and orientation at IJM will begin next Monday. Even though I won’t be working with Google statistics, I still don’t have the details about what I am jumping into. This I am certain of: I will be with good, professional, hardworking Christians who believe that human rights for the poor are worth defending. I will be working far harder this semester than last, but I am eager to regain more purpose on a day-to-day basis. Once again, I will be in another new environment, but just like the whole process of heading to D.C., I know I will have a good God by my side and in my soul.
And I know that if you made it to the end of this, you have either contracted WVBS (Winter Vacation Boredom Syndrome) or you must actually care about me. If it’s the latter, I would appreciate your prayers as I enter one more new environment. Please pray for the work of IJM – for victims to be rescued and oppressors justly prosecuted. Pray for the international field offices and those working in D.C. Personally, please pray that the work I do will be effective and helpful. Pray that I rely on the Lord, seeking His guidance, renewal and provision. He really is a good God, and He has shown me that He is there, in my struggles at Roanoke, in my adventures abroad, in the barely-made-it interview process. He is right by not only me, but all of His children. He is right by you, too.