Krystle Blanchard, 3L
International Justice Mission, Washington, D.C.
My summer started out pretty disappointing: I had plans to go with International Justice Mission (IJM), the organization of my dreams, to be a legal intern in Kenya, the exact kind of place where I could see myself using my education in human rights law. Those high hopes nearly crashed completely with one call which bore bad news about the increasing security issues in Kenya and IJM’s decision to pull all interns out (and refrain from sending more). Needless to say, when I had the chance nonetheless to remain with IJM for the summer in their Washington, D.C. headquarters, I could not be more thankful. At least half of my hopes could come true!
There’s a reason for everything. This summer, I’ve had the amazing opportunity not only to work with a very successful organization doing exactly what I have a passion for, but to see the ways that God uses ordinary people to accomplish his purposes in the context of professional excellence. And while I was disappointed not to be doing it from Kenya, I can see how God used my time in D.C. to grow me spiritually and professionally in ways I don’t think would have been possible while dealing with assimilation to a whole new culture.
I’ve always had difficulty dealing with what seems to be a dichotomy between Christianity and excellence in the business world, but my time working in IJM headquarters has shown me exactly what that looks like. The most striking thing about this organization, in my opinion, is the way that Gary Haugen, IJM’s founder and CEO, runs it. He is the essence of a humble and professional leader who strives for excellence not only in the organization he founded, but in his personal and spiritual life as well. The best part is that his example overflows into every other part of the organization, resulting in what I’m sure to be the most unique organization in the world.
For one thing, he has chosen to dedicate a whole hour of every working day to the Lord. Thirty minutes every morning is given for each employee to practice stillness, a time to reflect, pray, and be spiritually prepared for the day. Then, at 11:00 each day, the whole office gathers together for 30 minutes to lift up praises and prayers to the Lord for what He is doing in the organization. The humble leadership that emanates not only from Gary, but from all leadership, is truly astounding.
A common theme in the office is the intentional pursuit of joy. The concept of pursuing joy was new to me, but it makes total sense in an organization that is fighting injustice day-in and day-out, often standing in the face of the most grotesque perpetrators and saddest stories. In this line of work, it is so important to pursue joy—especially for those abroad working with victims. However, I have learned this summer that the pursuit of joy is necessary even for those of us who don’t have any first-hand experience with that pain.
For me, the pursuit of joy has been necessary almost for the opposite reason. It’s hard sometimes to think about the fact that I could be there, seeing the people affected by police violence illegal detention and making the fight that much more worthwhile. It’s difficult sometimes to remind myself that the research I do on my own, in a small intern cubby in the chilly D.C. office, matters just as much as the work they are doing in Kenya. I have to pursue joy, because otherwise I can easily get bogged down with thoughts about how I should be working internationally somewhere, seeing things first-hand… as if that would make a difference somehow. I’ve learned how selfish it is of me to think in that way, and that that kind of thinking is the thief of joy. While the kind of joy that it may be stealing is completely different from the kind of joy that is drained from every-day work in the trenches of a field office, my joy is just as much at stake. And in reality, I think that’s just as much the case in everyday life, when things are normal. It’s easy to start thinking, often selfishly, about how things could be better, and instead of taking captive those thoughts and being thankful for life and our own ability to offer up work as a form of worship to God, we allow the joy to seep slowly out of us.
This summer I’ve been given the opportunity to research and write memos proposing new procedures for the Kenyan judiciary. These procedures, if put into place, will help ensure that innocent men who are accused of crimes will be given necessary process before being thrown in jail for years to await trial. They will help a person like one of IJM’s current clients, who has been in jail for over one and a half years for a crime he did not commit, all the while unable to provide for his wife and children. It is people like these that make my solitary days of research and writing worthwhile. So, even though I can’t be there in Kenya to see the faces of those I want to serve, I won’t let simple circumstances steal from me the joy that comes from working for the Lord and fulfilling his call to seek justice and defend the oppressed no matter where I am in the world.