Wheaton College Color Logo

#MyWheaton Alumni Blog

Posted February 10, 2017 by
Tags: The Liberal Arts Spiritual Life Study Abroad

We were both undergraduate students in 2004 when Gary Haugen, founder and CEO of International Justice Mission, came to speak at morning Chapel about God’s heart for justice. At the time, we were deeply moved by the message, but little did we know that over a decade later, we’d working side by side helping to advance IJM’s work in South Asia. 

My ( Alesha) IJM career began almost a year after graduating Wheaton, when I was originally hired to serve as IJM’s receptionist. Shortly after I was hired, IJM began research in Sri Lanka, a country where I have family ties and had completed my HNGR internship, and so I was hired on to help support IJM’s work in South Asia. Today, I serve as the Senior Program Manager for IJM’s work in the region, ensuring the effectiveness of our work to combat sex trafficking and bonded labor slavery.  

Meanwhile, after graduating from Wheaton, I ( Janelle) pursued a couple of different opportunities before going on to complete a master’s degree in social work. From there, my husband and I felt compelled to serve in one of IJM’s field offices together as “fellows,” so we left our jobs and moved to South Asia from 2011 to 2013. In 2014, I was hired as an Aftercare Specialist for the South Asia regional team (working alongside Alesha at the HQ office) to provide technical program guidance and to help empower and equip our field teams who are focused on social service provision for survivors of bonded labor slavery. 

Today, IJM is the world’s largest international anti-slavery organization, working to end modern-day slavery, human trafficking and other forms of violence against the poor. We partner with local authorities to rescue and restore victims, restrain criminals and transform broken public justice systems. IJM is out to prove that justice for the poor is possible. 

Working for an international Christian NGO that focuses on transforming public justice systems can draw a lot questions and doubt about whether or not we can make a lasting impact on the lives of the poor in the developing world in the face of so much corruption and brokenness. But during our time at IJM, we have seen very significant changes in government responses to slavery and sex-trafficking in our project areas. It has been incredible to see our staff in South Asia, 99 percent of which are nationals of the region, engage with their government on high-level initiatives such as advising on critical anti-trafficking legislation to collaborating with government officials as they work to release slaves for the very first time.  We have witnessed the development of a courageous team of social workers who have provided a community-based aftercare program to more than 3,000 survivors of bonded labor slavery in a remote, highly impoverished and difficult region in less than five years.

 

While we get to see a lot of progress in our work, we are also continually reminded that there is much that remains out of our control. Our investigators in the field are haunted by faces of slaves they are unable to rescue. Criminals are not always convicted of their violent crimes against the poor. Walking with survivors on the road to recovery can often be met with frustrations and setbacks for our teams and for the survivors themselves. 

These are all reasons why IJM is dependent upon God in prayer: this is His work that He has invited us into, and we realize that the results are in His hands. In fact, IJM so highly values prayer that it is built into the culture and daily rhythms of the organization. Each day begins with 30 minutes of “Stillness” and at 11am all staff gather into one space for a time of corporate prayer for our daily needs. IJM also annually hosts a two-day event called the Global Prayer Gathering in which staff from around the world come to DC to share first-hand stories of rescue and restoration and to ask for prayer for areas of critical need in the work. (This year’s GPG will take place on March 3 & 4 and we would love for more members of the Wheaton community to join us.) 

In facing challenges in the work alongside our colleagues in the field and here in DC, we are both incredibly grateful for the time that we had as students at Wheaton College—especially for the academic and spiritual preparation that it built into us as young adults. Weekly chapels, special seminars, ministry opportunities, and our majors (International Relations for Alesha and Anthropology for Janelle), opened our eyes to the realities of the needs of the world. Most specifically, the Human Needs and Global Resources (HNGR) program (Alesha ’03 and Janelle ’05) instilled within us skills and values that we use in our current jobs, and gave us memories of life-altering relationships with people in the developing world that we treasure. 

Wheaton College was for us a place which sought to develop the whole person: mind, soul and spirit. Beyond academics, we were challenged at Wheaton to integrate our faith into all that we do and we also experienced examples of true Christian community. We were encouraged to pursue excellence in all of our endeavors, which aligns perfectly with an IJM’s motto that “the poor deserve an excellent organization.” Wheaton prepared us to work for an organization that values being Christian, professional and bridge-builders. If we had any advice to give to current Wheaton students, it would be to take advantage of as many holistic learning opportunities as possible, and also to pursue what God has made you passionate about. 

Through our work at IJM, we have witnessed some of the harsh realities of today’s world – a world that is often filled with unspeakable violence for the poor.  While there is much darkness, at IJM we are very mindful that the story is still being written, and that we are privileged to be a part of it. One of the frequent phrases you will hear around our office is “to the dawn,” which is a constant reminder to continue pushing forward until that new day dawns, and everything is made right. 

Alesha Guruswamy Rusk ’04 graduated from Wheaton with a degree in international relations, and Janelle Milazzo Lau ’06 graduated with a degree in anthropology. Both received Human Needs and Global Resources (HNGR) certificates. Alesha and Janelle currently serve with International Justice Mission: Alesha as a Senior Program Manager, South Asia; and Janelle as an Aftercare Specialist for Bonded Labour, South Asia. Photo captions (from top): A bonded labor slave tells his story to a police official during a rescue with IJM attorneys present; Madesh, who was rescued from bonded labor slavery on a rose farm, takes part in a fun game with his family while attending a “Freedom Training program” hosted by IJM aftercare (Janelle is pictured in the background); An IJM Aftercare manager leads a “Freedom Training” for survivors of bonded labor slavery. He says that Freedom Training is “a time for them to dream about their future, what they want to do next, and to set goals in their lives.”Photo captions (from top): A bonded labor slave tells his story to a police official during a rescue with IJM attorneys present; Madesh, who was rescued from bonded labor slavery on a rose farm, takes part in a fun game with his family while attending a “Freedom Training program” hosted by IJM aftercare (Janelle is pictured in the background); An IJM Aftercare manager leads a “Freedom Training” for survivors of bonded labor slavery. He says that Freedom Training is “a time for them to dream about their future, what they want to do next, and to set goals in their lives.”

To connect with alumni in various careers and vocations nationwide, join Wheaton in Network, a Vocation and Alumni Engagement program that allows alumni and parents to make themselves available to advise or mentor Wheaton students and recent grads. Students and alumni are able to contact advisers or mentors to learn from their experiences.