Proverbs 28:2 When there is a moral rot within a nation, its government topples easily, but wise and knowledgeable leaders bring stability. 3 A poor person who oppresses the poor is like a pounding rain that destroys the crops. 4 To reject the law is to praise the wicked; to obey the law is to fight them…27 Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to poverty will be cursed.
This month’s ministry has impressed me for several years, and I’m excited to share my interview with Cassy McKenzie, one of eight Regional Vice Presidents in the National Student Leadership Program of the International Justice Mission.
If you haven’t clicked on the links from Proverbs 17, make sure you do, but I’ll give you the rundown: The International Justice Mission works in communities around the world, addressing injustices such as property grabbing, incarceration without due process, sexual and physical abuses, and all kinds of human trafficking. According to UNICEF, as many as two million children are subjected to prostitution in the global commercial sex trade, and that’s only one of the many injustices that IJM is working to eliminate. I’ve read articles in Compassion Magazine, seen IJM’s high ratings on Charity Navigator, and watched their videos, but nothing beats first-person experience.
Cassy McKenzie, IJM National Student Leadership Program
I was studying musical theatre, and halfway through my freshman year, I went to the Passion Conference in Atlanta. I thought, “Oh, I’m going with my college friends at church—this will be fun!”
I had no idea the kinds of injustice that go on.
The Passion conference had several nonprofits who shared what they do, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what I’d learned from IJM—modern day slavery, human trafficking, citizenship rights violations, embonded labor… My heart broke—I had a quarter-life crisis. I started praying about it. I looked online and saw that they have over 150 chapters at colleges. I thought, Well my college doesn’t have one. I was wrestling with the idea and making steps to see what that would look like, to start a chapter.
It was a God thing. One of my oldest friends from school messaged me and said, “Hey, I’d like you to meet my girlfriend Abby, because she went to the conference.” I met up with her for coffee—like a blind friend date. We sat down and about 10 minutes into the conversation, she says, “So what was the biggest thing you took away from the Passion Conference?” I don’t know how to answer that—I just looked at her and said, “God just spoke to me on so many levels, but I really have this heart’s desire to start an IJM chapter at CNU. What about you?”
She gave me the blankest face. I was like Oh gosh, did I say something wrong? I just met this girl. “Is everything okay?” Her mouth just opened, and she reached into her backpack and pulled out this IJM College Campus Chapter Starter Toolkit. Her eyes filled with tears, and she said, “Cassy, I have been praying for God to bring someone to walk alongside me to start this chapter. I have been trying all on my own for the past two months and I just can’t do it by myself. Will you please help me?”
This is no joke. Starting a chapter at a university is no joke, red tape, administration, getting things approved. I’m a people person, but God was working in me. We finally got the chapter off the ground in our sophomore year. It was super-intimidating, but God obviously wanted us to do it, so we took it one day at a time and put our trust in Him.
One Saturday morning, I got a call from a number I did not recognize. I pick up half-awake (Cassy mumbles sleepily “Hello?”). Our Senior President’s wife says, “Hi, this is Rosemary Tribble, is this Cassy McKenzie that I’m speaking with?” (Cassy does great voices). “I hear that you’re trying to start an IJM chapter. Is this true? The founder of IJM, Gary Haugen, and his family are coming to CNU today. I was wondering if you’d like to give them a tour of the campus.”
I’m like, “Where do you want me to be? I’ll be there in 10 minutes!”
I keep thinking about that passage Ephesians 3:20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Those truths are just so real. You know what? I’m not going to be a musical theatre major—I want to just be God’s hands and feet for these people. I switched to Social Work, and I’m double-minoring in Psychology and Philosophy and Religious Studies. I want to be an aftercare counselor with a human rights agency. That’s one of the reasons I love IJM—they’ve created this framework where they don’t just rescue people and hope their problems go away. They lock arms with these communities to mend broken justice systems. We want to prevent this kind of stuff from happening. (They also find resources to provide victims with counseling, education and even relocation when necessary–read the Compassion story linked to my introduction).
We had our first event with Stand for Freedom, and now we’re one of the most successful IJM college campus chapters on the East Coast, which is just mind-blowing to me. My junior year, I became a co-president with one of my other friends. Spring of my junior year, I got an email from Greg Darley, the director of the college mobilization team with IJM. I’m totally fan-girling over here. He asked me to apply for the National Student Leadership Team. I’m like, “Okay but I don’t know what that is.” He said, “Here’s a link, we really think you’d be great for this position. Pray about it, but your application is due in 4 days.” I loved working on my campus, but I wanted to reach so many more students. I didn’t really know how to do that and I’d been praying, “God what’s the next step?” Then I get this email saying, “You should do this.”
What does a college student leader do with IJM?
Our team is comprised of 8 students, and we’re spread out all over the country. I’m the VP of the NorthEast region, in charge of around 40 IJM campus chapters over 13 states, which is crazy. I live off emails, phone calls and Skype sessions. The work of justice is collaborative. You don’t have to be a private investigator busting through brothels in India (although IJM has those). Social change takes everybody. As part of what our team does, we get to visit one of the IJM field offices.
In the first week of August, we went to the field office in the Dominican Republic. I felt so humbled to get to go into an operating community between Santo Domingo and Boca Chica, and we got to work with the field office director, Jessica. She’s incredible. We got to work with a couple of the field investigators there, meeting some of the rescued victims from human trafficking. It was life-changing. Those are the moments that sealed the deal for me. This kind of fulfillment I’m getting from the Holy Spirit through this work—there’s no place else I’d rather be. And receiving the training with my team members set the tone for us to seek deeper knowledge together throughout the school year.
It was like putting on 3D glasses.
We got to minister at a safe house to 27 women who had been rescued from the streets. We went to a couple of the orphanages and just got to love on the kids who’d been abandoned by their moms, who had gotten pregnant and left them so they could go back to their pimps. It was like putting on 3D glasses. Those aren’t just videos; these people have names and faces and stories.
Abby and Cassy’s Formula for Social Justice:
1. Awareness: If people don’t know the basic facts and statistics, they won’t be moved to do something. IJM makes sure their information is credible, and the chapter events such as Stand for Freedom raise awareness of the tragedies that are happening and actions that need our support, such as the Modern Day Slavery Initiative on Capitol Hill right now (Send a message now by clicking Senator, and Congressman).
2. Education: Modern-day slavery and human trafficking are so complex. Trauma can impact people so differently—was it their family, their friends, strangers, a boyfriend? What’s their culture like? Is anyone paying attention? What hope do they have?
3. From that education, we emphasize the importance of engagement. I used to hate politics. It’s messy and nobody gets along. College students in particular very much share that feeling. But that doesn’t work, so last year at the Stand for Freedom event, we got over 1000 signatures for the Human Trafficking Prioritization Act, and no one knew that was even a piece of legislation that existed or really mattered. We said to people, “You can stand with us, and you may not be a social work major or even a Christian, but your presence can tell people that these things matter and we care.”
There’s so much brokenness in this world. Yeah, it’s the new trendy thing to talk about trafficking, but thank God that someone’s talking about it and more people are open to hearing about it. I believe that these forms of slavery are going to be ended with my generation, because of the people I’ve met and the work that I’ve seen God do. What we can do together—it’s awesome.
Yes, Cassy, it is. People get away with things they can do in the dark. If the only people who know about crime are criminals, they can keep it up while everyone else lives fluffy lives, oblivious to the suffering of those with no way to escape or no place to go. When these things are brought to light, you and I can say, “What? NO! We won’t accept that!” Someone’s existence tomorrow depends on what we do today.
For real change to take place, we can’t have an education that is completely centered on My Career, My Money, My Future. We’re citizens of the world, with rights and responsibilities. But not everyone can change their majors and go work in a mission. We need people who pursue regular lives to be involved, to change the economy, to embed their own circles with awareness and action and prayer. That’s what happened with Civil Rights and with the Abolition movement of old. And as much as we feel like they don’t listen, we have to communicate with our government representatives and use the rights we have to help those who have none.
Lord, thank You for using us to make a difference.
Here’s a song I like: Mercy Me, Crazy Enough