by Kimberly Tjoumakaris
“I attended Seminary in response to the call God put on my life to serve the church. Specifically, I wanted to be a part of the Holy Spirit’s work of bringing life to parts of the church that had grown cold,” said Bethany Hoang (M.Div., 2004). Before she began her studies at Princeton Seminary, Bethany thought she would immediately pursue a Ph.D. after graduation with the hope of becoming a seminary professor. However, her plans changed during her junior year. She stumbled—almost literally—on the issue of human trafficking.
One day after lunch in the Mackay Campus Center, she noticed an exhibit table. Curious, she walked over to a poster that caught her eye. It was a photo of a young girl with tears streaming down her cheek. “The poster said two things that I will never forget—‘Slavery is alive. Rape for profit must be stopped.’ Truthfully, I did not know that slavery still existed in our world today and I certainly hadn’t heard of a mass industry that could be called ‘rape for profit.’ These realities, completely new to me, took my breath away,” she said.
From that day forward, Bethany was on a mission to learn more about human trafficking. She used class assignments as opportunities to begin researching the issue. But, she became concerned when her research and conversations with fellow students and professors didn’t turn up many answers about the reality of slavery. Bethany began making trips to the denominational offices at the U.N. in New York City. At the time, the U.N. was one of the primary providers of statistics on slavery and exploitation, along with the CIA and the U.S. Department of State. “As I knocked on the doors of various denominational leadership offices, they were as bewildered by the reality of slavery as was I,” she said. In response, Bethany went on to write a resolution on human trafficking that was adopted by the United Methodist Church, and that has been adapted by other denominations as well.
Today, slavery and human trafficking are much more widely recognized as critical issues for the body of Christ to address. But in 2002, most people still hadn’t heard the term “human trafficking” nor was there much recognition that human trafficking is, in actuality, modern slavery.
Although Bethany was planning to pursue a Ph.D. in missiology after graduation, she had a sense that she needed to take steps toward exploring human trafficking more deeply. “I began to wonder if the questions I would seek to answer through my doctoral work would be better informed if I began by working in ‘the field’ to draw the body of Christ into responding to God’s call to justice first,” she said.
Since graduating from Princeton, Bethany has worked with International Justice Mission (IJM). Today she serves as director of the IJM Institute in Washington DC, where she leads the ongoing development and application of IJM’s biblical justice theology. “I help convene and equip Christian leaders from around the world to engage with the biblical call to seek justice on behalf of those who suffer from abuse and oppression,” she said. Bethany said IJM’s way of connecting the work of rescue and justice with the very heart of the gospel and the mission of the church confirmed her understanding of the next steps God was leading her to take.
Bethany believes her Princeton Seminary education continues to influence nearly every aspect of her work, especially IJM’s ongoing theological development and the application of biblical foundations to support the work of justice. “The rooting of justice in our spiritual formation in Christ requires careful thought and teaching. I was equipped to lead in this way through my time at PTS,” she said. After just eight years with IJM, Bethany feels she has learned a lifetime of lessons. Listening to former victims testify about their slave owner’s brutality or hearing firsthand accounts from colleagues who put their lives on the line during a rescue mission are daily experiences that continue to confirm Bethany’s call to justice work. “Everyday our work draws us closer to God, because the work is simply bigger than ourselves—it is God’s mission that God is continually inviting us to join. My work has changed me profoundly. I have been formed by Christ through these years with IJM in ways beyond what I could have ever asked for or imagined,” she said.
Bethany and her colleagues, who work in sixteen field offices across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, help rescue women, men, and children from horrific suffering. IJM lawyers, investigators, and aftercare professionals work with local officials to secure immediate victim rescue and aftercare, prosecute perpetrators, and ensure that public justice systems effectively protect the poor. In addition to their job duties, prayer is also an integral part of the staff’s workday. On a daily basis, Bethany and her colleagues (across the globe) unite in prayer. “As we seek God in all aspects of our work, we are filled with hope and are able to keep moving forward together. We are able to celebrate the incredible victories of justice won, even as we mourn together for the dignity and lives lost. Prayer keeps us moving forward together,” she said.
For more information about Bethany Hoang’s work with IJM, visit http://www.ijm.org/get-involved.