At IJM, one thing we take incredible pride in is our interns and fellows program. Intelligent, passionate and adventurous men and women get the opportunity to join us on the grounds in the various areas of work to gain experience and lend their talents to our teams in the field.
We had the privilege of hearing the experience of Laura Delfs, a lawyer who heard God calling her to step out of her comfort zone and use her gifts in the transformative work of justice.
1) Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m in Edmonton. I’m a lawyer, I’ve been a lawyer for over 25 years – not your typical fellow. I’m quite experienced, and by experienced I also mean old [laughs]. I felt God leading me through the questions "what do I really want to do?” "when do I really start to live?” I actually took a year and did my Master’s of Law in international development and started looking for opportunities to serve.
The faculty at the law program I was in spoke very highly of IJM. There aren’t very many law-based international programs and I really wanted to focus on how I could use law to make a real difference. I was quite excited by IJM and happy to be in a faith-based organization as well.
2) Why are you passionate about issues of injustice?
It’s been a faith journey really. Having been a lawyer for many years, I have a nice comfortable life here, but God kept prompting me that I had more to do, and it didn’t involve corporate law. It involved me using my gifts to help others. So the IJM model, the vision—there were so many things about it that I liked.
The idea that it’s engaging local people to improve existing justice systems; to help nationals to address the issues within their system. Quite simply, valuing basic human rights and the dignity of each individual in God’s sight and in the sight of the law.
Until I read The Locust Effect, it hadn’t really occurred to me that the lack of access to justice really is a significant factor in crippling poverty. As I was searching for what was next, I read many Christian books and became really aware that justice is important to God and passionate about how God calls us to justice.
3) How did you learn about IJM?
I worked closely with an organization in Cambodia that works in the area of anti-sex trafficking. The founder of that organization spoke highly of IJM because the work of the two organizations overlapped. When I started looking for a field placement after I graduated from the Master’s program – between his recommendation and my professor’s, I felt like it would be a really good place to start and very congruent with what was important to me.
4) Which IJM story is most inspiring to you?
I had the opportunity to meet Kumar, one of our survivors who has stayed close to IJM staff. He was eight when he was rescued. He was working off the debt of his deceased parents. He’s in university now! It was such a treat to sit down with him. It was inspiring to me because it was a powerful example of changing lives. Of what his life could have been and what it is now.
5) Tell us about your journey into the IJM Bangalore field office.
I had done international work in Africa and Southeast Asia, so I thought I’d be more comfortable in a place where I knew what to expect. Canadians often go to South Asia because it is easier to secure visas. When I was asked to go there, I said yes. I trusted that God knew where I needed to be better than I. I got some pretty clear direction that I was to "show up…. and be prepared for an amazing ride." Wow, he wasn’t kidding! There is no better feeling that knowing you are where God wants you to be…..doing what he wants you to do.
6) What are been some of the best moments or memories from your experience in the field?
On a personal level, I just love the people so much; my colleagues at the field office, our batch of interns and fellows were just amazing. For the nationals to just open themselves up to new friendships over and over again, it’s incredible.
The work was hard, but we actually laughed so much. I love living in a new place. The experience of moving into a new country with the safety net of knowing that you have a faith community – you’re parachuting into a new situation but with all of the support. I was able to do a lot of really interesting work that I felt was meaningful and helpful. I had the privilege of working on the final arguments of a couple of cases and we actually had convictions on both of them.
7) What were some things that were challenging?
On a personal level, my greatest challenges were living in a city of 12 million with a lack of natural beauty and so much need. The unrelenting poverty was so huge and the need was so big. From a work perspective sometimes the magnitude of the task and challenge and the brokenness of the system is so overwhelming; you wonder how you’ll ever make a dent in the issue of slavery. But it’s incredible to work with people who deal with this broken system and the frustration that surrounds it.
8) Now that you’re back, what’s next for you?
God hasn’t told me yet! I have some things I have to take care of here, and then I’ll look ahead. I’d love to be back in the field in some capacity, I just don’t know what that looks like yet.
9) What is the #1 piece of advice you would give to anyone who is considering doing an internship or fellowship in an IJM field office?
Love where you’re at. My IJM point of contact (POC) loved South Asia, and everything about it. And I’m so grateful to her because she challenged me to love it too. For example, we went to this restaurant and they put a leaf down on your table and then you get a big blob of rice. And then they slop down – I mean literally, slop down—about 10 different secret sauces and you don’t have a clue what’s in them. And then of course you eat with your hands! She just looked at it at said "isn't this great?” What could I do but agree and dig in?!
Just embrace the culture, don’t compare it to home. There’s so much to learn and enjoy there and the time just goes so fast. Jump in with both feet. When you get invited to someone’s house, just go. Those are the most interesting cultural experiences. And if you don’t engage right away, you’ll blink and then it’s over.
10) Who had the biggest impact on the person you’ve become?
My dad. He taught me to be brave and adventuresome.
11) What is the strangest food you’ve ever tried?
I think eating with my hands was my adventuresome thing. I ate so much mystery meat I don’t even want to know. So I can’t identify the weirdest thing I ate. My adventurous eating experience was just trying not to get curry or gravy all over myself!
12) Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
It was just such an amazing experience. From the work itself to the community with the nationals in the office, to the community with the fellows and the interns. I was with a police officer from the Netherlands, three lawyers and an admin intern from U.S. and a social worker from Australia. It was just so interesting, and so rewarding, and so stretching, and so awesome. It was just the best experience. I recommend it to anyone.
Laura Delfs is an experienced lawyer, practicing in Edmonton for over 20 years. She has also been extensively involved in international volunteer work in both Africa and SE Asia. She recently completed her Masters of Law (Sustainable International Development) with a focus on law as a tool to alleviate poverty. Laura served as a legal fellow in IJM's Bangalore, India field office in 2016/17.