Jen Townsend is a British Columbia native who's using a personal pilgrimage to bring justice to the oppressed and vulnerable around the world. This summer, Jen is completing a 725km walk along the Camino de Santiago in Spain with the hopes of raising $27,000-- the equivalent of an IJM lawyer's salary in the field. She shared her story and vision with us in a heartfelt interview below.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I grew up in Nelson, British Columbia and now I live in Coquitlam. I work in Vancouver as a library technician at a large law firm’s library. I have a lot of amazing friends and a wonderful family, and a dog! That’s pretty much me.
What is Walking the Way for Justice?
Walking the Way for Justice is my plan to walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain and use the opportunity to spread the word about slavery and injustice, sharing how IJM is working to bring those issues to an end.
My dream is to raise $27,000, which is equivalent to an IJM lawyer salary in the field. It seems like a lofty goal and I know I might not raise the whole amount, but I’m happy to try.
It’ll take me about a month to complete my walk of 725 kilometers from Pamplona to Santiago de Compostela and I plan to walk about 25 kilometers a day. Hopefully with a lot of coffee breaks when I pass through little villages!
How did the decision to actually walk the Camino come about, and more specifically, the choice to walk it for IJM?
I was going for a long walk one day and I happened to be reading my Bible app on my phone. I came across a verse from the book of Jeremiah (6:16), where it speaks about ancient pathways and finding the good way and walking in it, and finding rest for your soul.
Then about a week later, someone who works with IJM shared the exact same verse on social media and it got my attention. I connected the verse to the Camino because it’s an ancient pathway. People have been walking the Camino since the Middle Ages. Also, to this day, people on the Camino will say "buen Camino” which means "good way” when they meet each other on the path. So I just put all these pieces together and I decided to go for it and dedicate the walk to sharing about IJM.
Why are you passionate about issues of injustice?
I think I started to be more passionate about injustice after I attended the IJM Global Prayer Gathering in 2016. Being a part of that really changed the way I thought about justice and also how I thought about prayer. It was so cool to be praying with all those other people and knowing that the concern and compassion that we feel is just a mirror of God’s heart towards the poor and those in slavery. The Bible shows that He loves justice and mercy and wants us to pursue justice for the oppressed.
I heard firsthand stories about how God was restoring and equipping people – some of whom had previously been slaves and badly mistreated themselves – to serve the needs of people who were suffering. That gave me so much courage.
What do you pack for a 700 km journey, and what can’t you pack?
I’ve heard that some of the most important things are to have a really great pair of shoes and a super comfortable backpack. As far as what you can’t pack, I’m not too sure about that. People would advise against bringing books, but I’m definitely planning to bring some because I like to read.
Some people will only advocate bringing two sets of clothing. You wear one outfit and then when you finish walking for the day, you change into the other outfit and immediately wash the other stuff. That’s how minimalist you have to be.
What have been some of the challenges you faced so far in terms of training and fundraising, and are there any challenges that you’re expecting?
I guess the first challenge I’ve experienced is regarding the timing of promoting my journey and fundraising goal, because I had this idea almost a year ago. I waited to share so that people wouldn’t get tired of hearing about it before it even happened. But I’ve been excited about the plan the whole time and I want to do the best job that I can to share effectively and invite people to join the fight to end slavery. I’m choosing to trust God with the results, so I just remind myself not to worry about the final outcome.
And regarding the journey itself, I’m expecting to encounter some challenges around food. I’ve heard it’s quite difficult to be a vegetarian in Spain. Apparently, they really love their meat there. I also have to bring large quantities of medical food supplements because I have a rare metabolic disorder called PKU, but I think I’ve figured out how I’m going to mail it to myself at post offices ahead on the trail. I think I have it sorted out.
What part of the journey are you the most excited for?
I'm very excited to wake up every day and set off to walk on a new path and see new things and meet new people and I just think that every day is going to be a new adventure. In a way, I feel as if God invited me to take this journey. I’m looking forward to spending time with Him and enjoying the walking as a spiritual discipline.
How do you plan to change the world?
That is a really big question. As a follower of Jesus, I rely and trust in His word when He says that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and to love your neighbour as yourself. I think those things naturally flow together so well, because when you really love somebody you begin to love whoever that they love. God loves every person and desires their flourishing, so I deeply admire the work that International Justice Mission is doing to show love to many of my neighbours around the world, and I want to be part of that work of bringing freedom and hope as much as I possibly can.
What do you bring with you everywhere you go?
I think the answer is my keys because sometimes I leave my phone behind, but I always have my keys.
Anything else you'd like our readers to know?
I’d just like to share something that I’ve heard my pastor say a few times in regards to how overwhelming it can be when we consider all the terrible ways that things have gone wrong in the world, which is "you can’t do something about everything, but you can do something about something.” I find that both reassuring and also very encouraging.
This article is part of a series featuring the amazing individuals who offer their time and talents to fundraise for us.