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Justice, Humility, and the Call to Obedience: Interview With Eugene and Hannah Au

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Justice, Humility, and the Call to Obedience: Interview With Eugene and Hannah Au

LEARN MORE ABOUT IJM'S INTERNS AND FELLOWS PROGRAM

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 Eugene & Hannah Au. Eugene is a lawyer with his own firm based out of Vancouver and his wife Hannah is a Grade 1 Christian school teacher. Both had a passion and desire to live out their faith in practical ways by using their gifts to help bring rescue and restoration, which led them to spend a year in Mumbai working with IJM.

1) Tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Eugene: I am a lawyer with a practice out here in Vancouver, BC. I have been practicing law since 2010. I was born, raised and spent most of my life here in Vancouver, other than some time during undergrad in Montreal and I lived in California for a couple of years and then the year in Mumbai for the fellowship. Otherwise, Vancouver has been home.

Hannah: I also was born here in Vancouver. My parents are immigrants from Hong Kong. I was mostly raised in Vancouver and I spent some years in Winnipeg and we also lived in Hong Kong. I am the daughter of a pastor, and that has shaped who I am and why we’ve been in different cities. I am a teacher and I spend most of my time teaching in Christian schools; both in Hong Kong and here.

Vancouver is always our home base, because in my family, whenever we move, we ended up coming back to Vancouver. Before we moved to India, we felt that we were rooted in Vancouver, and after we came back from India, we thought that maybe anywhere could be home for us.

Eugene: [Being in India] grew our understanding of what it means for a place to be home. Certainly, the idea that my family is here in Vancouver – being close in proximity to them is great to see and spend time. But the idea of other connections and the people that we get to work with and sharing our lives with, wherever that is, that definitely has an aspect of what it means to be at home.

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2) Why are you passionate about issues of injustice?

Eugene: For me, I think that it stems from an understanding of the freedom that we have in Christ from oppression; and part of that freedom includes dealing with issues of injustice. I think that by following Christ, we have the opportunity and privilege to participate in that type of work in the fight against injustice.

Hannah: I echo Eugene, and I also think that it’s the working of the Holy Spirit in shaping us. I think that when you grow up in North America, ideas of justice are sometimes separated from the church. I think that God placed opportunities in our hearts where we could start to see, even within our own city, where injustice exists, and it began to stir in us.

Eugene: It has been a process and a series of moments or experiences. One of them was our pastor introducing our congregation to the idea of social issues regarding poverty in the city, and the opportunity to get involved and think of ways that we as a church could be involved in ministry. That was something that opened the eyes of our church.

One of the things that our church is involved with is partnering with the First Nations population in northern BC. I think that ministering with indigenous people opened our eyes to some of the experiences and injustices taking place in BC. It really brings the experiences of injustice to light, and that motivates us to keep learning more and develop what we can do to respond when we see and hear about injustice.

Hannah: I feel like some of our ministries in downtown eastside [Vancouver] places too much emphasis on just handing out a sandwich to make yourself feel better and rather than asking the questions like, “Why are they there?”, “How has our system failed them in a way that makes it impossible for them to rise above their situation?” It can be something as simple as the fact that you can’t get a job without a fixed address.

Even when working with IJM; understanding that they are trying to work within the system to fix it, not just to rescue people. Because rescuing people just takes one person out of their situation, but it doesn’t actually change the system and the cycle.

3) How did you learn about IJM?

Eugene: I first heard about IJM when I was living in California and had the chance to hear one the IJM Director of Operations for Africa speak about the work of IJM at a campus graduate event. At the time, I wasn’t in law school, but the possibility was on my mind and the thought that maybe, down the road, if and when I get to study and practice law, I could have an opportunity to do something with IJM. That would be really cool.

Then at a conference in Vancouver in 2015, I saw Phil Reilly and Mark [Wollenberg] at the IJM booth and reconnected. I told them that I knew about IJM and that it’s something that I’ve been following for 9-10 years. In chatting, they encouraged us to think about the internship/fellowship program.

Hannah: We were thinking about ways that we could serve together and I had heard about IJM from some friends who did the Dressember campaign. But when Eugene and I started thinking about it more, he said that he had already thought about IJM and their work even before he had gone to law school. I really wanted us to find something that could utilize his gifts and training as a lawyer and so when we saw IJM’s work, it was a fit for us.

4) Which IJM story is most inspiring to you?

Eugene: For me, it wasn’t so much an individual story, but that the motivation for addressing justice matters comes from our faith. The work of IJM is such a real and direct way of doing it. Also, that IJM is a community with a unified motivation behind the work of wanting to express the love and freedom that God provides, and to literally bring freedom. I find that incredible.

Hannah: Mine is Suhana – the girl who was trafficked and rescued twice. That story continues to inspire me because it really is a needle in a haystack story, and after being in India where you are surrounded by 20 million people, you just think that it’s so impossible. There are so many aspects of God’s mercy and grace in that story and this idea of not giving up, but also the reality that re-trafficking happens.


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5) Tell us about your journey into the IJM Mumbai field office.

Eugene: I connected with the IJM mobilization team in Vancouver; helping when there were events that needed volunteers, and things like that. Just being able to do that while here in Vancouver and increase our familiarity with the work of IJM. It was during the course of 2015 that we began thinking about going and in the beginning of 2016, the application was submitted. Even that was something to prepare for because it was like applying for a job and that’s something I hadn’t done in a while; I hadn’t written a resume or a cover letter in quite some time [laughs]. When the application was submitted, we just prayed and waited. I feel that [applying] was an opportunity to exercise obedience.

Hannah: India seemed the most foreign to us. We suggested that we could go to Ghana because I had gone there for a trip or we thought that we could go to the Philippines because it doesn’t seem as out of our comfort zone. But IJM asked, “Do you want to go to India? We need you in Mumbai.”

We took about a day to think about it; the thought crossed our mind to ask if there was any other option. But, just as Eugene spoke about obedience, we decided if we’re really following God in obedience, then we have to be willing to go anywhere he calls us to go. So, we said yes.

6) What have been some of the best moments or memories from your experience in the field?

Eugene: I think from the work perspective, organizing the International Conference on Women Trafficking was the most memorable part because of its magnitude, the amount of work that was put into it, and the opportunity to work as a whole office in collaboration with the other India offices.

The conference happened when Maharashtra’s State Commission for Women (a state commission whose aim is to advance the rights and status of women in the state of Maharashtra) asked IJM Mumbai to partner as the knowledge experts in human trafficking. Their goal was to bring people together internationally to raise issues and discussion about the problem of trafficking of women, particularly across borders. The chairperson of the commission is a politician involved in the current ruling party at the national level with connections to the Prime Minister. Also, the fact that Indian politicians came to inaugurate the conference was viewed as a huge success because colleagues told us that [the politicians] have never said that trafficking is an issue we need to deal with in the state of Maharashtra in an environment like this before. So, in terms of the bridge-building, collaboration and relationship building, that was very positive. Hopefully the relationship with this, and other government bodies, will be a lasting relationship that could be very effective in change down the road.

We definitely felt like we were part of something big that we hope will have a large impact. When we were [planning] it, we didn’t see the potential impact because we were just trying to get through the day [laughs]. But the first day of the conference, seeing the culmination of [our work], that was a great experience. It was a privilege to have been a small part of making that happen.

7) What were some things that were challenging?

Hannah: I think for me, it was understanding a different way of working. For example, logistics. IJM always likes to pray for logistics [laughs]. For me, the challenge was realizing what it means to pray for something to even happen. Coming from North America, you think something will happen because you do it, you know? Because you will organize it well, because you are efficient and because it’s well planned – really a reliance on human hands. There were times when we didn’t understand why things weren’t working at the speed that they were or why we were waiting at someone’s office for 3-4 hours just to meet with them. I think there were some growing pains. But once we started to realize that we had to work within the culture and system, it became less of a challenge for us. It was still trying, but we understood that in order to actually make change, we were going to have to make change their way.

So that’s a big thing, but a small thing was just crossing the road [laughs]. I didn’t know how to cross the road because there were no traffic crosswalks, and no one is in their lane and little three-year-olds are crossing hand in hand and I can’t get across [laughs]. Those were more everyday things.

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8) While you were in Mumbai, what did you miss most about home?

Eugene: The people, our family, friends and church community. We’re very grateful to have the relationships that we have and to not see the people who are important to us [was hard].

Hannah: I think definitely family. Two of my siblings had babies in the time we were gone, so it was hard because we didn’t go back for that year.

9) Now that you’re back home, what do you miss most about Mumbai?

Hannah: Of course, the people; being in the office and knowing what’s going on every day. We miss that a lot.

I would also say that I miss a simpler life. Which is kind of funny because Mumbai is a very chaotic place [laughs]. But it’s also very straight forward. Like, at the bottom of our building there is a veg guy and we just get our vegetables from him every day. Or we never had to drive anywhere, we would just catch a rickshaw, so we didn’t drive for a year. So even though you’re sitting in traffic for two hours, you’re not behind the wheel. [And] having fewer choices. When I came back [to Vancouver] and I was at the grocery store, there were 50 kinds of cereal – we just ate cornflakes for a year – and it was just so much.

I think I miss a little bit of the chaos. They say when you’re living in India, everyday you feel alive. I think that’s something that I miss.

Eugene: A lot of the friendships we made with the office, and particularly with the group of interns and fellows. We were really thankful to have gotten to know each other and the fun of exploring the city together. Certainly, we miss them a lot too.

10) What was the biggest cultural hurdle you encountered in your time in Mumbai?

Hannah: Understanding time and how [Indians] view time. Especially when we were first setting up. We asked someone to come and set up our internet and they would say what time they would come, and then they wouldn’t come.

Eugene: And we would call and they would say that they come in 15 minutes.

Hannah: Or in sometime.

Eugene: And that can mean anything.

Hannah: "Sometime" is a very common phrase [laughs] and sometimes it would literally be three days later. But even daily with our friends; if we say we’re going to meet at 7.00 pm, they could show up at 8.00 pm and they’re not actually late, they’re just later than you [laughs]. But they’re not doing it to offend you in any way, and no one is offended by it. So that was very counter to what we do [in Canada].

Interested in exploring an internship or fellowship opportunity with IJM?

11) Now that you’re back, what have you both been up to?

Hannah: I’m trying to figure out how to live justly here. I think that it’s easy when you’re in the field to feel like you’re doing God’s work, but how does that translate to my Grade 1 classroom? That’s something I’ve really been thinking about a lot; trying to find what the issues are here that we should be seeking justice in our everyday life.

Eugene: That’s one thing that we’ve been doing in our church community; increasing our awareness and understanding of what biblical justice is. We’ve had the chance to lead a study series about biblical justice and to turn our minds to what it looks like and what it might look like for our church to participate more in such areas.

12) 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?

Eugene: Look at it as an opportunity to exercise obedience. If the thought, inkling or motivation is there, think about where that comes from and why you’re considering this and then take it from there. When you exercise obedience in this way, be open to so many great things that can happen.

Hannah: Be ready to be humble. We noticed that with other interns and fellows, a lot of times we would be asked to do something that we didn’t think made a lot of sense. But we are there to support the staff and so if it meant filing things that another intern had already filed once and had not been touched since, that’s what they needed us to do and we would do it. But that humility built a lot of trust between us and the staff, and then they wanted us to do more things. In the end we did really big things, but I think it started with really small things.

13) Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Hannah: You don’t have to go away to have a heart for justice. I think a lot of people reading this may not be in a position to go [to a field office]. Maybe they don’t have the right training – even when we went there, we didn’t realize that a lot of our training meant nothing, but our willingness meant everything. In our day-to-day relationship with God, God’s desire for us is to be in relationship with him and going to the field doesn’t make you closer to God. It can, but you can see God in your every day and I think that’s what I feel very strongly about coming back.

Eugene: We really appreciate and recognize what it means to be “sent” because of the support of our family, friends and church community. We knew all along that people were supporting us financially, praying regularly, reading our updates and sending us notes of encouragement. We know that going to the field is not something that we just did on our own and it speaks to the love and support that we feel. It’s something we’re really grateful for.

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