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Making a Global Impact: Interview with Rachel Van Ellenberg

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Making a Global Impact: Interview with Rachel Van Ellenberg

After reading the book Not For Sale and learning about the issue of human trafficking and IJM’s work, Rachel decided she wanted to get involved to help bring rescue and restoration to those on the margins.
Making a Global Impact: Interview with Rachel Van Ellenberg

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 Rachel Van Ellenberg who served as a Public Relations and Editorial Intern in our Washington, DC office for four months. After reading the book Not For Sale and learning about the issue of human trafficking and IJM’s work, Rachel decided she wanted to get involved to help bring rescue and restoration to those on the margins.

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1) Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Rachel Van Ellenberg, I’m 25 years old and I live in Calgary, AB with my husband Chad. Some things about me - accomplishing creative projects gives me joy and some things that I love to do in my free time include working out, cooking colourful and different foods, reading, hiking mountains and spending time with friends and family.

2) Why are you passionate about issues of injustice?

I’ve always accepted that there’s suffering in the world, but when a person maliciously and violently uses another person for their own needs, I get really angry. And I think God instills in us a keen sense of justice because everyone knows when something is unfair – even kids understand that concept. For me, it’s a comfort to know that God is a God of justice and that when we cry out to him about injustice, he hears us, and he responds by sending his people to rescue them. I care about [justice] because God cares about it.

3) How did you learn about IJM?

I read about IJM in a book called Not For Sale, it really opened my eyes to the reality of human trafficking. What drew me to IJM is the holistic model that they use by collaborating with local law enforcement and then not only rescuing victims, but also trying to convict perpetrators and restore victims by working with the justice system to repair the problems in it. And then, hopefully, the system will function on its own effectively. Like what IJM did in Cambodia, where now the local law enforcement is dealing with issues of sex trafficking and IJM is able to deal with different issues, like labour trafficking because the justice system is functioning on its own. That’s what we really like to see!

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4) Which IJM story is most inspiring to you?

The one that really got me, there’s lots, but I really like the story of Maya. She was rescued from a brothel in Kolkata and it took seven rescue attempts, so it really demonstrated the endurance of the IJM rescue team and the local law enforcement. Instead of getting discouraged every time the brothel owners were tipped off, they kept trying. And it also shows God’s providence because IJM was really looking for a girl named Mala, but because they couldn’t find Mala, they ended up finding Maya and a couple other girls before finally rescuing Mala. It shows that even when rescue attempts are frustrating for local law enforcement and IJM, you can see that God has a better plan in place. And Maya was really brave; her courage really stood out to me because she waited years and years to testify against the brothel owner and his accomplices so that they could be put behind bars and couldn’t harm anyone anymore. That really set a precedent as well because it showed that not just brothel owners can be convicted in India, but also even those who help them, like their accomplices.

5) What are some of the best moments or memories from your internship?

In general, I really miss the sense of community that I felt at IJM. I think when you face difficult issues and the darkness in the world along with other people and you work towards a common goal, you feel really close. I also lived with five other interns from my class and they are all wonderful women, and it was truly a joy to share life with them for a time.

One of the highlights was the Global Prayer Gathering. We did a lot of the logistical labour – setting up the prayer rooms, organizing people when they arrived – and it was a meaningful experience to gather with hundreds of other people and pray over issues of justice all around the world. We got to meet lots of the field office staff as well, so it was really cool to meet them in real life – such wonderful people.

And I guess even the day-to-day work in the [Washington, DC] office was cool because it’s like a central hub – you get a good sense of the work that IJM is doing all around the world. On a macro scale, you hear about what’s going on and you get to see what goes into all of the intricacies in all the different departments and why that’s so essential to the work being done around the world.

6) What did a typical day look like for you in Washington, DC?

My housemates and I would carpool to work in the morning; it usually took about half an hour or so. Then we would begin our day at the office at 8.00 am with 30 minutes of stillness; it was a really nice time of peace and intentionally laying all the work you were going to do that day before God, knowing that none of it could happen without God first. It was a great way to orient yourself towards the work you’re doing with God’s help.

Then we’d get busy with our various tasks. There were 20 interns and we all had our cubicles set up together and we each worked for different departments. Usually, you’d be out and about – going for meetings with your supervisor or your team and going over different projects. For example, one of the larger projects that I worked on was drafting media training documents for the African field offices to prepare them for interviews with the media.

At 11:00 am, the whole office would meet for prayer. That was great because you could learn about the different work going on all over the world because you’d pray over the work being done.

We’d keep working until about 12.30 pm and would then have a lunch break. Once per week we’d have a Brown Bag Lunch [where] we got to enjoy some really solid, quality time with one of IJM’s VPs; they would come and tell us a story, get to know us and give us advice.

After lunch, we’d keep working until about 5.30 pm. There was always time to meet up with a mentor that they assign to you at least once a week. [IJM] really encouraged us to schedule coffee meetings with other staff and ask them about anything. Everyone was really gracious about freeing up time in their schedule to invest in us.

And then we’d go home together around 5.30 or 6.00 pm and collaborate on cooking or work out in our tiny little basement or we’d go out with some of the other interns and do some happy hour and sightseeing. That was a typical day.

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7) What were some things that were challenging?

Being away from family was a little bit difficult at times. There wasn’t really culture shock there like what other interns and fellows would experience travelling to other parts of the world. But it’s always an adjustment moving to a different environment and moving away from everybody. I guess just confronting the darkness in the world day after day can be quite difficult sometimes, but it helped to build strong connections because we’d come home and debrief about things we’d heard and we’d pray. It was nice to support one another, especially when we had a rough day.

8) What was your favourite place to explore in Washington, DC?

I really loved [the area] near Capitol Hill – seeing all the different monuments that they have there. The Lincoln Memorial is my favourite one, and the Martin Luther King Jr one. They’re all so beautiful and grand and they embody things that we care a lot about in our culture, so they make you stop and think.

I liked exploring Old Town Alexandria. We actually lived outside of D.C. across the river in Alexandria. There’s an older area there by the river with all these old brick buildings. Georgetown is a really nice area as well, of course the university is there and a bunch of other little shops. I actually got engaged right before my internship, so me and my housemates went to this wedding dress shop in Georgetown and tried on dresses and it was so fun.

There are tons of Smithsonian Museums in D.C. too and I think they’re almost all free. We often went to the National Art Gallery and I really liked the American History Museum and the Aerospace Museum as well. There’s lots of stuff to see there, for sure.

9) What have you been doing since you’ve completed your internship?

I got married the fall after I came back and then I moved to Calgary from a smaller city in Alberta. I’ve been working as a bartender at a steakhouse for a little over a year, and recently started an exciting job as an engineering assistant at a consulting company. On the side I volunteer for a couple of different political campaigns; learning a little more about domestic politics and strategy. I also got involved with a small local organization called Next Step Ministries that helps women exit from sexual exploitation on the streets here in Calgary. They have a great program where they provide them with a safe home and there’s a day program where they learn basic life skills. Eventually, the goal is that they will be able to regain dignity and freedom in their life. It’s a really cool program to be part of – I love it.

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10) What is the #1 piece of advice you would give to anyone who is considering doing an internship or fellowship?

First of all, you won’t regret making the decision to do an internship with IJM. It’s hard not to be anxious when you’re thinking about it because there are lots of things outside of your control; you’re moving away from everyone you know – maybe into a new culture with a different language – and you’re confronting the darkness in the world. And then you have to fundraise to support yourself to do it. But that’s where trust comes in. God is so faithful for the plans he has for you. [An internship] is a huge investment in developing your character into who God wants you to be. IJM definitely changed who I am, how I look at what I should be doing with my life and my purpose in the world. Even in my intern class, everyone was in a period of adaptation. No one knew if they wanted more schooling, what they should do for work or where they should live; but everyone was so present in that uncertainty and trusted that God was leading them where he wanted them to be.

Also, IJM treats their interns like royalty. They are so appreciative, and they invest so much into your career and personal development. Even Gary Haugen [IJM Founder and CEO] took the time to memorize all of our names and chat with us, and he and his wife had dinner with us.

You also get real work to do. IJM trusts you to carry out the important work that they’re doing – they don’t just give you some boring typical intern stuff to do. You learn a lot and you really feel like you’re contributing to the cause, which was really special to me.

Interested in exploring an internship or fellowship opportunity with IJM?

11) Who had the biggest impact on the person you’ve become?

I don’t think that there’s a specific person, but a combination of a whole host of people who have inspired and encouraged me or who remind me to pursue a life of meaning.

I mentioned Lincoln already, but also people like William Wilberforce, with his incredible endurance to fight the slave trade in England. And getting to hear the stories of Gary Haugen and people at IJM like Sean Litton [IJM President] and Holly Burkhalter [Senior Advisor of Global Partnerships]. I remember one of our Brown Bag Lunches with Jim Martin [VP of Spiritual Formation]. He talked to our class about how God doesn’t lead us on a tightrope in life and if you misstep then it’s too late you’ve messed everything up. [Rather], God’s so gracious and he’s going to use everything to our benefit according to his planning. That really resonated with me.

And people who made courageous and counter-cultural choices to live unconventional lives in order to serve God and their neighbour. I’m not saying I’m one of those people, but I hope to become more like one of those people [laughs].

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

Interning with IJM was a really special experience. It taught me so much and is one of the highlights of my life. It was just four months, but it turned the whole year into one of the best years of my life. I’m really grateful for that opportunity and grateful that I can still serve as an ambassador to IJM. If anyone ever hears about IJM, I just love to share about what a great organization it is.

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