Wheaton magazine

Volume 21 // Issue 2
Wheaton magazine // Spring 2018

Wheaties at International Justice Mission (IJM)

More Wheaton alumni work at International Justice Mission (IJM) than at any other anti-trafficking organization in the world. With 17 field offices worldwide, IJM has established global teams of lawyers, investigators, social workers, and community activists to combat trafficking and abuse. Wheaties that have taken up ranks in IJM’s Washington, D.C. headquarters include Alesha Guruswamy Rusk ’04, senior program manager for South Asia; Janelle Milazzo Lau ’06, aftercare specialist for South Asia; Casey Rath ’08, digital mobilization manager; Adam '09 and Erin Hendriksen Payne ’09, data analysis and integration specialist and regional program manager, Latin America, respectively; Joshua Little ’12, global communications manager; and Andrea Rodriguez M.A. ’17, communications manager, Latin America. Kaign Christy ’80 passed away in fall 2017 after serving with IJM for over a decade helping victims of trafficking worldwide, most recently from enslavement on Lake Volta in Ghana.

At IJM’s global headquarters, these seven Wheaton alumni work to end slavery worldwide through communication, partnerships, and business operations. Here’s how Wheaton prepared them for their globally minded careers.

Alesha Guruswamy Rusk ’04, senior program manager for South Asia

Alesha Guruswamy Rusk ’04 became familiar with IJM’s work during her freshman year at Wheaton when she attended the Urbana Missions Conference and heard IJM founder Gary Haugen speak. She was moved by the survivor testimonies he shared and decided to pursue Wheaton’s Human Needs and Global Resources (HNGR) program with the intent of working with an anti-trafficking agency. Alesha’s work with an anti-trafficking organization in Sri Lanka inspired by and modeled after IJM’s structure was what inspired her to continue working in the anti-trafficking field.

Alesha has now spent nearly 13 years with IJM and currently serves as senior program manager for South Asia. Her days are filled with conversations with experts and specialists who provide support for IJM offices in South Asia. She also manages region-wide projects, planning out research and preparing data to present to local governments about the crimes IJM seeks to address. 

“What IJM is trying to do is both very challenging as well as an opportunity,” Alesha says. “In some places where we work in South Asia we were dealing initially with very hostile governments—ones that would deny the existence of slavery in their countries. But we are now seeing those same governments become leaders in addressing it. They are sometimes leading the charge in the numbers of cases they’re leading and finding, so there’s encouragement there.”

Janelle Milazzo Lau ’06, aftercare specialist for South Asia 

Like Alesha, Janelle Milazzo Lau ’06 also worked at an anti-trafficking organization during her Human Needs and Global Resources (HNGR) program at Wheaton. Janelle served at an IJM partner organization in northern Thailand, where she was a live-in intern and resident at a girls’ shelter for abuse and trafficking survivors as well as at-risk girls for six months. 

“At IJM we talk about people having a shattering experience, and I think that literally living with survivors of abuse and in a few cases living with survivors of trafficking, getting to know some of their stories, seeing the effects abuse had on their lives and how they were struggling to find hope at the shelter through the programs and with the staff—just seeing how messy aftercare work is with survivors—was a very pivotal and shattering experience for me,” Janelle says. “At the time I was only a student so my main goal was cultural immersion and learning. That’s the essence of the HNGR program at Wheaton. We were required to journal a lot, to reflect on our experience, to think about how the experience of living in the developing world would inform the rest of our lives, and it really did.”

As an aftercare specialist for the South Asia regional team at IJM, One of her major projects is a research project on a tool called ASO: Assessment of Survivor Outcomes that IJM hopes to publish next year.

“We created this tool, we’ve used it internally and we’ve also tested it externally. We have had experts in the field of global trafficking test it for us and tell us, ‘How do we know our programs are successful in helping people to not be vulnerable to trafficking in the future?’ This is something a lot of organizations speculate about or have different metrics for, but we couldn’t find a global tool that would tell us, ‘Is this person still vulnerable or not?,’ in a holistic way. This tool looks at all different aspects of their lives.”

IJM has been doing rigorous research to internally and externally validate the tool and hopes to publish the results of the validation project in academic journals this year (2018). Janelle credits Professor of Anthropology Brian Howell with challenging her to apply anthropological principles to modern world issues and thinks of Dr. Gene Green, professor of New Testament, when it comes to applying theology to everyday life. She also utilizes skills learned in Professor of Sociology Henry Allen’s Social Research Methods class on a daily basis.

“I still remember our very first class of Social Research—Dr. Allen spent the first whole hour on Proverbs and how we’re instructed to pursue knowledge and wisdom as a treasure. That stuck with me. I really enjoyed that. It was a difficult class, but a class that I enjoyed immensely.”

Casey Rath ’08, digital mobilization manager

As digital mobilization manager at IJM, Casey is an exemplar of what an English major can do. She advises on email campaigns, tactics, and layout; builds IJM’s emails with HTML; makes sure messaging reaches IJM’s intended audience. She oversees any emails going out to IJM donors, advocates, volunteers, students and youth leaders including newsletters and calls to action about contacting representatives or hosting events in local areas. She also sends out fundraising emails about campaigns happening almost every month in addition to events hosted by IJM advocacy and volunteer teams who plan events throughout the year. 

“I was an English major focused on having a liberal arts education and being as nerdy as I possibly could,” Casey says. “Despite admiring IJM’s work, I assumed that because I didn’t do HNGR or a development-oriented trip and I wasn’t an international relations or political science major, I didn’t think I was equipped and didn’t apply here right away. But this mission needs all kinds of people, and needs skills beyond those with an obvious connection to field work. It was a huge blessing to find the job posting for my current position at IJM and realize that, through no planning of my own, God had used my education and prior career to equip me for this specific role, and that my strengths could serve this mission too.” She added, “Wheaton aimed for its students to be concerned and caring citizens of the world so it helped me develop eyes to see and ears to hear.” 

Adam Payne '09, data analysis and integration specialist; and Erin Hendriksen Payne ’09, regional program manager, Latin America

Adam spends his days surrounded by data and numbers, creating reports for advocacy and advancement teams to make their campaigns as effective as possible. He credits a Business Strategy and Analysis class he took during his senior year at Wheaton with preparing him for his role at IJM. 

“Even though IJM is an organization focused on field work, the field work can’t happen without the organization being run with excellence. When people think of anti-trafficking they think rescue, court hearings and aftercare, but if you don’t have the support and fundraising and business acumen to run an organization well, the movement will peter out.”

Adam’s wife, Erin Hendriksen Payne ’09, also works at IJM. She double majored in history and Spanish at Wheaton and is grateful for the time she spent with Dr. Néstor Iván Quiroa, associate professor of Spanish, as a teaching assistant and as part of the Wheaton in Argentina program. 

“His classes and spending time with him and his family really influenced my ideas of social justice and thinking about how institutions, governments, and culture contribute to inequality,” Erin says. “Many professors—especially Dr. Quiroa—were extremely encouraging in challenging me to pursue new opportunities and what could be next, not just for myself but for something greater.” 

While completing a master’s degree in Latin American Studies at the George Washington University, Erin reconnected with a close friend and fellow Wheaton alumna while she was interning with IJM in Cambodia. As she learned more about IJM’s involvement in human trafficking, she became more interested in being involved with their mission.

“Ever since Wheaton, I’ve had a desire to apply what I’ve learned to improve the lives of others and to build God’s kingdom here on earth,” Erin says. “One of the things growing up with my family that was cemented in me at Wheaton is the idea of always looking beyond myself: How am I using what I’m learning to benefit others and think beyond myself? In the process of finding a job, IJM was on the top of my list.” 

As regional program manager of Latin America, Erin currently oversees program management of three IJM offices in Latin America: in the Dominican Republic, Bolivia and Guatemala. The Dominican Republic office is an anti-trafficking office in the region that opened in 2013. The Bolivia and Guatemala offices focus on anti-child sexual assault casework. As new programs or new phases of programs come up, Erin works with teams in the field to design those programs. She travels abroad four to five times per year, visiting each office one to two times each, and is grateful for the opportunity to be part of the partnerships IJM is pursuing in local communities abroad.

“IJM is focused on partnership and collaboration with local justice systems and the challenge is that it’s not super quick work,” Erin says. “This is something that takes perseverance, patience and determination. That’s the challenge but there’s also a great opportunity for local institutions and individuals to see justice come within their own justice systems. Over 95 percent of our staff in our field offices are nationals from those countries.”

Joshua Little ’12, global communications manager

Joshua Little ’12 works to improve the flow of information and communication across all of IJM’s division offices and teams. His days consist of standing meetings with people across IJM’s divisions to gather information about IJM’s 17 global field offices to share and distribute as newsletters and digital communication to constituents and employees. He credits his ability to transition between departments and communicate to various individuals to his liberal arts experience at Wheaton and a BestSemester study abroad program in Washington, D.C. 

“The value of the liberal arts is a way to learn how to learn so I can, wherever I am, make the most of every situation,” Josh says. “Wheaton’s political science department was very helpful as I tried to figure out what I wanted to do. I left Wheaton with a confidence in my understanding of the way that the development industry works, and I credit Dr. Mark Amstutz with that.” 

From advocacy for IJM’s work on Capitol Hill with Congress and the Senate to correspondence with policymakers including the World Bank, United Nations, and the International Monetary Fund, Josh writes about IJM’s work in the United States and abroad. 

“Our work is kind of complicated so we sometimes talk about it in broad terms like ending slavery or fighting trafficking. But each IJM office has a specific crime they’re fighting, and they’re fighting it because they think they have best chance of making a difference,” Josh says. “I help to make sure our employees have the information they need to do their work and be informed about our global strategy.”

Andrea Rodriguez M.A. ’17, communications manager, Latin America

Andrea Rodriguez M.A. ’17’s history with IJM goes back to 2009 when she served as a volunteer with a church who worked with IJM to fight sexual violence against children in Bolivia. In 2013, she joined IJM to serve as a Fellow in Bolivia and then a year in the Guatemala office. She currently is the communications manager for IJM’s Latin American region. 

“My heart was moved to IJM’s work because IJM is fighting violence around the world in different ways and one of them is in my own home country of Bolivia,” Andrea says. “I have friends who were sexually assaulted when they were kids or experienced other forms of violence at home. At 15, I lead a Bible study with a girl who was a sexual violence survivor, and we wrestled through tough questions about her experience and faith. Growing up, I felt the church was not necessarily active to address violence or injustice outside the church building or act as I think Christians should regarding social justice. At IJM, I decided to work with Christians who work with social justice as an extension of the kingdom.” 

Andrea’s weeks are filled with writing and reviewing stories, grant proposals and reports about IJM’s work combating child sexual assault and sex trafficking in Latin America. She credits her master’s degree in intercultural studies from Wheaton with enhancing her ability to conduct cross-cultural research (thanks to Dr. Greener) and communicate between cultures, and often remembers her professors—especially Dr. Scott Moreau, associate academic dean of Wheaton College Graduate School and professor of intercultural studies, and Dr. Robert Gallagher, director of the master’s in intercultural studies and associate professor of intercultural studies—saying to slow down and use your spiritual disciplines in your work, something that is encouraged within IJM’s faith-based work environment.

“At 8:30 every morning we have one of my favorite times here—stillness. We have 30 minutes of individual solitude and prayer,” Andrea says. “At 11 a.m. we stop again and pray as a team. There are days I write a story and it’s too hard I just can’t pray and I’ve always come to that meeting and know my coworkers will carry me through that time of prayer.” 

In addition to her work with IJM, Andrea met her husband, Matt Coombs ’11, in Guatemala in 2014, where they were both serving with IJM. Matt also just joined the IJM team as Program Manager for the Pro Athlete Program.

Read more about Wheaton abolitionists making a difference in anti-trafficking efforts worldwide.