Bethany Hoang was 14 when she first grasped the meaning of justice—by experiencing the painful reality of injustice. Her family was close friends with their next-door neighbors; Hoang frequently babysat their two young daughters. But one Saturday night, a phone call brought terrible news: The family had been in an accident, their car smashed by a drunk driver; the father was dead, and one of the daughters badly injured.
Hoang attended the court proceedings of the drunk driver, where it came to light that he had at least 13 prior offenses, ranging from DUIs to assault-and-battery to illegal weapon possession. Hoang also learned that the man's father was in law enforcement in a nearby county, "and somehow he always managed to get off. Every single time he was caught in a crime, he was released, and never faced any accountability. That reality crippled me internally. I had no idea how to process it."
She's still processing it today—while practicing the pursuit of justice as director of the IJM Institute for International Justice Mission (IJM), a human rights agency that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of violent oppression. Hoang, 32, often speaks and teaches at churches, conferences, and universities, bringing audiences to a better understanding of IJM's work and the pursuit of justice.
How did you end up at IJM?
While I was in seminary [at Princeton], the Salvation Army had set up a booth with a poster that said, "Slavery Is Alive," with a picture of a girl with a tear running down her cheek. The poster also said, "Rape for profit must be stopped." That knocked me over. I asked the woman at the table, "What do I do?" She sent me lots of articles, and I started doing some research.
I tried to incorporate it into my studies and conversations, but at the time (2001), I just got blank faces and Can we please not talk about this over lunch? I wrote papers about it, citing the CIA and the State Department, and realized it had landed on my heart in a way I couldn't shake. It was like a call.
I read the United Methodists' The Book of Resolutions, and they had nothing on sex trafficking. I asked them about it, and they said I could write a resolution and turn it in at the General Conference, so that's what I did.
At about that time, I met this guy who was excited about an organization called IJM. [IJM hired Hoang in June 2004 as the education program manager.]
The atrocities you hear about must make you angry. How do you deal with that?
For me, it's more like bewilderment—a combination of anger and grief. People often respond with righteous anger and a desire for retribution; none of this surprises God. He carries it all in his heart, and he has entered into that suffering on the very deepest level. We need to see it through God's lens—to ask him to show us how to respond. That means often pouring my heart out to God, all of that anger and sadness, and asking him to show me hope and grace. And every time I ask for that, he gives it in abundance.
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Learn more about Bethany Hoang at International Justice Mission's web site.
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