Just Where She Is: Esther Swaffield
Today, the wonderful Esther Swaffield kicks off our first interview of the Lent series! Read on to find out all about International Justice Mission and Esther's journey within it.
"For me, I think that's when it is important to remember that I cannot do everything; but I can do something."
1. Book on your bedside table: God on Mute- Pete Greig
2. Coffee order: A latte please (with an almond croissant on the side)
3. Dream holiday destination: Cycling round New Zealand
4. Party trick: Performing Jay Z’s rap from American Boy, double time
5. Most underrated virtue: Humility
Tell us about the ‘International Justice Mission’ and some of the injustices in the world that they seek to address.
IJM is the world’s largest anti-slavery organisation. We work in partnership with local authorities all around the world to find and rescue victims of slavery and violence, to restore survivors and to bring perpetrators to justice. By tackling issues of modern slavery (including human trafficking and forms of violent oppression) at source, we are seeing whole nations step up and protect their people; restoring freedom, dignity and safety for whom those things have been robbed.
By the grace of God, in the last 10 years we have rescued more than 40,000 individuals, but we won’t stop, until all are free.
How did you end up working for IJM? Was this always what you wanted to do?
I have always had a real desire to be involved in ‘mission’ but never knew what this could look like, except wanting to wear a ‘gap year’ outfit all year round. When I graduated from university, I interned with my church in their House of Prayer. It was there, in the long hours spent in prayer and worship, that I encountered, for myself, the God of Justice and the God who came to bring freedom to every captive.
Afterwards, I trained as a teacher, thinking abroad might still be on the cards, but couldn’t shake this ‘justice and prayer thing’ that had been planted in me.
As I began to pray again and seek God for my next step, I “stumbled” across IJM and their amazing work (after a book through the letter-box / a well-timed email from a friend, etc.). It felt like a clear open door as they were also praying for a pioneer in the North who had a passion for prayer, and I had a real sense of the peace of God surrounding the decision to quit teaching, and enter this ministry.
When the problem of injustice seems so big, what motivates you to keep going?
The injustice we see around the world can often seem overwhelming- we get so bombarded with statistics about poverty and suffering daily, and that can often make us want to tune out, change channel and keep our heads down!
For me, I think that's when it is important to remember that I cannot do everything; but I can do something. That 'something', for me, always starts in prayer: in asking God to give me His heart for one person in the situations I see, and realising that His heart is breaking more than mine!
I find it really helpful to search for and listen to the stories of real people, in real places who have been rescued and restored as well: when you take a step back and see how one person’s life can be transformed, you realise that those small acts towards a more just world are worth it.
How have you seen the work of IJM changing the lives of people around the world? Do you have any stories you can share?
Gosh - there are so many examples: where we have been working in the Philippines, we have seen over a 90% reduction of child sex-trafficking which is miraculous- thousands and thousands of lives have been saved there, and that’s pretty remarkable. One young girl who we rescued, told her story of the “love of God in the midst of suffering” on Radio 4 a few months ago: hearing her testimony be shared with millions, was breathtakingly beautiful.
I was also fortunate enough to spend some time in Cambodia last year with some of the survivors who we have rescued from slavery in the Thai fishing industry (they had been trafficked across the Cambodian border, and sent to work on fishing boats; fishing for the food that ends up on our supermarket shelves). One man told how he had been put on a boat- essentially a floating prison- and hadn’t touched land for 7.5 years.
I will never forget how grateful he was to be rescued, and his tears as he described how he thought he would never see his children again.
Being able to pray with him, and listen to his story was an amazing privilege.
What does a typical day look like for you, and how do you try to keep God at the centre of day-to-day life?
At IJM, our culture is built around a rhythm of prayer: prayer is central to what we are doing, so it is included as part of the working day. I spend half an hour first thing in the morning in prayer, asking God to give myself and my team wisdom, courage and strategy for the day, and at 2pm we Skype our colleagues to pray for ongoing cases, rescues and raids around the world.
Other than that, my days look very varied: from running practical training for churches and businesses, to spending time in schools or with our fabulous interns; to meeting with major donors or church leaders; from planning events and writing talks; to supporting our team around the world… no two weeks are the same. I do a lot of preaching and speaking in churches on Sundays, which I find is a real life-giver and always helps me to focus in on God’s heart for the whole work of freedom and justice!
What would be your advice to someone who looks at the injustice around the world and wants to do something, but isn’t sure where to start?
Firstly, I would really encourage you to share your heart with those around you: the work of justice is one that we can definitely help and support one another in, and it will help you to connect with others who want to explore a similar passion! Over the years, I have found my close group of friends who encourage me, pray for me and challenge me on my decisions (big and small) invaluable to walking in my calling.
A great place to start is just where you are.
From choosing to buy Fairtrade at the supermarket, to considering where your clothes are from… there are countless opportunities to “act justly” every day. You could give to and get involved with a justice charity; you could run an event at work, host a dinner party to share what God is doing around the world, or speak at your church about God’s heart for justice. Of course, I would love to invite you guys to do all of this from a foundation of prayer and you can sign up on our website to pray for IJM.
I would also love to invite you to get involved with our IJM challenge over Lent: ‘Give it up for Freedom’ which will help us explore some of our lifestyle choices in light of God’s call to justice. Gather some friends and do it together - that would be a great place to start!