We sat down with IJM volunteer leader, Christine Watson, to talk about her experience leading the charge for our advocacy efforts in Middle Georgia.
Christine, you've been involved as a volunteer advocate with IJM for almost a decade. How did you first get involved?
It was late 2010 when someone from IJM came to my church and spoke, and I was so bothered by what he was talking about that I left the sanctuary. I ended up looking for an IJM Macon office, but there was nothing near me. So instead, I just started learning what I could.
Eventually, I got a call from the IJM Atlanta team saying they needed an advocacy leader in Middle GA. At the time, I was so ignorant of the legislative process so I asked for really prescriptive directions! After that phone call I drove to Albany, GA to meet with my congressman. And that was the beginning of it all!
Now, I'm a Senior Advocacy Coordinator for IJM in Middle Georgia and my role is to educate and recruit people for the legislative needs of IJM. It's honestly been a rather organic process for me because of the training I received from IJM.
What did you think of this when you first started, and what do you think of it now?
When I first started, I was so nervous that I wouldn't be good enough. I thought that the members [of Congress] would know about slavery and it would be my job to convince them to help. But what I found was that all I had to do was show up. I've never met anyone who wasn't against slavery. I've never met anyone who didn't want slavery to end in our lifetime.
The other thing I learned is that they [members of Congress and their staff] love to meet with IJM! They love that we’re succinct and professional. They love that not only do we present the problem, but we also provide them with a solution.
After a decade, why do you still choose to do this?
It's a part of who I am. When it's hot outside, all I can think about is how much hotter it is for people who are enslaved. When I get cold, I think of those who are cold without reprieve. And, you know, I’m a widow - but my widowhood doesn’t even begin to look like what it does for those I’m advocating for.
These women will lose their husband and then must fear for their life, their home, their children, and their livelihood. I can’t imagine not doing this work. I think about these people, these actual people every day.
You've probably worked with half a dozen members of Congress and their offices. Tell us what bridge building looks like with these offices.
My favorite experience was going from zero to one hundred with this one office. To start off, I couldn’t get a meeting. This congressman was not a friend to the cause – and it was a battle every time once we did start getting meetings. But after a lot of work, many uncomfortable meetings, even some contentious meetings, we now have a good relationship. Today, it’s a pleasure to work with him and his staff.
(We at IJM US got to witness this first hand at the 2017 Advocacy Summit! During a meeting on the Hill with a delegation of Georgian advocates, the Member of Congress refused to start the meeting without Christine! His exact words were, “We can’t start this thing without Christine. Christine has to be here.”)
What is it like to meet (and sometimes confront) Members of Congress who you don’t agree with, or maybe don’t even like?
The important thing in these meetings is bringing freedom to millions of people. If the way I feel about someone stands in the way of that, then I'm the problem. Though, I'll admit that at times I have needed to sound off to Joash, my Regional Mobilization Manager at IJM (I may have even cussed).
You've visited some of our field offices in Latin America and South Asia. Do you see a connection between our advocacy work in the U.S. and our field operations overseas?
You know I could just go on and on about how the richness of those experiences have impacted my advocacy work. It reminds me of when we met with a community of survivors in South Asia and they hosted a ceremony for us. They invited us into their homes, and were so welcoming and happy to have us.
When survivor leader Pachaiyammal was speaking on behalf of her community, they all had tears in their eyes and couldn’t believe that this group of strangers from the United States are advocating in their cities and with their congressmen to bring freedom to them on the other side of the globe. That was so overwhelming.
What would you say to someone who is considering joining an IJM volunteer team to advocate with the U.S. Government?
I’d say that being an IJM volunteer is the best and easiest thing you can do! Whatever your niche is, whether its advocacy, or fundraising, or mobilizing your church, IJM will make it easy for you.
My favorite is advocacy. I love meeting with my members along with my IJM Atlanta teammates! But at the end of the day, we’re all on the same team and we all support each other. All you have to do is show up and use the tools available to you!
It’s such an important cause, and we know how to succeed in getting freedom and justice for God’s children all over the world.
Become an advocate
If you are interested in joining Christine and volunteering to advocate on behalf of U.S. anti-slavery policy, visit our volunteer page.