Inspired by the interviews in the Paris Review and Bomb magazine, “The Questions” in Sports Illustrated, and the regular interviews on the blogs of Tom Peters and Guy Kawasaki, Comment has asked a diverse group of mentors for their stories.
Comment: How would you explain what you do to an interested nine-year-old child?
JM: We rescue people who are mistreated, bullied, beaten up or otherwise forced to do awful things that they don’t want to do. We work to help families who are held in illegal forms of slavery, doing brutally hard work in terrible conditions, paid little or nothing, finding ways to set them free so they can live better lives. We work to release innocent men and women who have been put in prison for things they did not do. We protect children from adults who hurt or mistreat them. My three-year-old son sees our work to protect children like Dora the Explorer and her cousin Diego’s adventures when they rescue distressed animals.
Comment: What first drew you to this work?
JM: Working with an international development agency brought the realities of poverty home to me. I started to realize that we as an international community understood something of the challenges of poverty and means to its alleviation, but we had no clue as to how to counter the injustice of children trafficked into brothels or of street children who were being shot by corrupt police. The jarring realities of injustice began to surface as THE key challenge for many overseas. I was convinced that God simply could not and would not leave a world where children and adults could be so ruthlessly abused without some means of effective response. I felt compelled to find some way to help people trapped in injustice.
Comment: As a novice, what were your most valuable learning experiences?
JM: I still feel like a novice every day. I learned a lot from serving as a youth pastor, which I had the privilege of starting to do while I was still a teenager. Going into that situation felt like presumption: Who was I, a terrible sinner in need of great grace, to presume that I had anything to offer students not much younger than myself about the knowledge of God? But I was encouraged that what was needed was not that I be a perfect example, but that I would model a desperate reliance upon God. That conscious sense of desperate reliance abides with me to this day.
Comment: What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
JM: God cares more about who we are more than what we do; and yet that what we are called to do is a completion of who we are. Pretty philosophical, but good advice culled from Henri Nouwen’s writings.
I often recall the story of one business leader in Jim Collins’s Good to Great, who reflected that his success was likely due to the fact that he never stopped trying to become qualified for his role. I feel the wisdom of that advice every day.
Comment: From what sources do you draw inspiration for your work?
JM: My dad’s example as a hard worker and great father demonstrated to me that faithfulness is success. Stories of great contemporary and historical figures: Wilberforce, Mother Theresa, King David, Amy Carmichael, Martin Luther King, Jr. Scripture, the presence of Christ, God’s irrepressible love. I also draw deep inspiration from the men and women we have the occasion to walk alongside in the journey of justice. Their sense of dignity and courage in the face of horrific oppression is almost unfathomable. I’m also inspired by the investigators and field workers in IJM’s offices overseas who put themselves in harm’s way to retrieve brothers and sisters from their tormentors.
Comment: What rituals and habits structure your workday?
JM: I travel frequently, so every day is radically different. We incorporate prayer into our work on a daily basis, with our staff gathering to uplift the needs of our work for about twenty minutes each morning.
Comment: What are your favorite tools?
JM: Technology-wise, my Blackberry, Sony laptop and Google. When these are not working well, they are my nemeses! My worn leather briefcase, which always overstuffed with good books, planning documents, and human rights journal articles for review.
Comment: Tell us about a project that delighted you.
JM: SA few years ago some colleagues approached me with a need to establish an office in Bolivia. IJM had done some “paratroop” operations documenting police abuse of street children, and followed up with significant training efforts with the police, yet our US partners lacked the resources to step up the work with an in-country office. With the support of many Canadians, churches, and a few key foundations, we took up the challenge to establish and fund the office in Bolivia. We now have a team of eight professionals, mostly Bolivian nationals, fighting for the rights of girls, boys and women who have suffered unspeakable sexual and physical abuse or the chilling realities of human trafficking. While the work of our team has received recognition with a national innovation award, our true joy is the clients we serve in the pursuit of justice. While the project is still young, we are eager to see their rights vindicated and the society transformed.
Comment: How do you plan your work?
JM: I have been blessed with an incredible board, staff, and team of volunteers who each contribute vision, insight, energy, and ideas to this passionate call that we share. I find that my best ideas and strongest energies are unleashed in interaction with others. Corporately, we try to structure the team environment so that each person can operate optimally in their gifts. Personally, as I am highly relational, I try to ensure that I am frequently engaged with influencers and partners who might stand with us in the work. The deep passion for our work is drawn out of my heart in speaking and teaching environments, and so I work to assemble significant public engagements.
Comment: How does your work connect to other aspects of your life?
JM: Leading an emerging NGO draws upon your whole life. My family is very much engaged in the work, be it through support in prayer, travelling with me wherever possible, brainstorming on ideas, or just taking the cry of the oppressed into their hearts. My wife, Elizabeth, is constantly developing creative ways of expressing the ministry and attracting the resources required to fund it, but more than this, her hidden commitment lends quiet strength to the ministry.