Jill Van Beek '09
Jill graduated from Calvin with a major in IDS and a minor in business. She is now the Director of Operations for the Association for a More Just Society (AJS).
What sparked your interest in international development?
My second grade self would have told you that I was going to be an archeologist…I have always been fascinated by learning about the way that people of other cultures live. I was also raised in a family and church community that exposed me to the realities of our broken world, instilled in me a passion to serve, and gave me the desire to learn about the best ways to go about changing these realities.
Describe your path since graduation.
After finishing up my classwork at Calvin in December 2008, in January 2009 I started volunteering for the Association for a More Just Society (AJS) – this was supposed to be a temporary volunteer opportunity between finishing classes and starting a yearlong internship in Nigeria; however, God had different plans. My part-time volunteering turned into a full-time internship, which became a fellowship, and then formal employment under various roles with AJS.
What are your current activities?
Currently, I am the Director of Operations for AJS. AJS is a Christian organization whose goal is to stand up for victims of violence, labor- and land-rights abuses, and government corruption in Honduras. The organization is increasingly being recognized – both by Christian groups and secular agencies such as Transparency International and the United Nations—as a pioneer in the practice of achieving justice for the poor. My role with AJS is to be a bridge between Honduras and North America. I work to raise financial support for the work being done, to raise awareness about the injustices being faced in Honduras, and also to educate on the theory behind the work of AJS – as I truly believe that we in North America have a lot to learn from our Honduran brothers and sisters about the pursuit of justice.
What is your most memorable experience in the field?
My first trip to Honduras while working with AJS was for the trial of the hit men who killed the AJS lawyer Dionisio Diaz Garcia. I can remember sitting in that court room and standing outside of the courthouse with colleagues as if it were yesterday. At the time I was just one month into an internship with AJS and was still learning about all that they were doing in Honduras. However, what I personally experienced during this time was the deep commitment of incredibly brave Hondurans, a Honduran justice system that can work if there are dedicated individuals supporting it, and passion for justice that I had never experienced before. I knew then that this was the sort of organization that I deeply desired to be a part of, and have now had the honor of working with them for five years.
How has your faith influenced your work in development?
My faith is the reason for choosing the career path that I did in international development, and now it is what keeps me hopeful and gives me the strength to continue in work that is not always easy. One of the taglines we use at AJS is "Pray. Dream. Work." My pursuit of justice (specifically in my job, but also in life) needs to start in prayer asking God to guide my path, then dreaming about a world that could be, and then getting to work.
What is your favorite aspect of Calvin and what do you wish you would have done differently while attending Calvin?
The opportunities both in and outside the classroom near and far from the Calvin GR campus are tremendous. In reflecting though, one thing that I have really come to appreciate learning throughout my time at Calvin was how to critically think about situations and ideas from all different perspectives. This helped me to grow in my Christian beliefs and perspectives. Every time I am in Honduras (which is frequently), I think “why did I not study Spanish!” I really wish I had studied more Spanish/language in general while at Calvin.
What advice or words of hope and wisdom would you give to current IDS students?
I’m not that far into my career yet, but what I have seen in other people working in the field and experienced myself at times is that this work needs committed, passionate people. I think that when leaving Calvin, I wanted to live in an ideal world applying all the knowledge/theories that I had gained, seeing lives changed, and having a lot of fun doing it. While there have been many times when I have seen and experienced these things, there are a lot of difficult things l have dealt with as well. You will experience the raw brokenness in our world that is emotionally draining, you will see that the practice of the theory learned in the classroom isn’t so black and white, and some of the work you will need to do won’t be “fun” - it can be tedious and at times boring. BUT this work is valuable - it does impact the world, and every role / task is important and a part of the big picture.
My advice: keep your passion and hope alive – remember why you wanted to go into this field in the first place, and know that you can make a difference. The most effective organizations and people in the field are ones that have persevered and who remain passionate – this work requires long obedience in the same direction.