(There are so many incredible organizations out there doing incredible things to change the world. The Difference Makers Features highlight some of the ones I love and support and want to spread the word about! Find previous entries here).
Happy Friday friends! I’m soooo excited to bring you another Difference Makers Feature! It’s been oh just a year since my last one, so I’ve been on top of things (#mybad). But I promise this one makes up for it because I had the chance to chat with the Founder of Exile International, Bethany Haley Williams, PhD on the phone recently and not only is she amazing (just catch this video), but I absolutely love the work Exile International is doing. Y’all – it’s so awesome and so encouraging.
I hope you’re inspired as much as I was with this feature!
Denis – a rescued child soldier AND future peace leader. Now back with his family, he is driven to become a leader for peace to positively influence his community and country. Photo courtesy of Exile International
Restoring rescued child soldiers and children orphaned by war to become leaders for peace through art therapy and holistic, rehabilitative care.
Restoring hope and empowering survivors through comprehensive rehabilitation programs, equipping local leaders and counselors to provide quality care programs, and providing a sponsorship program for children orphaned and abandoned by war.
Amplifying the voices of war-affected children. We are committed to raising awareness of war-affected children, child soldiering, and those oppressed in Africa by sharing their drawings, letters, and stories with national and international government representatives.
Raising awareness of the wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda — wars that have oppressed millions. By introducing new audiences to the effects of these conflicts, we inspire action and promote involvement that will restore and empower war-affected children.
How did you get involved with this organization and what is your specific role?
I founded the organization, so I was involved from the very beginning. I went on a trip to Congo in 2008 and it radically changed me life.
I’ve been involved in short term missions work off and on since I was 18. I’ve always had a heart for missions and for Africa and in 2008 I went over and was involved in a trauma care workshop for women who were sexually violated from the war in Congo. I also worked with kids who had been really traumatized from the war there, rescued child soldiers and heard some of their stories. I saw some kids who were so traumatized that they couldn’t speak because of what they had seen.
It broke my heart.
I had to go through my own journey of depression and trauma, PTSD prior to that so I think I connected to survivors there on a very personal level, even though the trauma I went through paled in comparison to what they’ve gone through.
There was just a connection there. I came back and I was just broken. I found out that for the kids there, the rescued child soldiers and children who survived war, there weren’t that many programs out there for them. So they would end up back on the streets.
I was only back a couple of weeks and then founded Exile International. I dove head first into it and didn’t know what I was doing and figured it out along the way.
What does the organization look like now?
It’s grown so much. It started out with just me and a couple of friends. We started by connecting with local leaders on the ground. Our sponsorship program started because it was my birthday. There were kids that not only needed trauma care, but also education, food and clothing. We quickly realized they needed heart healing, but they were also living in huts by themselves. They were street children, they didn’t have education, food or clothing or medical care, so that started the sponsorship program.
It started with five kids, and on my birthday I put out on social media to get the five kids sponsored and by the end of the day the five kids were sponsored. Now we have around 220 kids sponsored. We work with around 1,000 kids in our program in Northern Uganda and Eastern Congo.
Art and expression are empowering mediums, especially for children — they provide a safe avenue to express and process emotions and experiences that children do not yet have the words to share. Photo courtesy of Exile International
What do you want people to know about the work Exile International is doing?
There’s so much, but I would say there’s such a beautiful story of redemption that is happening. Most of these kids didn’t even think they’d survive. They were captured in the bush and a lot of the girls captured were sex slaves.
What we’re seeing is that they’re not only surviving, but they’re going back into some of their villages and teaching others, teaching villagers, about peace and reconciliation and forgiveness. We have 17 in our program that are in university. Some of them are becoming counselors and they come back and work at the center.
It’s such a beautiful redemptive thread woven through the work that we do.
The cool thing we’re finding is it’s not only effecting the kids, but when people get involved and hear what God is doing in there and how their pain is becoming purposeful, people in the West see that in their own lives. They’re able to say “if God can do that in their lives, what can He do with my pain? And how He can turn that into purpose and meaning.”
It’s really beautiful to see what God is doing through it all.
What’s one of your favorite stories from recent work?
It’s Baracka’s story. Baracka means means blessing in Swahili. Baracka was abducted twice by two rebel groups. Once when he was 10 and once when he was 15. He came to our program in Congo really broken and really teary, but also just loved the Lord. He had a really really deep love of Jesus. He had a hard time graduating because he had a hard time with school because of the trauma he’d gone through.
Last year, my husband and I actually had a second wedding in Congo. It was really fun, it was a surprise wedding. It was a full on African wedding that went on forever, which was great! Baracka had come down from his village he was living in and of course wanted to come to the wedding.
So we welcomed him and asked how he was doing, he said he was doing good, but that he needed a bible. So I asked him, “Baracka, well what happened to your bible?” (We always give them bibles, that’s one of the first things we give since most of them have never had a bible). He said “Well, I gave my bible to one of the rebels that I was studying with and he wanted to know about Jesus and forgiveness, so I gave him my bible.”
After I asked him what he meant, he said “Yes and I’m actually meeting with a group of rebels and I’m studying the bible with them and the empower program [which is the trauma care and forgiveness program that we use]. I’m using that to teach them about healing their wounds of trauma and the power of forgiveness.”
I was blown away! He went on to say he needed more bibles because the rebels wanted more bibles to learn about Jesus. So we gave him more bibles!
Now he’s meeting with a group of rescued child soldiers all on his own. He’s leading them through the very program that he had been a part of.
It’s great because the other kids in the program can look to him as an example of what their lives could be like and how they can actually change the nation and be young leaders in their country.
What are some of the best ways people can partner with your organization?
We have a couple of different ways. Prayer is always number one. We take that very seriously. Our kids live in a war zone in the Congo and Uganda and are recovering from war. Our kids and our staff live off of prayer. So please be praying.
We also have an Ambassador Program. The Ambassador Program is for people, wherever they are, who want to get involved and tell the stories of the kids. They can invite their community, their loved ones together to hear more about our work and see how they can get involved. Some of our Ambassadors have fundraisers – they have a “Party with a Purpose.” They provide food, show some videos and amplify these kids voices.
We also have our child sponsorship program. This is making sure the kids in our program are able to have everything that they need. We look at it like these could be our children. 80-90% have been orphaned and we take that very seriously. So that child becomes the child of the church.
Finally, there’s Restore partners. Restore partners give as much as they can each month. Sometimes that’s $5.00 and sometimes that $700.00. That helps us do what we do on a regular basis.
Thank you soooo much for sharing! Wasn’t that the best readers? I love stories of redemption!
Also!! The lovely Bethany released a book (and it’s in my TBR!), The Color of Grace and I think y’all should go and buy it right now. I know you’ll be incredibly encouraged by God’s story through Bethany and the children of Africa. Plus the book has letters the kids wrote and every single one of them talked about forgiveness. The best.
Where to Buy: Amazon | BN.com | CBD | Goodreads
Northern Uganda. Photo courtesy of Exile International
Thank you Bethany again SOOOO much! I hope y’all we’re truly encouraged as I was! If you want to find out more, support, and all that good stuff, you can find them around the web below.
Where to connect
Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | YouTube
“Every child should belong to someone.” Bethany Haley Williams, The Color of Grace Photo courtesy of Exile International