Justice for all
JBU Alum Joins International Justice Mission
By Linda Wyman '07
Saturday, July 12, 2008
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:8-9
Before moving to Guatemala, before earning a law degree, before her first day of classes at John Brown University, Andrea Comfort ’04 was a little girl living in Kansas City who cared a great deal for the people around her. “I remember hating seeing the dorky kids get picked on at school by the cool kids, or the little kids getting picked on by the big kids,” she said.
After graduating from JBU, Comfort moved to Virginia Beach and then to Washington, D.C., to graduate from American University Washington College of Law in 2007. Then in 2007 she moved to Guatemala to work with International Justice Mission(IJM), a human rights agency that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of violent oppression.
According to its web site, “IJM lawyers, investigators, and aftercare professionals work with local governments to ensure victim rescue, to prosecute perpetrators, and to strengthen the community and civic factors that promote functioning public justice systems.” IJM currently has operations in Cambodia, the Philippines, Thailand, India, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, Bolivia, Guatemala, Honduras, and Peru.
“In the practice of law, you can choose to be a defender of the big kid or the little kid,” Comfort explained. “Both have value in the legal system, but my Christian faith draws me toward protecting the little kid. I believe God calls us to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves as an expression of His love and justice on this earth.”
In Guatemala, Comfort has worked as a co-counsel to the Guatemalan public prosecutor on cases of child sexual abuse. Her diplomatic responsibilities lead her to meetings with the Guatemalan Ambassador to the United States, the Guatemalan Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the First Vice-President of the Guatemalan Congress, promoting legislation and discussion regarding the protection of child victims of sexual abuse and trafficking.
As part of her work with victim relief assistance, she visits client homes, determining levels of safety in homes, providing baby clothes to pregnant clients, removing children who remain in dangerous home situations, obtaining judicial orders to remove parent custody when necessary, and assisting victims’ parents in finding adequate employment to support their children. She spends her days building relationships with the people around her, evaluating what their needs are, and determining how she can best serve them.
Comfort first heard about IJM during a chapel service in her junior year at JBU, and she says, “My life was forever changed.”
“It was during my studies at JBU that I first came to understand that a human rights violation is a violation against the God who created that person,” she said. “My motivation to fight human rights abuses is first and foremost to defend the inherent dignity that God himself has placed in every human being.” Living in Guatemala, Comfort has seen firsthand human rights abuses and the people who endure them.
As a result, she has developed a more compassionate view of those in need. “I don’t see the poor [as being] nearly as pathetic as I use to,” she said. “On mission trips, I’d go and feel sorry for the poor, for their small houses and lack of running water. What I have realized through the people in Guatemala and my work here is that it is not poverty that bothers me anymore…it is injustice and lack of educational opportunities.”
Comfort’s decision to move to Guatemala and work with IJM came with a cost, which was, the prolonging of her student loans, which altogether give her six-figure debt. But for Comfort, who raises missionary support to work for IJM, the injustices suffered by the helpless were more a pressing need than her own financial security. “The law school system in America is created by big law firms, for big law firms,” she said. “I would like to do something to change this, to make it easier for people who truly desire to spend their legal careers serving the poor to do that without the restriction of loans.”
Comfort’s commitment with IJM ends this summer. She will move to Washington, D.C. to work as a federal judicial clerk with the Honorable Judge Eric Bruggink at the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. But even up to the end of her time in Guatemala, she has been fully committed to love and serve her neighbors.
“God has given me a gift of arguing with perseverance and a desire to defend the defenseless, which I believe reflects His heart to protect and defend His children,” Comfort concluded. “Every believer has different gifts given to them by God, which they can offer to the work of the Kingdom.”