Jill Stoltzfus (VanBeek): Growing in Justice with AJS

  • July 31, 2018

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It is my honor and blessing to greet you as the new Executive Director of the Association for a More Just Society. Over the past nine years, I have grown alongside this organization, and I am grateful for the opportunity to continue to serve in this new capacity.

One of the things I love about AJS is that it is more than just an organization – it is a community. I can truly say that in this community I have found some of my dearest friends and most treasured mentors. I believe that part of building community is sharing our stories, not just about our work in Honduras, but also our personal stories. For that reason, I want to share a bit of my journey with you.

I grew up in a family that modeled Christ’s love for others as a natural part of life. My parents taught me that God calls us to go out into the world and work to redeem it for his Kingdom. I wanted to join in this work – but I didn’t know exactly how that would manifest itself in my life.

I liked numbers and spreadsheets, but I also had a heart for combating poverty and injustice and experiencing different countries and communities. I found an intersection between these skills and interests studying International Development with a focus in Business at Calvin College.

These interests led me to study abroad in Honduras, on the semester run by Kurt Ver Beek and Jo Ann Van Engen, who also co-founded and lead AJS. I felt an immediate affinity for Kurt and Jo Ann, who challenged me to think critically about big issues. They taught me that if I really wanted to help the poor and oppressed, I would have to address the root causes of injustice.

Their teaching deeply impacted me, and when I had the opportunity to volunteer for AJS, I jumped at it. This was 2009, and AJS was still a small organization – in the U.S., we didn’t even have an office! After I graduated from Calvin College, I joined AJS as a program assistant, and started a journey that would lead me through many different responsibilities and titles until arriving where I am today. I have grown a great deal in these nine years, and so has AJS. It has been a truly beautiful experience to be able to grow and professionalize together.

In every position I have held at AJS, I have been inspired and challenged by both the organization’s Christian mission and its distinctive orientation towards justice. My Honduran colleagues constantly inspire me with their skills, their creativity, their wisdom, and their heart. Their example has taught me that justice work can be both technical and personal, both intellectually rigorous and spiritually faithful.

As AJS has continually challenged me and helped me to grow in my understanding of justice, I have also been able to share this message with people around the world.

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This has been perhaps the most rewarding part of my work. As much as I love digging into a budget spreadsheet or sitting through a strategy meeting, there is something truly special about connecting with someone over our shared passions – be that seeing a safer Honduras, making government systems work, or inspiring Christians to lead change in their communities.

What makes this work possible are the close relationships I have been able to build with my colleagues in Honduras, where I spend up to two months each year.

The closeness of the relationships between our U.S. and Honduran staff are part of what makes AJS truly unique. I love to tell people that the majority of our staff, programming, and leadership are in Honduras, and that in the U.S. we take our direction from them – it’s a role-reversal from how many nonprofit organizations work.

This AJS community has shaped me both professionally and personally. Last month, I married Kyle Stoltzfus, became a “mother” to an energetic border collie mix named Dakota, and moved to Clarkston, Michigan where Kyle works as an engineer for General Motors. When Kyle and I celebrated our wedding, it was important to me to have both my AJS community and my Honduran community present. I was able to share this special day with the Honduran family that has lovingly hosted me on my Honduras trips for over a decade, and with AJS coworkers, board members, and supporters.

AJS is more than just a job – it is a community that continues to encourage, shape, and influence me.

This community extends to each one of you receiving this letter, and I look forward to continuing to connect with many of you, and seeing what about AJS’s work and mission inspires you. If you would like to connect, drop me a message at jill@ajs-us.org. I love coffee almost as much as I love sharing AJS’s story, so let me know if you would like to share both.

I am so excited about the advances we are seeing in Honduras through AJS, and about the conversations this is sparking around the world. I am eager to continue my justice journey in this new role, led by God, and accompanied by each one of you.

Blessings,

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Jill Stoltzfus (VanBeek)

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