Podcast

Episode 81 – Melissa Russell, Justice Advocate and Best Friend

As International Justice Mission’s Regional President of North America, Melissa Russell is leading a huge team of people in the work of protecting the poor from violence. Her honesty about her faults (and strengths!), as well as a fierce determination to equip all of us in the work of justice, has been seminal in the global movement to end slavery. And on top of that, she just so happens to be one of Jessica’s best friends! Today, these dear friends talk about leadership, collaboration, and a little girl named Esther. This one will tug at your heart.

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TRANSCRIPT

Jessica: Hey everyone! Welcome back to the Going Scared podcast. This is your host Jessica Honegger, founder of the social impact fashion brand Noonday Collection. Join me here every week for conversations on living lives of purpose by leaving comfort and going scared.

Today’s guest is not only one of my best friends in the whole world, but she is the kind of leader that I aspire to be. And she leads an organization whose work I am extremely passionate about. Melissa Russell is the regional president of International Justice Mission in North America. She leads the strategy and teams responsible for IJM’s constituent, government, and corporate partnerships in the United States and Canada.

Now, if you haven’t heard of IJM, you are in for a treat today. International Justice Mission is a global organization that protects people in poverty from violence. IJM partners with local authorities in 11 countries to combat slavery, violence against women and children, and other forms of abuse against people who are poor. IMJ works to rescue and restore victims, hold perpetrators accountable, and help strengthen public justice systems.

And I’m excited to let you know that Noonday is partnering with International Justice Mission on a special Giveback campaign this November, right now, to give up to $20,000, enough to fund three IJM rescue missions. So, right now, during the month of November, when you gather your friends for some holiday shopping by inviting them other for a Noonday Collection Trunk Show, you can also bring rescue to thousands today who are still in slavery. All you need to do is connect with your local Ambassador, if you already know one. And if you don’t already know a Noonday Collection Ambassador, then we would love to help you find one. Hop on over to our website, noondaycollection.com, and click on “HOST a SHOW.”

I love what Amy, one of our IJM November Noonday Hostesses said about organizing her shopping event for IJM. She said, “When my Ambassador, Elizabeth, asked me if I wanted my annual Trunk Show to be a fundraiser for IJM, immediately it exposed my Noonday greed. She knows I love earning my free product. But it was an easy decision. I already personally support IJM, who I respect so much for offering holistic solutions to very complex problems. I’m excited to see how much we can contribute to IJM. Let the Invite-slinging begin.”

Here is today’s conversation with my best friend, Melissa Russell.

I’m excited for you to be here. Melissa and I have had some technical issues that we’ve been working through for the last 30 minutes or so. But we are here, and it’s gonna be a juicy conversation because Melissa is one of my best friends in the whole world. She is a leader that I aspire to be. And she leads an organization that basically is, right after Noonday Collection, is kind of up there with my passions and my heart. So, it just doesn’t get much better than my friendship with you girl.

Melissa: You’re so sweet. And you know how much I love you. I did as I texted you this week, feel a little bit of anxiety coming on to the Going Scared podcast because I was thinking, not often am I on a podcast where the person I’m talking to is the person I go to when I am most anxious and most vulnerable, which is you. And so, for your listeners, there may have been a text or two this week where I was sharing something really vulnerable. And then I instructed Jessica not to ask me about it today. So, she won’t, it’ll be for our second podcast when I’ve had some distance from it.

Jessica: When you’ve had distance.

Melissa: Distance.

Jessica: Well, what’s funny though, is even when you do text me vulnerable things, you always remind me not to tell anybody.

Melissa: I do. Vulnerability is so hard for me even when I’m texting my best friend over just something.

Jessica: Oh, I love it.

Melissa: I always ask you, "OK. Make sure you don’t share that with anyone."

Jessica: And I’m like, "Yeah, right." And I’m gonna go broadcast this one on my podcast. You’re an Eight on the Enneagram, I’m a Seven. I kind of let it all out there. So, I think it’s an appropriate reminder to me, so I appreciate it every time you remind me to keep something confidential.

 

Miraculous Justice

Melissa: You’re so sweet. Well, I’m excited about today. Man, this is gonna be awesome.

Jessica: I am too. I am too. And as I was preparing for our interview, I have known you in the context of International Justice Mission. I knew you when you lived at UT or lived in Austin working for UT for a hot second, but really our friendship has developed in the context of our growing leadership roles in both of our organizations. And I have actually never heard your story on how you really got interested in the work of International Justice Mission and then eventually began to work for them.

Melissa: Well, that’s a great question, because now I’ve been at IJM almost 12 years. So, it’s, in some ways, almost hard for me to remember what it was like before, but I … you’re right. I loved my work at UT. And I was in Austin when I first heard about IJM. And actually, I was sitting in church, and our pastor gave a sermon on God’s call for justice. And he talked about what injustice looked like inside the United States. He talked about what injustice looked like outside of the United States.

And he talked about an organization that was doing some pretty remarkable and I would say miraculous through the power of God, work around the world in trafficking, sex trafficking, slavery, and I became so interested. I went home that afternoon and logged on to ijm.org and checked out the work that they were doing, and I became a donor. So, that’s really … and I was a donor for a few years before I actually joined IJM’s staff.

And I’m still a donor. So, that was my first and still continuous action. But I love our work so much. Now I live in D.C., so I’m away from the Great State and have been for nearly a decade.

Jessica: The Great State, the one and only state. Well, I absolutely love that that is how you heard about IJM because I know a lot of our listeners consider themselves to be justice advocates. And really, your pastor in that moment was simply sharing his platform of influence about the work of justice in the world. And not all pastors do that. Not all pastors are talking about how we need to be advocates for justice in the world.

And it’s also really powerful because it wasn’t necessarily some fancy email marketing campaign or even sitting down and watching one of those videos, which honestly are moving, moving, moving. And that’s even how I’ve been able to engage our kids and in the work of IJM, but it was really from a storytelling platform. Do you think that has influenced the way that you now drive storytelling and revenue and campaigns at IJM?

Melissa: Yes, definitely. And it’s definitely the way when I think about scale, how are we gonna scale our organization. So, just IJM over the last 20 years has been able to develop this vaccine for extreme violence in the developing world. And to develop that vaccine, you’re a certain type of organization. And now that we have this vaccine, which is really just holding people accountable to crimes that they commit, fixing the brokenness in the criminal justice system, and once you do that, you just see these massive reductions in the prevalence of these crimes.

“IJM over the last 20 years has been able to develop this vaccine for extreme violence in the developing world. … And now that we have this vaccine, which is really just holding people accountable to crimes that they commit, fixing the brokenness in the criminal justice system, and once you do that, you just see these massive reductions in the prevalence of these crimes.” Melissa Russell

So, now it’s all about scale. So, how are we gonna get this vaccine to as many places as possible as quickly as possible? And to do that, you’re never gonna be able to do that through IJM staff alone. We’re not gonna be able to get to all of the people who are suffering as quickly as possible if we’re just hiring more staff to tell the story.

So, then you have to look at, "Well, where do centers of power sit in communities at the local level, at the state level, at the national level, at the global level?" And then you start working with people on their powerful platforms. And when I’m talking about a powerful platform, I just wouldn’t want you to know, I’m not just thinking about, what does that look like in a corporation at Walmart, at Target, or at the World Bank, or at The World Economic Forum?

I’m talking about the mom who has a platform in her local community with her group, with her church, and using that because everyone has power. And that’s actually where some of the most powerful connections on behalf of our mission have been made. And so definitely … And you and I talk about this a lot, but the thing that has scared me the most is when people don’t realize that they have power, or they’re afraid to use it.

“I’m talking about the mom who has a platform in her local community with her group, with her church, and using that because everyone has power. And that’s actually where some of the most powerful connections on behalf of our mission have been made.” Melissa Russell

And that I often find that with women, because women have a unique relationship to power and how they think about power. And if they’re afraid to use their power I just think, man, never gonna be able to rescue all the people we wanna rescue and help restore and fix the brokenness.

 

Vulnerability and Accountability

Jessica: It’s so true. And I wanted to talk a little bit about that, because you actually asked me to speak on a panel focused on women and leadership, focused on women using our power at your global leadership conference that you had called Liberate last year. And you got to be the question asker there, and now I get to be the question asker. So, I wanted to start off and ask a little bit more about in the communities where IJM works what are the areas where women are most vulnerable and why?

Melissa: Well, women are just the most vulnerable around the world, period. So, when you think about, there are 40 million slaves in the world today, sex trafficking, sex slavery, that all affects women and girls primarily, bonded labor, slave labor. That is just what you would typically imagine it to look like very hard, 18-hour days, lots of physical abuse.

And that affects a lot of women and families. I would say families are also because it’s something you can be born into, and it’s really hard to get out of, generationally. But in terms of like violence against women and children, so slavery is a 40-million-person problem, which is really significant. It’s in the billions.

So, women are just so vulnerable, sexual assault of women and girls is a massive problem everywhere. And then we have work in Africa that really is about keeping women, especially widows and orphans safe on their land so that they can provide for themselves because that is such a valuable commodity, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.

And when husbands die, and they leave land, which is how these women provide for their kids, people will come and take it and they have nowhere to go. And that’s such a driver for me. So, there’s a lot of places we work and police abuse power, especially in Kenya, where we focus our casework there. That actually affects quite a few men.

But for women, it’s just so rampant in all the places we work around the world, so vulnerable. And laws just aren’t being enforced. It’s not that there’s not laws, it’s just that there’s not great law enforcement, and that is what helps set the standard for society. And that’s what we work on.

“It’s just so rampant in all the places we work around the world, so vulnerable. And laws just aren’t being enforced. It’s not that there’s not laws, it’s just that there’s not great law enforcement, and that is what helps set the standard for society. And that’s what we work on.” Melissa Russell

Jessica: It is. I remember working with Jalia, our artisan leader in Uganda several years ago as her business began to grow, and she had a passion, has a passion to continue to employ the most vulnerable and primarily women. And so, she had many of these situations where it was women who had been robbed of their land rights and had been kicked out of their homes, women who had been raped and had not been brought to justice and were too afraid to call the police.

And it is that reality of, "There’s no 911 number to call," in so many areas of the world and our shared passion for empowering women I think has led us to collaborate quite a bit. You and I led a trip many years ago called "Style for Justice to Rwanda" where we took some women who said, "Hey, I wanna use my power to create power for others." And you have come and spoken at our annual … Noonday Collection has an annual sales conference every year and you are always the favorite guest.

Melissa: I love it. It’s one of my favorite things to do.

 

Noonday Collection and IJM: Fixing Global Brokenness Together

Jessica: We cannot wait to have you back. And so, what we often say is that Noonday Collection is working on that preventative side of justice, creating economic opportunity for mostly women. And then, IJM is really disrupting the modern-day slave trade and is really rescuing and reforming the justice system. What do you see as the connecting bridge between our work?

Melissa: Oh. I mean, so much of this is about women’s empowerment. And I’m thinking about what you and I were actually texting about not too long ago. Just, there is so much opportunity if we can relieve people from injustice around the world, just like the great economic opportunity for the world, the great cultural advancement.

Imagine if all of these people who’ve been created in God’s image, who have so much creativity, so much intelligence can bring that in force to the world, we will all thrive, diversity and inclusion, we will all thrive under that, and when people aren’t free to do that. So, for you and me, I mean, I feel like we talk about this so much.

“Imagine if all of these people who’ve been created in God’s image, who have so much creativity, so much intelligence can bring that in force to the world, we will all thrive, diversity and inclusion, we will all thrive under that.” Melissa Russell

And that’s what, when you talk about your business growing, I love it because I know what you’re thinking about in your mind is your business is growing for women around the world who are providing for their families and making their towns and regions and countries great places to live. So that’s what we’re doing.

I think we’re fixing things that are broken. And we’re focused on the criminal justice system, and what a foundation that is because you can provide girls with education, but if they are raped on the way to school they will not thrive. And you can provide medical care, but if they’re enslaved in a brick kiln in South Asia, they won’t ever get there.

It’s hard to prevent AIDS when sexual assault is rampant. And so, these things, really, they’re so connected. And you’re creating places for people to thrive. That’s what we do together, and we’re helping to fix broken things.

Jessica: We are, and we’re having fun doing it. I mean, it’s just, it’s so…when you step into that place of power, and you realize, "I can be a solution to the problems that I see in whatever way it might be," you step into that purpose and you become alive. And even on the horrible hard days, which we commiserate about plenty over the years, there’s still that sense of, "Man, we are on the path that we are meant to be on."

 

On Purpose and for a Purpose

And I’m wondering because you mentioned earlier that it’s many times women that we don’t hold our spaces. We often do shrink to become smaller. How do you think we can overcome our personal doubts, insecurities, and cultural influences that threaten to hold us back so that we can step into the places that we’re called to be?

Melissa: Well, I do think a celebration of how people are uniquely made. And so, when I think about it from what I’ve been learning, especially over the last couple of years, because we’re all down on the things we’re not good at. So you can feel bad about those, but I would say I spend most of my life also not feeling great about the things I was good at because I either was looking at someone else’s gifting or thinking that my particular gifting was not either special or not all that great.

And I wish I looked more like other people. And I really feel that God made each of us the way we are on purpose for a purpose. So, our gifts are given to us on purpose and they are created for a purpose. And so, I think one, recognizing that you … and when I say you, I’m really talking to your sweet, wonderful, dear listeners.

You were made the way you are on purpose for a purpose and placed where you are for the same sort of purpose. So, really, really appreciating that, and leaning into that. And then, as I’ve told the team at Noonday, I think it’s important to have like a personal board of directors, of which you may have the chairman seat of mine, Jess, but like you are on my personal board of directors.

And so, when things are hard, and when you’re not feeling great, you really do need to lean on other people, and you need to find people you can be vulnerable with and share those really hard things. "And here’s where I’ve messed up. And here’s where I feel lousy. And oh my gosh, I don’t think I can do this. And isn’t there someone else who could do this better than me?"

All of those things, you have to have someone else on the other side of the phone speak some sense into you when those hard times come. So, I would say those are at least two things. It’s all about community and vulnerability and appreciating where you are and why you are really.

“You need to find people you can be vulnerable with and share those really hard things. … It’s all about community and vulnerability and appreciating where you are and why you are really.” Melissa Russell

Jessica: I love that. And you’re definitely at the head of the board of my board of directors. I call it my brain trust as well. Someone else that’s in that committee with us is Curt Thompson, Dr. Curt Thompson, our dear friend, psychiatrist, author of Soul of Shame. I probably talk about him every other podcast, quite frankly.

But I was having one of those moments few weeks ago, and everything that’s gone on behind the scenes. It’s just been a challenging year for me. And I looked him in the eyes, and I said, "I just wake up every day with this sense of, I don’t have what it takes. I just don’t have what it takes to lead." And he looked at me and he goes, "Yeah, that’s shame. Yeah, that’s shame."

And I was like, "Wait a minute, I wrote a book on this. That’s chapter 7. I don’t do all of that anymore. What are you talking about? That’s not shame." And there is that sense of inadequacy especially as we kind of continue to step into these places of courage. Because once you kind of wake up and own your power, you start going into these places that are uncomfortable, that you never thought that you would go.

 

Owning Our Individual Giftings

Tell me a little bit about your leadership journey because you said that you have undervalued some of the things that you’re really good at. I know for me, as a leader, I have undervalued things like passion, and vision, and enthusiasm. And when people would tell me those things, I would think, "Oh, what? You’re making me sound like a cheerleader."

And I would downplay the fact that I’m not the greatest at coming up with a meeting agenda. I can’t operate a pivot table. I mean, I would just hammer myself on these more MBA type corporate skills, and then I would downplay what I do have to bring to the table. What have been some of those things that you’ve owned as a leader?

Melissa: Well, for me, what I am able to do, I think just because of the way God makes each of us. And this is … I also wanted to say, I … and we can talk about this later. But man, being a leader has so allowed me to appreciate the uniqueness of the way people are made, and how we’re made different. It’s really made me a better parent.

I was thinking about that on the way in this morning. It was really through leadership that I began to appreciate, "Man, we are really not all made the same. And thank God, we’re not because you need a whole slew of gifting around the table to make things work." But for me, personally … So, I just feel like I’m able to see things a little further off on the horizon. And I’m able to connect strategy pretty easily and the way things fit together.

And so, I just would have these experiences where I would start in working with teams talking about the thing that I can see as coming. And it’s hard if not everyone else can see that thing. And so, it just took me a little while to appreciate that that’s a real gift. And just because someone else can’t see it, it doesn’t mean that they’re not smart, but also doesn’t mean that you are not smart.

But what I have to be able to do is help unpack what those steps are, so that people can come along with it. So, I think like long-term vision, I am good with an Excel spreadsheet. I really appreciate the individual gifting of the leaders on my team. And so, I really try to create spaces where they can thrive.

So yeah, I mean, there are times where, goodness, I’m like, "You know what, social media." My presence is not, let’s say, huge. And it’s not where I’m leaning into my leadership. And so, I would look at our friends and say, "Gosh, I should be doing that more because that would help the cause more."

But what I’m working on right now is building an organization and building some systems and processes, and really appreciating that. Appreciating that that’s where I need to be and where I need to be pouring my time into it.

Jessica: It’s so powerful just to hear you name the things that you’re good at. I mean, we don’t do that often. It’s almost like there’s almost this social etiquette we have, especially as women to cut ourselves down. We’re kind of like, "Ah, my arms don’t look good today," or, "I just really screwed up."

And then we kind of like, empathize with each other in those places, but it’s not often I look at my friend and I say, I went like, “Tell me how you crushed it today."

Melissa: You’re so great at that.

Jessica: And so that was just a powerful moment for me just then.

Melissa: You’re a sweet friend. Well, it’s probably because also I have you. Again, you have people, so knowing our purpose, knowing our place, and knowing our people, I mean, I have people who helped me do that, and again, just so transparently and truly you are one of those biggest people.

Jessica: It’s good though. It’s good though. It’s a reminder of me to show up more like that. And probably it’s because I’m coming off of a meeting yesterday where I left kind of feeling like, "I didn’t bring enough, and the team think I don’t have enough to give." And, "Look at that. I woke up ashamed this morning." Apparently, Curt would tell me. But now I’m talking to you. And that’s what chases it all out the door. So, this is good stuff. This is good stuff.

 

Storytelling for Justice

I wanted to talk a little bit about storytelling because you have truly transformed the way International Justice Mission storytells, and brings people, invites people into this cause, and invites them to become advocates using their power. What would you say to … and I know that’s often what you speak about when you come to Noonday Collection, into our conferences, and how we train Ambassadors. We say Ambassadors are storytellers and stylists. What are some of your tips or strategies on how to go about effective storytelling in a way that gets people to care?

Melissa: Well, first, we have a phenomenal creative director named Vera who works at IJM, who has … I think, when you say I’ve helped transform the way we do stories, I think really I’ve just helped create space where Vera can lead with a variety of creative storytellers and filmmakers. So, mainly just not getting in our team’s way of being the awesome creatives that they are.

I think, for me storytelling, especially when I come and talk to your group and even to our team here, it’s all about authenticity. And so, we have done so many of those leadership profiles. So, we have done Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram, and StrengthsFinder’s. And most storytellers or relationship builders have this strength called Woo. I would not be surprised if you have it.

Jessica: I don’t actually it’s not on my strength.

Melissa: OK, well, see that is surprising to me because I think you’re so wonderful that it’s…

Jessica: I wish. You know what is though is my number one is activator and my second would be ideation.

Melissa: Oh, that would make sense. That would make sense. I can see that.

Jessica: If you read my StrengthsFinder it says basically, I get people to do things.

Melissa: Oh, perfect. Well, so I can see how those fit together. For me, it’s individual, so seeing like individuals and their skills and seeing how they all put together. But from a storytelling perspective, I have zero Woo, like none. And for me it’s all, "Is what I’m saying true? Is this thing I’m talking about true? And do I believe that it does good in the world?"

And on behalf of those whom we’re trying to serve part of my job and part of my gifting is communication is to tell those stories. And I have just found it … because sometimes people aren’t always gonna get the words right and they’re gonna be nervous. Or anytime you go to make an ask, whether it’s, "I’m gonna go ask my company to look into talking about how we can help our corporate supply chains," or how you move a church or a community, you just get nervous. But authenticity, you can’t fake, and it always comes through.

People will always know if you really believe the thing you’re saying. And so, I always start with that building block from a story perspective, because I can talk all day every day about what IJM does because I believe that it’s true. And it’s working, and I care so much about it.

“Authenticity, you can’t fake, and it always comes through. People will always know if you really believe the thing you’re saying. And so, I always start with that building block from a story perspective, because I can talk all day every day about what IJM does because I believe that it’s true. And it’s working, and I care so much about it.” Melissa Russell

And so, I mean, if there was just one thing, "Do you believe that what you’re saying is true?" And then go say it. And if you get nervous, it’s OK. Everyone gets nervous telling stories and talking about things. That’s just called being human, but the authenticity will shine through.

Jessica: I love that because it’s simple and it’s getting in touch with that belief. I do think that women … we often have a hard time asking. And it’s funny because I’m kind of the queen asker and the queen recruiter at Noonday, just … there’s nothing in me that feels like if someone says no to me, it’s not personal at all.

And me asking people to join and open your home or become a Noonday Collection Ambassador, I believe. So, it never feels like I’m asking someone for a favor. It’s like, "Oh my gosh, you are missing out girl. Let me tell you about the cause of being on Earth." And so, getting in touch with that belief is really important.

 

The Power of Perseverance and Passion

And I know that some of that belief, I know I draw from specific people that I’ve met in the field and specific faces that I carry with me almost on a daily basis that these faces flash before my eyes. Tell us a little bit about a person that you have been impacted through your work that is one of the people that IJM has been able to come alongside.

Melissa: Well, there is always, there’s always a story and always a person. And there have been so many over the years, but I would say right now it’s the story of one our clients, Esther. And Esther is someone who … she’s a little girl who spent 10 years in slavery on Lake Volta. And when we were able to finally rescue her through working with the local police there and get her to safety and to freedom and to restoration, the very first thing she wanted to do was rescue others.

And so, when I think about talking about our work, and any time I get a little nervous, because again, I mean, even as the president of North America, when I go into new spaces, and new places I do as you know, Jess, I can get nervous. Right now, I’m thinking about Esther, and I’m thinking about her bravery. And I try to imagine that scenario where I tell Esther, "I wanted to talk to this corporation about our work, but I got nervous. And so, I’m sure you understand."

And I think I would never have that conversation with Esther. On behalf of Esther and the thousands and millions like her, I think I can get over this thing that I’m nervous about and go speak to this audience. So, Esther, right now … and I just think of a young woman who was courageous and used her power on behalf of others … it’s just a beautiful story.

Jessica: I love that, and it’s just so crazy because I’m remembering, several years ago, you texting me and saying pray for our team. We’ve got people on the ground that are scouting out right now this area to see if there is in fact slavery. And there’s just … and now we’re sharing rescue stories. I mean, it is … honestly, I don’t know why I’m crying right now.

Melissa: Oh, I love … Well, because it’s so good.

Jessica: There’s so much hope.

Melissa: There is.

Jessica: You know what I mean. And I think…

Melissa: There is.

Jessica: Oh my God. I’m losing it. This is classic.

Melissa: No, it’s so good. Well, in here, here’s the thing, especially when people think about leaning into the thing they’re called towards, is the perseverance because the story of Ghana and this justice walk, there was a really long period of time where we did our first rescue, we weren’t in … And any time you start holding people accountable to crime, man, they’re powerful and they fight back. I mean, that’s the thing about violence. Violence fights back.

And people were scared, and government officials were scared to rescue these kids. And man, for 20 months, it took us 20 months after our first rescue operation to do another one. And in that time, there were new leaders who wanted to fight on behalf of their vulnerable children. And they were put in places of power, and now it’s just totally transformed.

“Any time you start holding people accountable to crime, man, they’re powerful and they fight back. … It took us 20 months after our first rescue operation to do another one. And in that time, there were new leaders who wanted to fight on behalf of their vulnerable children. And they were put in places of power, and now it’s just totally transformed.” Melissa Russell

It really … it really is. But that’s perseverance. And when you talk about your leadership or anyone who leads at IJM, or in their communities or man, kids, the whole ball game is perseverance. And so that’s such a key part to it. I love that you’re moved by it. You’re the best IJM advocate.

 

Taking Part in Global Justice Solutions

Jessica: I’m totally obsessed. You know I am. And I just think about the power of believing and the power of knowing it’s possible. And I know Gary has been on the podcast before, Gary Haugen, the founder of IJM. I’ve borrowed belief from him when he says things like believing that slavery can end in our lifetime and until all are free.

And so, there’s just a lot of courage that comes from seeing the possibility. And for me, I’ve just seen so much evidence now over the years after having partnered with IJM for so many years now where it is possible, what you are doing, you have found a framework that’s actually working and so why not?

My mom actually … I actually sent you this text. This is so cute. Someone came and spoke at her church. And you know me. I’ve been asking my parents to give for a long time, and they have. I’ve done birthday campaigns a lot with IJM. And so, I always get my parents to give.

And I guess I had not asked them to be a monthly partner. And so, I was a little embarrassed when I got this text three weeks ago that’s like, "Look, we just became a monthly partner with IJM." And it was a good amount too. I was like, "Go, mom. You do that."

Melissa: That was great.

Jessica: I know. And it’s just … I love knowing every month by being a monthly partner that I am being a part of the solution in the world that truly is combating slavery. On that end, one of the reasons I wanted to have you on right now is because in November Noonday Collection is doing a partnership with International Justice Mission, where if you gather your friends through a Noonday Collection Trunk Show, Noonday Collection will give a portion of the profits from that show back to International Justice Missions towards rescue operations.

Melissa, I know that you have got some Noonday Ambassadors in your life. So, what would you have to say about why? Because listen, here’s the objections that we get at Noonday is that people are so busy, people don’t wanna gather. Can you just shop online whereas I am such, such, such a proponent of physically gathering people together because that is where there is power.

And in bringing people along in this work, that’s where there’s power, and just styling one another, and having fun, and I’m just so excited for more people to hear about IMJ. And even through IJM for more people to hear about Noonday. So, what would you say to that, about our gathering time in November?

Melissa: Well, there is no substitution for being in person. So, always just always, always, especially for fellowship and community, and so that’s … you got to be in person. It’s so much more fun. But I would also just say again, like the things that we’ll be talking about, it is just true. Noonday creates beautiful products. So, they are ridiculously stylish, and I have the benefit of having the founder of Noonday help me style myself.

But what’s wonderful is that all your Ambassadors just do that so wonderfully in their communities. So, you just have helped people see the beauty of making things beautiful. So, the products in and of themselves are gorgeous, but what it provides too.

“Noonday creates beautiful products. So, they are ridiculously stylish, and I have the benefit of having the founder of Noonday help me style myself. But what’s wonderful is that all your Ambassadors just do that so wonderfully in their communities. So, you just have helped people see the beauty of making things beautiful.” Melissa Russell

I mean, these women, these powerful women, these families now have life-changing stories of, "I’m now able to provide for my family. My children get to go to school." It’s just helping to give dignity, to give work. And so, I love that so much. I love what obviously IJM does. And so, when we get to do that and be in person together, it’s really a ton of fun because it’s all good things.

Jessica: It’s all good things.

Melissa: And it’s all beautiful things too.

Jessica: All good things.

Melissa: And it’s a win, win, win, and you can have something to eat, and maybe a glass of wine, that’s exciting.

Jessica: Yes. And walk out with some really cute statement earrings or maybe some little studs if you’re Melissa Russell.

Melissa: If you’re Melissa. So, I’ve got my gold hoops in tonight actually.

Jessica: I know you do. I know you do.

Melissa: You keep me work appropriate.

Jessica: I do, I do. IJM has a very strict dress code of black and white striped shirts.

Melissa: Well, that’s just Melissa’s. But we do like to look professional. That might be something I’ve applied to myself out of just sheer convenience and trying to make personal and work work.

Jessica: That’s right. That’s right. Well, I’m super excited because I’m gonna be with you next week in Washington D.C.

Melissa: Can’t wait.

Jessica: I am going on a big tour across Eastern.

Melissa: And you’re gonna be in the office.

Jessica: I’m coming to the office.

Melissa: It’s gonna be wonderful.

Jessica: We’re going to gather with some Noonday Collection Ambassadors at the office. We’re gonna do a little leadership panel. I’ll probably even hop on our corporate Instagram and Facebook. So, all of you all listening right now make sure you’re following me, @JessicaHonegger, two Gs, one N, and International Justice Mission on Facebook and on Instagram. Go check all of us out, Noonday Collection. We’re going to do some fun stuff at the IJM offices next week.

 

Melissa Russell: Going Scared and Pushing New Boundaries

Well, Melissa, I wanted to wrap up by asking you a vulnerable question that I should have totally warned you about but here we go. I know your heart is beating.

Melissa: Love it. Let’s do it.

Jessica: But we ask this on every podcast. We ask, "How are you going scared right now?"

Melissa: Oh, man. How am I not going scared? I would say … so, from a work perspective, to scale because we’re really thinking, "How do you scale this great work? How do you get this vaccine of preventing and protecting people from violence in places around the world? And how do you move systems of power?"

And so, to do that, you actually have to go to new places. So, you’re building new bridges. We want all people of goodwill to engage in this work because a vaccine isn’t just for one particular type of person. This is really for everyone to use. And so, for me, we’re just going to a lot of new places. And that’s scary because every time you’re talking to a new audience, or a new type of audience, for me, man, I still get the same feeling.

It feels different now so many years into it. I’m used to feeling scared. Does that make sense?

Jessica: Yeah.

Melissa: Where you’re like, you just get used to that. You’re never not kind of scared but you get used to that feeling. You’re like, "Oh, yeah. I remember when I felt this way." Because the thing is when you take this work is so great. And on the other end of it is people getting hurt.

And so, I’m always living in that tension of pushing our boundaries and pushing us into new places while also not trying to be flippant about it because our brand is so important, and what we do is so important, and people really need this thing that we can bring them.

And so that’s always a tension for me. And we won’t scale unless we’re doing new and somewhat risky boundary-pushing things, but I’m not losing my eye on behalf of who we do that for. Anyway, I’ve got that tension to manage.

“I’m always living in that tension of pushing our boundaries and pushing us into new places. … People really need this thing that we can bring them. We won’t scale unless we’re doing new and somewhat risky boundary-pushing things, but I’m not losing my eye on behalf of who we do that for.” Melissa Russell

Jessica: Doing it for Esther.

Melissa: For Esther, and for Esther’s friends who we haven’t yet gotten to.

Jessica: Yes, the ones still waiting. And I know Esther’s story is gonna go live both in podcasts and film version this month. So, I cannot wait for all of you guys to go tune into her story. The storytelling at IJM and we have learned so much at Noonday from it, just truly beautiful films and go check out all of their social. I follow all of it and it’s just always good to get these reminders. I mean, gosh, multiple times a week to pray for and think about the not yet stories and the stories that we can actually be a part of.

And you have been just an incredible part of IJM being an open-source and bridge building organization. So, thank you so much. Because apart from being one of my best friends, it’s so fun to collaborate with you on a professional level. So, thanks for being a part of making all of those things happen.

Melissa: Well, thanks for pushing me to be a leader that does make that happen. I think you and I both know you really push me in saying, "IJM should be in these places. Why are you not?" And I thought, "Well, that’s a great question. I’ll circle back."

Jessica: There were so many good takeaways from today’s episode. But the one that is really sticking with me is this idea of creating space for one of our friends to say out loud where she comes alive, what she’s really good at. I think naming our strengths out loud in the presence of others causes us to live into those strengths even more. So, find someone today to share your strengths with.

Now, if you want to learn more about Esther’s story and the work of IJM, head on over to ijm.org. It doesn’t take much to use our influence to make an impact. When you gather your friends for an IJM Noonday Collection Trunk Show in November to shop and have fun, you get to bring rescue to girls like Esther.

So, all you need to do is connect with a Noonday Collection Ambassador. If you know one already, reach out to her—you will make her day. And if you don’t know one, we would love to find one for you. So, head on over to the Noonday Collection website, noondaycollection.com, and click on “HOST a SHOW.” Someone from our team here at our Home Office in Austin will get right back to you.

Our wonderful music for today’s show is by my good friend Ellie Holcomb. Going Scared is produced by Eddie Kaufholz, and I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.