Bethani King, who graduated with a degree in Biblical Languages in 2011, returned to Walla Walla University in Walla Walla, Washington, USA in 2022 to share the story of her journey. She told the education community how she went from student to founder of On the Ground International (OGI), a non-profit organization dedicated to helping Venezuelan refugees fleeing to Colombia.
Bethani grew up understanding missionary life. Her mother was the daughter of missionaries. Many of Bethani’s cousins and extended family members were missionaries. As a child, Bethani wanted to follow in their footsteps. She put that dream aside for a while, but God had plans to fulfill her heart’s dream.
As of 2016, Bethani was working at an Adventist school in California, teaching music and Spanish, and coaching basketball. She started hearing about the current crisis in Syria which has forced many people to flee the country as refugees. The stories on the news were so horrifying that Bethani wondered if they could be true.
Bethani became obsessed with knowing what was going on in Syria. One night, she spent hours on the internet trying to piece together a story that made sense to her. If things are really so badshe reasoned, why are more people not doing anything? This question and the desire to help led her to do further research.
A passion ignited in her heart to help these Syrian refugees. Bethani wanted to become a volunteer and help these vulnerable people. The problem turned out to be finding an organization that would take her. She wrote to numerous agencies and received no response or been asked to donate.
Eventually, in a leap of faith, Bethani decided to buy a plane ticket to Lebanon, hoping that God would put everything in place. At the very last minute, she was able to find an organization through friends of friends who were happy to have her as a volunteer. She vividly remembers sitting at the airport in Portland, Oregon, texting a Syrian refugee family in Lebanon, asking if she could stay with them that night. God arranged things with perfect timing.
“It’s hard to prepare for the hopelessness and sadness of a refugee camp,” says Bethani. Seeing the poverty and desperation of people who thought they would stay in the camp for a few weeks turned into years was hard to see. This was their new reality, and many did not know what the future held for them.
While Bethani was in Lebanon, she received messages from friends and family asking if she was safe and urging her to return home. Although she understood that her friends and family were worried about her, she was frustrated that no one was encouraging her. Bethani says, “You can search the scriptures from cover to cover, and you will never find Jesus telling his people to stay safe. She believes that if God calls us to something, we can be assured that he will supply all our needs.
After Bethani returned to the United States, she resumed teaching, but it was not long before she returned to serve. In 2018, she felt called again to care for refugees, this time in Greece. She stayed on the island of Lesbos, where she worked with refugees, helping them improve their way of life.
In 2019, she created OGI. Bethani likes to say “it happened by accident.” She spent two months traveling along the route of Venezuelan refugees heading to Colombia and helping them. She would share her experience on Instagram and people wanted to help. When they sent her money, she says, it was weird putting the money in her personal account, so she started OGI as a way to separate the money. Then people started asking her if they could volunteer with her. Thus, OGI was born.
Bethani feels that God has blessed her in many ways. People have expressed admiration for her accomplishments, but she says, “God built this and opened doors I wouldn’t have even prayed for.” She is very grateful to God for the opportunities given to her.
Her readiness to seize those opportunities grew at WWU, she says. “Walla Walla molded me and helped prepare me for a life as a missionary.”
She explained that her teachers mentored her on her journey with God, and their open-door policy went beyond what Bethani thought they were required to do as teachers. “They modeled Christian living and integrity,” she says. To this day, the ties she has forged at WWU are strong and she often comes to visit her former teachers when she visits the area.
Bethani remembers her mentor, WWU theology professor Paul Dybdahl, who said in his introductory mission course, “We are called to go unless we are called to stay.” For Bethani, that means sometimes we think we need to feel a specific call to leave the country and go serve, or we won’t. But it shouldn’t be that way, Bethani stressed. “Unless we feel that God wants us to stay put, we have a duty to come out and be God’s hands and feet,” she says.
The original version of this story was published on Walla Walla University news sites.