Bethani King, who graduated with a Biblical languages degree in 2011, returned to Walla Walla University in February to share her journey from student to founder of On the Ground International (OGI), a non-profit organization dedicated to helping Venezuelan refugees fleeing to Colombia.
King grew up understanding the missionary lifestyle. Her mother was the daughter of missionaries. Many of King’s cousins and extended family were missionaries. As a child, King wanted to follow in their footsteps. She put that dream aside for a while, but God had plans to fulfill the dream of her heart.
In 2016, King was working in an Adventist school in California teaching music, Spanish, and coaching basketball. She started hearing about the ongoing crisis in Syria that forced many to flee the country as refugees. The stories on the news were so horrific, King wondered if they could possibly be true.
King became obsessed with wanting to know what was really happening 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 that bad, she reasoned, why aren’t more people doing anything about it? This question and a desire to help led her to do extensive research.
A passion ignited in her heart to help these Syrian refugees. King wanted to become a volunteer and aid these vulnerable souls. The problem was finding an organization who would take her. She wrote to numerous agencies and either didn’t get a reply or was directed to make a donation.
Finally, in an act of faith, King decided to buy a plane ticket to Lebanon, hoping God would make everything fall into place. At the very last minute, she was able to find an organization through friends of friends that was happy to have her as a volunteer. She vividly recalls sitting in the Portland airport messaging a Syrian refugee family in Lebanon asking if she could stay with them that very night. God worked things out with perfect timing.
“The desperation and bleakness of a refugee camp is hard to prepare for,” said King. Seeing the poverty and hopelessness of the people who thought they’d stay at the camp for a few weeks that quickly turned into years was difficult to witness. This was their new reality and many did not know what their futures held.
While King was in Lebanon, she would get messages from friends and family asking if she was safe and urging her to come home. While she understood that her friends and family were concerned for her, she was frustrated that no one was giving her encouragement. King said, “You can search the scriptures cover to cover, and you will never find Jesus telling his people to stay safe.” King believes that if God is calling us into something, we can rest assured that he will provide for all our needs.
After King came back to the U.S., she resumed teaching, but it was not long until she returned to serve. In 2018, she felt called again to care for refugees, this time in Greece. She stayed on the island of Lesvos, where she worked with refugees to improve their lifestyle.
It was in 2019 that she established On the Ground International. King is fond of saying that “It happened by accident.” She spent two month traveling along the route of the 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, it felt weird to King to put the money in her personal account, so she started OGI as a way to separate the money more ethically. Then people started to ask her if they could volunteer with her. On the Ground International was born.
King feels that God has blessed her in many ways. People have expressed awe in her accomplishments, but she says, “God has 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 preparation to take on those opportunities grew at Walla Walla University. King says WWU shaped her and helped prepare her for a life as a missionary. Her professors mentored her in her journey with God and their open door policy went above and beyond what King thought they were required to do as teachers. She said that Christian life and integrity were modeled by her professors. Even to this day, the bonds she formed at WWU hold strong, and she often comes to visit with her former teachers whenever she’s in the area.
King recalls her mentor Paul Dybdahl, professor of theology, saying in his Intro to Missions class, “We are called to go unless we are called to stay.” To King, this means that sometimes we think that we need to feel a specific calling to leave the country and go serve, or we won’t do it. But, she wants us to consider that unless we feel God wants us to stay put, we have a duty to go out and be the hands and feet of God.
Posted on June 26, 2022