Westmont Magazine On Mission for Justice
Why did Robert Lonac ’67 leave Young Life after decades of service? He had done many things for the organization, including working with students and overseeing one-third of worldwide operations as senior vice-president. A simple story tells why.
A young girl named Bintou who lives in Africa was illegally detained after her husband had become a suspect in a homicide. She was held for over a year even though she had never been charged with a crime. Enter the International Justice Mission. After hearing about the case from missionaries, interns with IJM proceeded with an investigation and were able to secure her release. She is now in the care of a local Christian tribal official.
Robert was excited to work with a ministry that wielded such worldwide influence. With his last child off to college (Ryan, Westmont class of 2006), he and his wife, Kathleen, were willing to uproot themselves and go wherever the Lord needed them. When the opportunity with IJM arose, the Lonacs relocated to Washington, D.C., so Robert could become chief operating officer and executive vice president.
IJM was founded in 1994 after a survey revealed that 100 percent of overseas Christian workers witnessed abuses of power by governments, police and other authorities toward people in their communities. The organization’s goal is to document and monitor conditions of abuse and oppression, educate the church and public about the abuses and mobilize intervention on behalf of the victims. Bob has become passionate about this mission and about helping the arm of the Lord in serving the cause of justice throughout the world.
When he enrolled at Westmont, Bob had only been a Christian for a year. “It was a total shock to come to college and be in the midst of this Christian, conservative world,” he admits. “I was one of about 400 students, and they were all pastor’s kids and missionary kids — and then there was me.” Despite this unusual baptism, Bob loved Westmont. “There were two or three teachers who really took me under their wing. They discipled me, counseled me and made such a difference in my life.” Rath Shelton served as a special mentor and friend outside of the classroom.
When he left Westmont, Bob jumped right into work with Young Life. He laughingly relates, “It was a clear, loud call from God. Someone told me if I worked with Young Life, I wouldn’t be drafted for Vietnam. It was an easy decision.” He thought he would do it for only a couple of years, but ended up staying 33.
Bob explains that cases like Bintou’s are the very reason for IJM. “While the concept of fighting for justice throughout the world seems a daunting one, with each successful case, the workers gain confidence and enthusiasm to seek out and help correct other acts of injustice,” he notes.
IJM employs 29 workers but is rapidly expanding. It offers an exceptional internship program to students in college and law school. Two other Westmont alums, Hilary Chandler ’01 and Anna Wiebe ’96, work at IJM.