The quintessential question here in Washington seems to be “So, what do you do?”

When I say I’m an abolitionist working on anti-trafficking initiatives in Haiti and India, I am met with a wide range of responses.  There are those, somewhat familiar with human trafficking, who express enthusiasm and support.  Others give a blank stare and simply move on to a lighter topic.  At a holiday party, one woman literally laughed at me and incredulously muttered under her breath “abolitionist?!”  Most recently, a mom at the playground said, “Wait, don’t tell me any more.  I can’t handle it emotionally.”

Perhaps most frequently, people ask me, “Doesn’t your work depress you?”  Of course, the stories of abuse that I hear from the teams with whom I work in Haiti and India are often troubling.  But in the end, the work of rescuing and restoring victims is life giving.  To see survivors of violent abuse rediscover their hopes and dreams and realize that they are made in the image of God is extraordinary.  Yet for each survivor, honestly, the process of healing is a long and arduous journey.  Those of us who plod along together to bring an end to modern-day slavery often wonder if we’ll actually see the systems of abuse toppled within our lifetimes.

Looking back to my college years in the mid-1990s, as many of my fellow economics majors at Wellesley headed to Wall Street or to consulting firms, my hard-working, high-achieving immigrant parents were befuddled that their daughter would want to take a job that paid poverty-level wages.  With some naiveté, I headed to south Florida to work on food recovery and gleaning initiatives with farmers.  I soon found myself disillusioned.  Non-profit leaders weren’t always the altruistic angels I assumed they would be.  In fact, many were on a heroic journey of their own, and they were vicious competitors vying for limited funds from donors.

Several years later, I worked in the private sector as a consultant to state-level human service agencies, working alongside many smart and ambitious colleagues.  We offered great services to our clients, but often became preoccupied with making money rather than by our mission to serve our clients.  I believe that a double bottom line in terms of social impact and financial performance is possible.

Regardless of what sector we work in, we are all human. I am grounded by these critical questions (paraphrasing from Paul’s letter to the Philippians): Am I doing this for selfish ambition or out of vain conceit?  Am I humbly valuing others and looking out for their best interests?  Am I sharing a mindset with Christ in the relationships that I pursue?

Often I wonder whether or not I exhibit the fruit of the spirit, especially patience.  Patience with our Maker in the fight for justice, and patience with my children, with whom I struggle to demonstrate love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Perhaps what matters most, in whatever vocation we do, is the pursuit of character that shapes our attitudes towards our families, our daily work, and our community.

Christine Buchholz serves as Vice-President on the Board of Restavek Freedom Foundation, as well as formerly serving on the Board of The Washington Institute.