Jay Milbrandt Discusses ‘What God Does When We Show Up’

Jay Milbrandt speaks to a packed-out Neely Hall.

On Jan. 9, Belmont’s first chapel of the year featured Jay Milbrandt, author of Go + Do: Daring to Change the World One Story at a Time. Following worship, Milbrandt shared his experiences as a law student, lawyer and advocate. He explained that, while at law school, he was desperate to find his calling. “Like many people here at Belmont, I wanted to change the world,” Milbrandt said. “You can get overwhelmed by that thought.”

One summer during law school, Milbrandt went on a trip to Thailand with a group of his peers to work with prostitutes. When first asked to go into the red light district for one-on-one work with the women, Milbrandt was reluctant. However, when he showed up, he discovered an unsettling phenomenon.

Most of the children Milbrandt encountered in the district were “stateless” and did not have any nationality. The majority of them emigrated from Burma, which refuses to recognize them as citizens, and Thailand will not grant them citizenship. Without citizenship, the children are unable to enter into the Thai schools and fall into the cycle of prostitution.

Milbrandt gathered a team of his peers to advocate on behalf of the children and help them obtain citizenship. It was not nearly as difficult as he assumed it might be. “This is what God does when we show up, when we take risks,” he explained. His first client as a lawyer was an 8-year-old girl who he helped obtain citizenship.

Following his experience in Thailand, he had a similar experience as a law student in East Africa. A number of children were being held in a small “prison” without a trial. Milbrandt described the prison as a “shack that looked like it was made to hold cows.” He and his peers set out building cases for the children and helped see the cases to court. One of the boys they helped free had been sitting in the jail for nearly a year because he had stolen a pack of gum. Another boy they helped had spent two years in the shack due to a baseless murder accusation.

“When we allow him, God works through us to do justice and stand in the gaps,” Milbrandt said. “Our need for purpose exists for someone else’s need for justice.” He also warned not to get lost in the vastness of changing the world. He instead challenged the audience to “just show up” and offered himself as a resource to anyone willing to take up the challenge.


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