InterVarsity Alumni - Sharon Cohn

Sharon Cohn is a lawyer with the International Justice Mission. The InterVarsity community has helped Sharon on her spiritual journey in high school, during college, and as she found her career path in serving people who are enslaved.

Sharon grew up in a religious Jewish home. Her parents, a teacher and a lawyer, taught her the stories and values of the Torah, including the value of justice. Despite these lessons, Sharon was fearful of being vulnerable, of failure, and of the future. She covered these fears with a quest for knowledge. In high school, part of that quest included joining the debate team. And through this activity, InterVarsity touched Sharon’s life for the first time. The debate coach had been active in InterVarsity in college and suggested that when she went to the University of Virginia–Charlottesville, she might look into the chapter there.

When she arrived on campus, looking for a group to connect with, Sharon remembered her coach’s suggestion and found InterVarsity. There she heard of the “claims of a Messiah who met the inarticulate longing of [her] heart and the articulated prophecies of the Scriptures. But this Messiah was a part of the forbidden Gentile world. Sharon’s response was to fight. She argued with the street preachers on campus, the InterVarsity staff members and the student leaders. The InterVarsity people introduced her to books by C.S. Lewis, Malcolm Muggeridge, and G.K. Chesterton, authors who gave her the opportunity to think rigorously about matters of faith.

But it was the people in InterVarsity that really challenged Sharon to think about what the students claimed to believe. “I was impressed with the kindness they had for one another.” As impressed as she was, Sharon was also skeptical. She did not know people who were able to live with such love one for another and for her, especially as she attacked their beliefs. She thought they might be faking it, but she could not figure out how, since she “certainly could not sustain an attitude of kindness towards others.”

When Sharon returned home after her freshman year, she continued to think about how the InterVarsity students could consistently love one another. The question became so important that the decision to find an answer could not be avoided. When Sharon returned to school, she yielded her heart to the Messiah of the Gentiles, the God of her people.

For Sharon, this decision was costly. She left the safe harbor of her family’s religion, which meant that her “past moorings were not available.” For Sharon, deciding to become a Christian did not mean a slight turn in the direction of her life – but a radical change of her whole life. Continuing friendships with the people in InterVarsity became an important part of her Christian life.

After graduation, Sharon went Washington D.C. She found a job in the Justice Department, but her work there did not feed her growing passion to fight against injustice. A mentor suggested that a law degree might be an avenue toward a career in which Sharon could bring justice to those living under abusive power. Sharon followed this advice.

After graduation from law school, as she was thinking about her future, InterVarsity again influenced her decision. Sharon read Good News About Injustice, a book by Gary Haugen, an InterVarsity alumnus. As Sharon read this book, she saw her life-long interest in overcoming injustice connected to her Christian faith. She had a sense of calling, a vision of a vocation.

Sharon joined the International Justice Mission (IJM), the organization Gary Haugen started to free people around the world who have been sold into slavery. In the past six years, Sharon has met with heads of state and local officials, championing the cause of those enslaved and abused. Among these officials, she has found people of good will who are willing to investigate incidences of slavery, particularly sexual slavery. Using the existing laws of the community to free the slave, IJM helps the formerly enslaved to start a new life and to bring the lawbreakers to justice.

God has used InterVarsity in Sharon’s life to call her to complete surrender to his will and in her choice of a career in which she seeks justice for the oppressed in the name of Jesus Christ.

Sharon shared part of her story at Urbana 06

UPDATE: Sharon Cohn Wu is currently Senior Vice President, Structural Formation, for International Justice Mission