August 26, 2022

From Student to Nonprofit Organization Founder

Bethani King shares her journey dedicated to helping refugees around the world.

Lauren Vizcarra, Walla Walla University News
[Photo: courtesy of Bethani King]

Bethani King, who graduated with a biblical languages degree in 2011, returned to Walla Walla University in Walla Walla, Washington, United States, in 2022 to share the story of her journey. She told the educational community how she went from student to founder of On the Ground International (OGI), a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping Venezuelan refugees fleeing to Colombia.

Bethani grew up understanding the missionary life. Her mother was the daughter of missionaries. Many of Bethani’s cousins and extended family were missionaries. As a child, Bethani 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, Bethani was working in an Adventist school in California, teaching music and 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, Bethani wondered if they could possibly be true.

Bethani became obsessed with wanting to know what was 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 more extensive research.

A passion ignited in her heart to help these Syrian refugees. Bethani wanted to become a volunteer and aid these vulnerable people. The problem turned out to be finding an organization that 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, Bethani 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, Oregon, 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,” Bethani says. Seeing the poverty and hopelessness of the people who thought they’d stay at the camp for a few weeks that turned into years was difficult to witness. This was their new reality, and many did not know what their future held.

While Bethani was in Lebanon, she received 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. Bethani says, “You can search the Scriptures cover to cover, and you will never find Jesus telling His people to stay safe.” She believes that if God is calling us into something, we can rest assured that He will provide for all our needs.

After Bethani 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 Lesbos, where she worked with refugees, helping them to improve their lifestyle.

In 2019, she established OGI. Bethani is fond of saying that “it happened by accident.” She spent two months 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, she says, it felt weird to put the money in her personal account, so she started OGI as a way to separate the money. Then people started to ask her if they could volunteer with her. Thus, OGI was born.

Bethani feels that God has blessed her in many ways. People have expressed awe at 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 WWU, she says. “Walla Walla shaped me and helped prepare me for a life as a missionary.” 

She explained that her professors mentored her in her journey with God, and their open-door policy went above and beyond what Bethani thought they were required to do as teachers. “They modeled Christian life and integrity,” she says. To this day, the bonds she formed at WWU hold strong, and she often comes to visit with her former teachers when she’s visiting the area.

Bethani recalls her mentor, WWU professor of theology Paul Dybdahl, who said in his Introduction to Missions class, “We are called to go unless we are called to stay.” To Bethani, this means that sometimes we think that we need to feel a specific calling to leave the country and go and serve, or we won’t do it. But it shouldn’t be so, Bethani emphasized. “Unless we feel God wants us to stay put, we have a duty to go out and be the hands and feet of God,” she says.

The original version of this story was posted on the Walla Walla University news site.