17 December 2017

Introducing… Julia Immonen

raInterviewed by Mitch, Crown Jesus Ministries Julia Immonen rowed her way into the record books at the beginning of the year when her team, Row For Freedom, rowed 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean. They became the first fivewoman team to row any ocean and broke another record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by an all-female team.

I grew up with the BBC series Record Breakers, watching Roy Castle tap-dance into the record books. How does it feel to be a real record breaker?

It is incredible – the real icing on the cake. We set out to raise awareness about human trafficking but the records meant so much as well. To knock five days off the fastest women to row an ocean, and to be part of such a pioneering race, was wonderful. The records gave us an added credibility too, especially with the sporting world.

Did you ever imagine you would be organising such an event never mind getting into a little boat to row across the Atlantic Ocean?

No! Less than 400 people have ever rowed an ocean so if you had told me two years ago that I would row the Atlantic, I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s so extreme and I’d never even rowed before! But it gave me an extraordinary media opportunity to talk about slavery. People have asked me how I organised such an event when I was working full-time but it became a labour of love.

Why was Row For Freedom so important to you?

It had been born out of a passion for the injustice of human trafficking. I was desperate that it would be a success in order to raise awareness and inspire others to go and make a difference for something they are passionate about.

How did you come up with the brilliant idea of using sport and more specifically, Sport Against Trafficking to raise awarness?

I was already running a half marathon for The A21 Campaign (an anti-trafficking charity who provide safe-housing for victims of trafficking) and I realised how sport can be a powerful, positive way to raise awareness. I had tried speaking about the subject before but it’s so overwhelming, so being able to actually do something got a great response. I love sport and work in sport so it was a natural way to use what was in my hand to make a difference. Sport Against Trafficking (SAT) is an A21 Campaign project and I’m delighted to work part time for The A21 Campaign UK which has just launched and is very exciting. The platforms and opportunities opening constantly are incredible and people are so interested because sport is such a proactive way to make a difference. I was going to register SAT as my own charity but realised it’s more powerful to unite with an already amazing charity and not reinvent the wheel.

Who named the boat The Guardian?

The Row For Freedom campaign called on the government to provide a system of guardianship specifically for child victims of trafficking. To name our boat The Guardian always reminded us of why we were doing this. We were privileged to have the support of Sir Matthew Pinsent for our campaign and he officially named our boat on Anti Slavery Day 2011. We rowed alongside a boat of about 100 MPs outside Westminster and then went on to have a private meeting with PM David Cameron.

How do you think you’ve changed as a result of your time on board?

I’ve become more patient! Five girls in a seven metre boat for 45 days certainly taught me to let things go and I think I’ve brought that back home with me too. Things that used to annoy me don’t now! I’ve gained a new perspective. My family, friends and my faith are the things that are truly important to me. We were plagued by problems but I never panicked because I knew that God would provide a solution. My life was literally in God’s hands on that ocean and I think it brought me back to a child-like faith.

Tell us a little about your spiritual journey thus far.

I grew up in a Christian home but for many years did things my way. I knew deep down that nothing would fill those voids and deep places that only God can satisfy. After a long-term relationship ended I knew I’d run back to God. I went along to an Alpha Course at Holy Trinity Brompton. This was the start of everything I knew of God to be true growing up, dropping down to my heart. I became the prodigal daughter who ran back into my Father’s arms.

Being amongst a community of participators and not just church spectators, I wanted to get serving. I led small groups on Alpha and God broke my heart for the injustice of human trafficking, which is an honour. It has been an incredible adventure with God and the most thrilling, satisfying and exciting journey. Nothing compares.

What are your plans for the rest of 2012?

I feel so privileged to be part of the global A21 Campaign team and excited to help launch A21 in the UK. I have been blown away by the support for Row For Freedom, which I really believe has been supernatural favour. I’m now planning an epic Cycle For Freedom starting in Ukraine through Eastern Europe and notorious trafficking routes, to London. It’ll be approximately 2500 miles – same as the Atlantic! The Atlantic was symbolic of slavery then but this expedition will educate those most likely to be trafficked and raise awareness of modern day slavery now.

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On November 16th Julia will be joining us at a Crown Jesus Ministries/Rejoice Always Gala Dinner in the Culloden Hotel, Belfast.

Julia says, “I am very much looking forward to…the special Gala Dinner. I will be sharing about my faith, the Row for Freedom Challenge and also raising awareness of human trafficking.”

For more information regarding the gala dinner contact Crown Jesus Ministries.

Tel:(028) 90738338 or email: info@crownjesus.org