Through Senate, alumna develops a passion for seeking justice and equity

Katie Meredith

Thinking back on her years at Bellevue Christian School, alumna Hanne Sandison (née Olsen, ‘06) can see how God used the student run Senate to open her eyes to injustice around the world. He placed a spark in her heart to act, responding to the gospel by seeking justice and advocating for the oppressed.

In her early years, Sandison lived in Chicago, Washington D.C. and even Puerto Rico, her birthplace. When she was in 6th grade, her family moved to Washington. After connecting with other BCS families at church, the Olsen family toured and enrolled their daughter in 9th grade. Their younger daughter, Kyrie, also went to high school at BCS and graduated in 2013.

At BCS, Sandison developed deep relationships with her teachers and thrived in small classes. She was in choir with Mr. Ulrich, played volleyball for all four of her years, and did a bit of cheerleading. Academically, Sandison enjoyed a variety of Advanced Placement courses. She is grateful for the skills she gained in AP U.S. History, which gave her a solid foundation for writing research papers in college, as well as the problem-solving skills she strengthened in math.

Out of all her academics and activities, the classes that stood out the most for Sandison were Biology and Senate with Mr. Bruinius. She remembers having class discussions on challenging topics like evolution, giving students the opportunity to engage in conversations on science and faith. Through her experiences at BCS, Sandison was given the tools to think critically about a variety of perspectives – including those that may have been different from her own.

As a student in Senate, Sandison was part of a unique group that genuinely focused on servant leadership and community building.

“I think that the fact that we worked together and became close friends was important for teaching leadership by cooperation, not just unilateral decision making. There were students I was with in Senate who never would have run if it were a popularity contest election,” Sandison recalled.

By learning to serve others, Senate opened Sandison’s eyes to issues of social justice and racial equity. She said, “Mr. Bruinius introduced me to the ways that justice and faith work together, and that was something that I really never had exposure to, prior to being in Senate. It wasn’t even something that churches or youth groups talked about that much.” Sandison oversaw coordinating chapels, with one year focusing primarily on social justice. She played a key role in bringing guest speakers such as Dr. John Perkins, an internationally known author, speaker, and teacher, as well as representatives from the International Justice Mission (IJM).

“That year was eye-opening for me because injustice was something that I found deeply troubling. I didn’t see much of a response in the church and I found that disconcerting. Mr. Bruinius showed me that there were people in the church working toward justice and how seeking justice is in line with the Bible and who Jesus calls us to be. That experience was really impactful for me and started me on the career trajectory I’m on today,” Sandison said.

After graduating from BCS, Sandison went to Bethel University in Minnesota planning to study nursing. As she progressed in her studies, her memories of IJM presenting at BCS stayed fresh in her mind, compelling her to start an IJM group at Bethel. After changing her major to International Relations and Spanish, she graduated college and interned with IJM for a year. The team she was a part of was based in Bangalore, India, working to fight bonded labor slavery in rice mills, rock quarries and brick kilns.

Through her calling to serve overseas, Sandison also felt God leading her into law school. She worked at a small law firm in New York for a couple years before earning her J.D. at Harvard Law, focusing specifically on immigration and human rights.

Today, Sandison is an attorney with the Advocates for Human Rights, located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Established in the 1980’s, the Advocates are committed to preserving, protecting and providing for human rights, both locally and internationally. Sandison does a lot of work with pro bono volunteers, mostly attorneys in the area who need support navigating the complexities of immigration laws.

She also represents clients who are currently in ICE detention and asylum seekers who have fled persecution or torture in their home countries, later finding themselves wrapped up in the criminal legal system in the United States. She supports refugees, many who have experienced significant trauma, often navigating mental illness and the criminal justice system alongside their immigration case.

Looking back, Sandison can see how God used BCS to show her how she could put her faith into action by seeking justice and mercy for the oppressed. Her experiences in student Senate made her aware of injustices happening around the world, while also affirming that God had a plan for restoring all His people.

“Something they used to say in IJM was, ‘You are God’s Plan A and He doesn’t have a Plan B.’ God calls all of us to seek justice and He equips and comes along side us as we do that.”

“All of us are worth more to God than the worst thing we’ve ever done. That’s the deep, compelling nature of the cross. One thing I committed to in law school was representing the people at the end – those that other people weren’t fighting for, who didn’t have the most compelling or sympathetic case. I think that they still deserve dignity and they are seen by God. We do whatever we can for them. We don’t always win, but at least there is someone walking through that with them, fighting for them, and seeing them,” Sandison said.

Hanne Sandison is married to Kyle Sandison and who is a pastor at Trinity Hill Church in Minnesota. The couple has one daughter who is almost two years old.

If you’d like to learn more about Sandison’s work and the Advocates for Human Rights, visit the organization’s website.