Bethany Haley Williams, Ph.D.


Bethany Haley Williams is the Founder and CEO of Exile International - an organization providing holistic rehabilitation and art-focused trauma care to rescued child soldiers and children orphaned by war. With a PhD in counseling psychology, a license in clinical social work, and 20 years of experience working with emotionally wounded children, she is a leader in the field of war-affected child rehabilitation. Dr. Williams is also on the Trauma Healing Institute Advisory Council of the American Bible Society. She is an activist, committed to amplifying the voices and stories of war-affected youth. In her book, The Color of Grace, she discusses having walked through her own trauma journey and how that led her into war zones where she was taught the power of redemption and resiliency by former child soldiers and children orphaned by war. The book beautifully ends with the children in EI’s programs writing a letter to the world about the power of forgiveness. Dr. Williams’ passion rises from finding joy in the small and beauty from brokenness. She and her husband, Matthew, a master’s level trauma counselor, lead the work of Exile International together in Nashville, TN. 

She laughs loud, loves hard, and lives life as if she has only one.

A Word from Bethany

I’m often asked how my husband, Matthew, and I can hear the stories we hear or do the work we’ve been called to do in war zones and post-conflict areas. The truth is simple: We believe that light shines brighter than the darkness. And by choosing to live in hope, we refuse to believe that evil will win.

One of God’s greatest gifts is simply His presence. He is in us and with us—through our tears, through our violation, through our orphaned journey, through our loss. He is in the midst of it all. And the deepest beauty is found when our pain becomes purpose and we find meaning in our suffering. When our greatest heartache becomes our greatest ministry, grace comes full circle.

When I first returned from the Congo, I struggled deeply with the question, “Where is God in all of this pain?” But I soon realized that the answer lies in the mirror. The question isn’t, “Where is God?” He is beside these children when they are afraid in the bush. He is holding their hand when they are abducted and running from rebels. He is right there with them on the battlefield and in the midst of the bullets. The question is not, “Where are you, God?” The question we should all be asking is, “Where are we?” Where are we in this story, and what is our role in making the ending look different than the beginning?

When we begin living for something bigger than ourselves, we find ourselves. We find our purpose—our song. The trauma work we do with the children in Uganda and Congo through art and expressive therapy brings us to life as much as it does them. And much of our program was created out of what the Lord taught me through my own journey through trauma, depression and anxiety. God used the very thing I thought would kill me to bring life to others. That is our dream for the children—that they are not only survivors of war, but that God uses their deepest pains to bring others hope by becoming future peace leaders in their communities. And to help them know Jesus–-the Prince of Peace.

Our team has been honored to work with over 3,000 children from our beginning in 2008. When Exile International was founded, we thought it would be a small organization leading trauma care workshops to child survivors of war. God has opened more doors than we have the resources to walk through, and our team continues to learn that it is by walking step by step that He changes lives through EI—not by trying to fix the entire problem. It’s about touching one heart at a time.

We often stand back and wait to find our purpose in life, when it is waiting on us the entire time. We often wait for our passion to come to life in order to begin living, when He has already given it to us. Our passion is found in living out our purpose, and our purpose is found in living out the Gospel—in being the hands and feet of Jesus by loving His children, the ones He places in front of us. One at a time. That’s how you change the world.

My heart cry is for the children of central and eastern Africa and for anyone whom others have given up on. I needed someone to believe in me at one point in my life—and because God never gave up on me, I will never give up on these children. I am not special. I am not amazing. I am just a small woman who is doing what I needed someone else to do for me in my darkest hour—to believe in me. Although I fail daily, my wish is to be His heart here on earth. I hope to let the Lord use my passions to make a difference, to embed peace in war-torn countries, and to help these children know that God is beside them in their pain. What is your heart cry? What passions has God placed deep inside your soul? What gifts has He given you?

Go be love.

— His, Bethany