Advocacy as a Spiritual Practice
When I was a student at Seaver, the student body was almost 60 percent female. I grew accustomed to having 2-3 female classmates for every male classmate. I even had several "female-only" classes. I often took it for granted that I had female professors, friends, role models, spiritual leaders, and mentors.
After graduation, I began working for an international nonprofit called World Vision and my perspective flipped. In my current role as an advocate for gender equality, I advocate on behalf of women and girls around the world, who do not experience the same degree of privilege as the women of Seaver College. Poverty, conflict, and gender discrimination prevent nearly 130 million girls from attending school. Social and cultural norms often pressure young girls, sometimes as early as 12 years old, into marriage, pregnancy, and motherhood.
Last October, I traveled to Uganda to meet some female secondary students World Vision works with in Uganda, where only one in four girls makes it past grade 10. On this trip, I met Rebecca. Despite being one of the brightest students in her class, Rebecca's secondary education was interrupted at age 16 when her parents, low-income farmers, could no longer pay her school fees.
At that point, the odds were stacked against her. Rebecca spent several months helping her family with housework and supporting her parent's income, unable to chase her academic and professional dreams. Just when she had begun to give up hope, she was visited by a group of teachers and peers from her school. As part of the USAID-funded School Accountability for Girls Education (SAGE) project, they offered her an opportunity to finish her education.
Rebecca is now completing her final exams and preparing to attend university, where she will study to become an accountant. She explained to me that, as an accountant, she could afford to build her family their first house and make sure her sisters are able to finish school. The SAGE project is empowering girls like Rebecca in over 150 schools in Uganda to discover their God-given gifts and achieve their dreams, just as I was empowered to pursue mine at Pepperdine.
All around the world, US foreign assistance supports life-changing programs like SAGE. Like many of my fellow Pepperdine alums, I am quick to hop on a plane and fly across the globe to live out our mission of "purpose, service, and leadership." My time with World Vision in Washington DC has shown me another way of changing the world: by staying put and stewarding my voice with the right people at the right time.
Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, author of Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World, said it this way: "We need to love as intelligently and effectively as we can. If you can feed one hungry person, you're loving them well. But when millions are hungry, we can love them effectively by advocating for development."
No matter what issue pulls at your heartstrings—whether its girls' education, maternal health, food security, clean water, refugee response, or something else—your elected leaders need to hear about it. They not only control the budget ("power of the purse"), but they control the policies that guide and support the things you care about.
Today's political climate has left many Americans discouraged and exhausted. It feels as if the United States has never been less united. It's hard to step into that mess, but God is calling us deeper. With 88 percent of Congress claiming faith in Christ, I recognize that my voice as a Christian can have a unique and sizeable influence with policymakers.
Eugene Cho, founder and former Pastor of Quest Church in Seattle explains, "Politics informs policies, which will ultimately impact people. People really matter to God, and as a result, we have to engage in the political process."
The Bible calls Christians to speak on behalf of the people that God cares about. Proverbs 31:8-9 says, "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy." God also calls us to steward the gifts we are given (2 Peter 4:10). In the US, we have the "gift" of democracy, meaning that we are able to speak freely about things that matter to us, to vote, and to influence our government through advocacy. In secular advocacy (or lobbying), we ask government officials to pay attention to individual interests and act. In biblical advocacy, we encourage and remind officials what God has called them to do.
An advocate—one who pleads the cause of another—can be a powerful voice for change. There are examples of advocates, led and empowered by God, all throughout the Bible. To free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, Moses used his connection to the Egyptian royal family to speak on their behalf. In a similar fashion, Esther used her connection to the king to save the Jewish people from the plans of Haman. Nathan the prophet took an enormous risk to call on King David to repent, using a story analogous to the King's murder of Uriah and marriage to Bathsheba. Daniel spoke up when he and his friends were taken from their own people and delivered to King Nebuchadnezzar. Advocacy is about using the most effective method to support and encourage elected leaders to be who God called them to be.
Even better, I believe that the Holy Spirit promises to be with us in this. In John 14, Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the "Paraclete," meaning "Advocate." The Spirit counsels , first convicting us of our own sin and then allowing us to speak truth to power. Trusting in God's presence with us, we can approach politicians as our partners in ministry, seeking to connect with them, encourage them, pray for and with them, and urge them to make decisions on behalf of the people God cares about. Even while we make requests, we are ministering. This glorifies God.
I encourage you to take part in this ministry. Anyone can advocate, whether you're in California, DC, or Texas, 13 years old or 60 years old, conservative or liberal. Your voice matters and it delights God when you steward the gifts he's given to speak on behalf of the most vulnerable.
|Whitney Young Groves (Seaver College 2017) works as an Advocacy Associate for Child Protection and Gender on the Advocacy and Government Relations team at World Vision in Washington DC.|