Truth be told, I didn’t have much of a concept of this word “Advocacy.” I was attending the event because I had to do something to earn my scholarship and it was the only one that worked within my schedule. As I looked over the schedule I saw a lot of interaction with different field personnel, some focused times on things like immigration and payday lending that I knew CBF was doing a lot of work with, but nothing too crazy.
And then I saw the schedule for Tuesday afternoon: meetings with Congress members.
All of a sudden the causal three days of meeting people and learning about good work other people were doing that I had been expecting disappeared. As I drove the 10 hours from Shelby to D.C. over Sunday night and Monday morning I became more and more anxious, thinking ‘what in the world am I supposed to say to these people.’
I grew up with a healthy respect for the separation of church and state. The thought of a religiously affiliated group going and lobbying Congresswomen and men seemed wrong, almost dirty to me.
I was all for hearing about what local congregations, field personnel, and CBF were doing in regards to the issues of immigration, hunger and payday lending, and I was hoping for some take aways I could bring back to my own community. But to actually meet with Senators and Representatives? That was pushing way outside of my comfort zone.
With all of these conflicting thoughts and emotions running through me I sat down for the first session.
Someone opened a Bible to the first chapter of Nehemiah, where Nehemiah’s brother tells him about all of the horrors facing the Jews who returned to Jerusalem because the city didn’t have walls. The chapter ends with Nehemiah praying and then having a realization, “and I was the King’s cupbearer.”
The fact that the city didn’t have walls wasn’t something Nehemiah was going to be able to deal with individually. He could send money and food and any number of things to his family and friends in Jerusalem but until there was a structure to protect them, it wouldn’t do any good. Only the king could allow the people to build new walls around the city, and Nehemiah was perfectly placed in a position to act on his people’s behalf.
We do advocacy, we were told, because some problems require more than just individual response, and we find ourselves in a position where we can act on behalf of those who can’t act for themselves.
I wish I could say that I stormed into those congressional offices and took the aides I met with by storm, but I can’t, because I didn’t. I did what I could, but I doubt anyone’s mind was changed by anything I said or did.
What I can say is that I left Washington, D.C. with my mind changed—not about any individual issues—but about advocacy in general.
The words of Nehemiah have captured me since those three days in March, “I was the King’s cupbearer.” Big problems sometimes require big solutions, and I am proud to be a part of a body of believers who are willing to see the opportunities God has placed before them and take risks to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom to the prisoners, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed and to declare the Lord’s favor.
I pray that as I see those opportunities I am willing to do the same.
Andrew is a 3rd year student at the Gardner-Webb School of Divinity and serves as Minister to Youth at Zion Baptist Church in Shelby, NC. A native of Laurens, S.C., Andrew currently resides in Boiling Springs, NC with his wife Meghan and their dog Bear.