Written by Hayley Struzik, Grassroots Organizer for the Advocacy team
Estimated read time: Seven minutes
When I was first exposed to the world of advocacy, I was living in Washington, D.C. — the hub of politics and power. I was convinced speaking with congressional offices and persuading them to support legislation was reserved for the “lobbyists”: the outspoken, the smooth talkers, the experts. As an introvert, I quickly decided that advocacy was not for me. I’d like to stay behind the scenes, thank you very much.
But, as usual, God had other plans.
After a few years working with World Vision, He introduced me to a community of volunteers who were living out their faith by using their voices, whether they were in high school, retired, a new mom, or a grandparent. I soon learned there is no one kind of advocate — in fact, God has called all of us into this work, whether it’s Proverbs 31 instructing us to “speak up and defend the rights of the poor,” or Zechariah exhorting us to “administer true justice.” God has placed each of us on this earth to proclaim His love for those often on the outskirts, who are treasured by their Creator.
But the question is — how? If advocacy can and should be for every follower of Christ, what are the ways we go about doing it? Through my experience mentoring advocates, I believe the following six characteristics can help form us into effective, faith-rooted advocates.
1. We find our foundation in Christ and community
When we purposefully open our eyes to events happening in the world, we are certain to come face-to-face with suffering and devastation. We will tangibly see the forces of evil play out, and we know the only way to find hope is in the redemptive power of Christ. Our hearts will be broken by what we witness, but we will also hear Jesus say: “I need you to do this kingdom work with me. You!”
But real, lasting change won’t happen if we act alone — nor does God expect us to do so. He has given us the gift of community, a place to find solidarity where we can uncover the lies that perpetuate structures and systems of injustice, and then choose to tell the truth in love. When we are committed to advocacy, we will intentionally cross political lines and societal divides to pray as one body, submitting our lives to God and imploring Him to use us. I think this quote from Rev. Salvatierra sums it up well: “The love of God and the hope of the beloved community wake us up to work on behalf of the marginalized and oppressed.”
2. We are courageously prophetic while brimming with humility
Once we are centered in Christ and joining hands in communion, I believe a fire will be lit in our hearts to become prophetic witnesses. The blessing of living in a democracy is that we can access the people in power, and:
- Lovingly reveal to them the breadth of their influence beyond our borders, and the far-reaching impacts of their decisions;
- Humbly display God’s divine plan for our government and humanity, and
- Compassionately show them how they can respond
It can sound scary (and risky) at first, and much more difficult than reading off some prepared talking points. However, if we remember that the Holy Spirit goes before us and is already at work in the hearts and minds of our Members of Congress, we can boldly cast a vision that ensures all children experience abundant life.
3. We know how to exercise both serpent and dove power
If we desire to turn our prophetic vision into reality, Jesus calls us to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Serpent power may be what one’s more familiar with when thinking about advocacy – it means using strategic influence like wealth, social status, and force in numbers (advantage of community!). Oftentimes offices want to clearly see the data to know if programs are impactful and use resources well, who else in their constituency cares about the issue, and if any of their colleagues are supportive. This is no doubt important, but as people of faith, we can also bring the unique approach of dove power, which calls us to remember that our Members are fellow image-bearers of Christ. Once we realize that God’s love abides in each of us, we can ask, “how can we awaken this love and show how a world of equality and opportunity is not just beneficial, but right?”
Dove power means we show vulnerability and share, whether it’s through our own stories or the stories of children, all to expand a worldview that can easily be confined to the halls of Congress. Through this power of viewing our leaders as God does – cherished and capable of great good – we can open the doors wider for the Spirit to stir up compassion, hope, and a sense of righteousness within them.
4. We are always partners with the poor
Though we live in a society that favors the powerful, we know that God’s upside-down kingdom requires us to seek out the experiences and perspectives of the poor. This means bringing those living in the margins into focus, letting them know they are not invisible to us or the Lord, and that we deeply value how they view the world. This may be uncomfortable, as we’re forced to slow down, recognize our often-privileged positions, and shift the balance of power by hearing some hard truths.
Once we start to listen, however, we may realize we are gaining as much from the poor, or more, than we ever set out to give. These voices that have all been gifted uniquely by God are like precious gems we carry to our Members. Our goal is to never overpower, but to instead link arms and march forward, lifting each other up along the way. Ultimately, the only way to transform children and their communities is to listen to their dreams, desires, and barriers to achieving them. If we fail to begin here, we may never see any lasting fruit of our common labor.
5. We maintain patience in the pursuit.
One thing an advocate quickly learns is that long-term faithfulness is required to see this fruit – or knowing we might never personally see it in our lifetime. We have become accustomed to instant gratification, so it’s easy to make everything into a task to complete, like getting a Member to sign a letter, or vote “yes” for a bill. Though this is still valuable, it can never be the final goal – we are in a shared struggle to change entire systems.
Advocacy is also not just about children thriving, but pushing lawmakers to realize their own God-given potential, no matter how long it takes. This requires loving pursuit and fostering an ongoing relationship with an office, in such a way that restoring the brokenness caused by sin becomes both a means and an end. Our shared mission is holy and God-ordained, and we are imbued with His strength. As Hebrews 12:1 says, we are “surrounded by a cloud of witnesses,” and therefore we must “lay aside every hindrance” and “run the race God has set before us.” It may sometimes feel like quite the marathon, but a glorious and joyful ending awaits us.
6. Finally, we recognize spiritual gifts and grow our ministry.
Once we truly know the meaning and worth of advocacy, we choose to invite others into acts of faith and embolden one another. 1 Corinthians 12 reminds us that for a body to function, it needs each individual part; similarly, each individual carries gifts that can strengthen and unify our community. Is there someone you know who is great with keeping facts and figures straight? Is there another person who is persuasive and experienced with mobilizing groups? Does someone else have a powerful storytelling ability? Who do you know that’s a consistent prayer warrior?
Once we recognize these abilities in others, we may begin to better recognize our own – and those residing within our Members! Three things I know about God: He will never leave us empty-handed; He equips the called, and He can do more than we could ever imagine. If we combine these six things (finding foundation in Christ and community, speaking prophetically with humility, using serpent and dove power, partnering with the poor, patiently pursuing, and recognizing our gifts), we will build a movement of brothers and sisters in Christ seeking to change the world, well on our way into a mission of the miraculous.
Top photo: World Vision supporters gather together in prayer during an advocacy conference in D.C. (©2017 World Vision/Garrett Hubbard)