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Advocacy Works: Empowering to be a Voice for Change

Preparing to meet with staff from the office of Congressman Justin Amash
Preparing to meet with staff from the office of Congressman Justin Amash

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From April 21-24, Freshta was part of a group of people from three different Christian Reformed Churches who attended Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington DC. The first three days of the conference focused on learning about this year's theme of racism, militarism, and materialism. On Monday, participants of the conference met with their representatives and senators to advocate for Congress to make budget decisions that advance the common good and protect programs that help provide support to people living in poverty and other vulnerable populations. We asked Freshta the following questions about her experience at the conference:

 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your story?

I am from Afghanistan and currently living with Jan Schuitema. Living in Afghanistan, we faced many challenges. My family faced persecution because some members of my family believed in Christianity and because we were Hazara, the minority ethnicity, and because we allowed our women to step out of the house, gain an education, and work. The threats went as far as my siblings getting kidnapped and murder attempts. On top of this, it was difficult to gain an education because of the negative reactions we faced at school for our beliefs and Asian-looks. My school in Afghanistan had no choice but to shut down due to terrorist threats. I was hopeless for a while but God worked everything better than I could ever imagine; I got accepted to a boarding school in Texas and came to study abroad.

How did you hear about Ecumenical Advocacy Days and why did you decide to attend?

I heard about it through Christi Knetsch at Madison Youth Group. I was very inspired hearing about the actions taken by the conference. I felt this pull towards it and I just really felt God was calling me to go. I wasn’t sure how I would cover the cost, but when the cost did get covered (thanks to whom this applies to), I thought “It really is God. Maybe I can serve Him through this somehow.” Also, there are so many issues going around, and I wanted to take a stand and have the voice of those who couldn’t be present be heard.

What did you learn about doing justice and doing advocacy during Ecumencial Advocacy Days? What did you learn about God’s heart for justice during EAD?

I learned a lot; I was moved and very encourage throughout the whole conference. I learned that you shouldn’t ever fear that you can’t make a change just because you’re not a citizen, or of a race not well thought of, or young. It was great to be surrounded by people who were there to support you and were fighting for the same reasons as you. This taught me to never underestimate the power of God in me and the work He can do through me. This conference gave me the feeling that I can actually make a change and fight for the rights of humanity. Most important of all, it increased my trust and hope in God, knowing that He will be by your side when He calls you to be a warrior.

As part of Ecumenical Advocacy Days, you met with your senator and representative. Can you share some of what you talked to them about?

“I am here on behalf of the refugees and immigrants who have had no choice but to relocate. I am very concerned about this issue because of how much it will affect my own life. My parents sent me here from Afghanistan because the Talibans shut down my school. This has been very difficult because it created separation between my family members and me, but it was the only choice to escape being raped, kidnapped, and the murder attempts such as those that have happened to my siblings. No one wants to have to escape from house to house in the middle of the night and feel so much fear in their own homeland just for practicing simple human rights such as being a Christian,  being born as a Hazara, which is the minority ethnicity in Afghanistan, and simply because I am woman and they believe I don’t deserve to hold the same rights as a man.

Terrorism is increasing, and more people are in need of refuge. Because Representative Amash’s parents share a similar background, I hope that it will be taken into consideration how many lives, like mine, will be impacted. I have always appreciated the support U.S. has provided for all the immigrants and refugees within America and abroad, but I hope that you can see that now is not the time to decrease the amount of support when the number of at-risk-lives are increasing dramatically. Will Representative Amash commit to supporting a budget that will fund programs that will provide shelter and the necessary resources to those in severe conditions?”

As you reflect on the weekend, what do you think God was doing in you during EAD?

I felt He was building a leader in me. I felt so… powerful and determined to advocate His commands and the rights that have been violated since Trump has been placed as president. This showed that I am capable of making change and being a change. In the future, I hope to be one of the speakers on that same stage, advocating and fighting for what is right.

How can you get a meeting with your representative or write an effective letter? Check out Biblical Advocacy 101 on the Office of Social Justice's Action Center. Canadian and American versions are available. 

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