Advocate: Noun or Verb?

•18 November 2011 • 1 Comment

When learning a new language, we often become more aware of our own. When I was in Ethiopia, a friend asked me to help him learn English. Each time we met, he would have a list of words that he would want me to define and use in context to convey their meaning. He would also include phrases he had heard, like ‘going bananas.’ That’s when I struggled. How do you define and explain ‘going bananas’? I don’t use that phrase very often. Going crazy? Sure, but what does crazy mean? And then I realized, well, I could act it out. 🙂 With this particular phrase, I didn’t act it out, but instead did the best I could in defining it and simply said, “I don’t think that’s a phrase you’ll use very often so don’t stress too much over its meaning.”

Many words in the English language can mean two, or sometimes three, very different things. We often take it for granted that people usually understand which meaning we’re trying to convey. But sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, like with the phrase ‘going bananas,’ our audience doesn’t know what it means. Usually, the best way to define the word is by putting it in context. But most often, a better way of defining something is acting it out, or better yet, living it out.

Advocate is one such word. Websters dictionary defines advocate as, “to plead in favor of” (verb) and “one that pleads the cause of another” (noun). But how do we fully convey the meaning of the word advocate in both cases? We could use it in context or, to infuse the word with more holistic and nuanced meaning, we could live it out.

As Christians we are called to both advocate (verb) and be advocates (noun). Isaiah 1:17 says, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” This passage is a call to live out the full meaning of advocate. It is a call to be and to do. And, just like when teaching words to non-native English speakers, when we live out its meaning we generate understanding among others. With that understanding, hopefully, they will also begin to live it out.

There are many ways to live out the meaning of advocate. Simply speak up at your church for those with disabilities, highlighting ways to address them: sound systems for the hard-of-hearing; ramps and elevators for those in wheel chairs; braille for the blind; large print hymnals and bulletins for those struggling with poor eye sight (good resources can be found here). Assist neighbors with their tax returns. Speak out for refugees and immigrants struggling through a broken immigration system. Sign pledges and petitions on behalf of foreign aid. Send letters to government officials and representatives, asking them to protect the poor and vulnerable. By living out the meaning of advocate, we live out the call to love “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40). Through that love, others will understand the full meaning of advocate.


Political advocacy: Speaking up for the voiceless

•8 November 2011 • Leave a Comment

As the Policy Analyst and Advocacy Fellow with the CRC Office of Social Justice, part of my role is to meet with government officials to discuss policy issues that are important to the CRC. Just two weeks ago, along with two other representatives from the Office of Social Justice, I traveled to Washington DC to meet with the offices of Representative Justin Amash (MI-3) and Representative Bill Huizenga (MI-2).

It was a new and slightly intimidating experience for me, as these are people leading and shaping our nation through foreign and domestic policy. They are people with money and power. For someone who generally keeps a low profile, and who has lived overseas for long periods of time, it’s not every day I get to meet people like that.

But once we began talking and listening to them the intimidation vanished. No longer were they abstract figures who I read about online through various news outlets and in my policy research. Instead they were real people who had taken the time to respectfully listen and respond to what we had to say, whether they agreed or not.

As I reflect on those meetings, I am struck by the importance of political engagement. As elected officials, Representatives and Senators are asked to represent us at the national level. But, if they never hear from us, are never made aware of what we are thinking and dealing with in our communities and even our daily lives, how can they fully represent us? If all they hear are the voices of the lobbyists in Washington, DC, how else are they supposed to vote on laws and legislation in ways that represent their constituency? They need to hear our voices; they need to be encouraged to make the right decisions in standing up for justice. (Side note: To be clear, I am advocating for communication with elected officials that is respectful. As real people, our federal representatives demand our respect and deserve to be treated with dignity.)

Growing up, I was never very politically active and even a little ambivalent about political advocacy. But now, especially with my experience overseas and witnessing to the reach and global impact of US policy, I have come to a deeper understanding of its importance.

While I was in DC, I became distinctly aware of our numerous freedoms that we easily take for granted in a conversation with an Ethiopian friend: never would he be able to meet with his government officials like I can. And I was humbly reminded that as Christians we are called to be stewards of our freedom. One call to this stewardship can be found in Proverbs 31:8-9: “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.” It’s not just about us and our own personal representation on Capitol Hill, but also about the poor, the orphan and the widow.

Our federal representatives need to hear our voices speaking out for those who cannot speak. Today, as our country faces serious budget issues, our voices are more important then ever. Please take a moment to visit the CRC Office of Social Justice and add your voice to those speaking out on behalf of our brothers and sisters here in the US and around the world. Let’s be faithful in our response to the call to be good stewards of our freedom and let our Representatives and Senators hear our voices in support of those on the margins of society, those who do not have a voice.


•2 November 2011 • 2 Comments

It has been some time since I last posted here. But a lot has happened since then. While spending the summer speaking at supporting churches about my work in Ethiopia, I accepted a position with the Christian Reformed Church in North America Office of Social Justice as a Policy Analyst and Advocacy Fellow. Yes, it probably took me twice as long to write that as it took you to read it.

One of my goals with the new job is to learn more about justice and policy advocacy and applying a missional lens to that learning. After all, I have a heart for missions work overseas and I hope to utilize this opportunity to build a more holistic understanding of what that work looks like in terms of not only engaging those I meet overseas, but also supporters and churches here in the US. With that in mind, I plan to refocus my blog towards both my new position and pursuing justice here in the US through political advocacy. I hope to begin blogging again about what I am learning and experiencing; reflections on what justice, and the pursuit of shalom, can look like; and how advocacy here in the US has far-reaching effects in support of, or sometimes against, the work of missionaries overseas. It is my hope that everyone who reads this blog will be inspired to identify where and how they can participate in God’s mission by pursuing justice.

Holistic Development

•9 March 2011 • Leave a Comment

I gave a lecture today on holistic development, focusing on relief, rehabilitation and development. A few people have asked about the lecture notes, so I thought I would post them here for others as well. You can download the lecture notes here if you’d like to read them: Relief, Rehabilitation and Development Lecture, March 9, 2011. Comments and discussion are welcome.

Mission Interpretation

•5 March 2011 • Leave a Comment

I am officially returning to the U.S. on March 19th. I will be spending some time with family before traveling to Pittsburgh, which will act as my home-base during mission interpretation. I will take care of personal things, like dr appointments etc, while there before beginning speaking engagements with supporting churches and Presbyteries.

My speaking engagements will begin in Pittsburgh. I will be speaking at my home church, Shadyside Presbyterian Church, on April 10th (Shadyside also commissioned me before I left for Ethiopia). After Easter, interpretation will begin in earnest, starting with the Ethiopian Network Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia from April 27 to 30. Here are my preliminary plans, to be confirmed as churches respond and reserve dates:

May 1 to 3: Atlanta, Georgia
May 4 to 10: Wisconsin
May 11 to 16: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (May 14: friend’s wedding)
May 17 to 31: Iowa
June 1 to 12: Southern California
June 13 to 28: Western Pennsylvania
June 29 to July 3: Maryland
July 6 to 21: Virginia
July 22 to 30: New Wilmington Mission Conference, New Wilmington, Pennsylvania
July 30 to August 7: Ohio

If you happen to be in any one of those areas during those times, let me know and I can give you more details of where I will be exactly. Or you can follow the link on the right under ‘Google Calendar’. I will keep the calendar updated as churches confirm requests for speaking engagements. Also, although I give priority to churches that support me financially, if your church is interested in having me speak please let me know. Perhaps we can work something out.

Please pray for me during this time, that I will speak His words and that He will be glorified through it all. Sharing the right message can be a difficult task, but I am trusting in Him to bless me with the Holy Spirit in guiding my words. It is also a lot of traveling, so please pray for health and safety.

Newsletter, November 2010

•24 November 2010 • Leave a Comment

Here is my November newsletter. Feel free to download it!

Encountering Christ

•21 November 2010 • Leave a Comment

It should be expected that wherever we go, there are always opportunities to encounter Christ. The challenge is to keep our eyes open to those opportunities. On my recent trip to Thailand and Laos, I encountered Christ in some very special ways.

I am only somewhat familiar with Lao culture, but I am told that it is normal for an invitation to only be genuine after it is extended the third time. While in Laos, I experienced this first hand while visiting a friend’s “Lao family.” We had timed our visit so that we would not be imposing and so that our host would not feel obligated to serve us a meal. Yet our host graciously insisted that we stay for dinner. We politely declined the customary two times, but couldn’t say no after being asked the third time.

I’m grateful that we stayed. As we enjoyed the meal together, I felt more and more like a part of a family. I was touched by our host’s generosity in providing dinner and asking us to simply sit with her and talk. I find such experiences to be a huge blessing and view such opportunities as moments to encounter Christ because they remind me of the many opportunities Christ took to sit with others to share a meal (the tax collector, his disciples, feeding the 5000, etc). They also remind me about what it means to invite Christ into our hearts to commune with him. I wonder some times whether I invite Christ into my own life often enough, saying, “Come, sit with me.” The opportunity to sit and eat with my friend’s “Lao family” reminded me to be humble in opening in my home to others and opening my heart to Christ.

I also encountered Christ through the hospitality that was extended to me by the American family that invited me to stay with them during my time in Laos. Talking together, playing games together and reading stories to their three beautiful young girls provided moments of joy, laughter and love. Each moment was filled with opportunities to see Christ in the lives of this family through their various expressions of love for each other and welcoming me, a stranger, into their home.

My Lao language classes were another opportunity to encounter Christ. Learning a language is always hard for me because of my hearing, but it was not an issue for my Lao teacher. Her smiles and encouragement as I stumbled along demonstrated the love of Christ by acknowledging my efforts and kindly correcting my mistakes. I used the basic Lao phrases I had learned to interact with Lao people and felt an immediate connection with them. While limited, it was significant. My Lao language classes and the subsequent opportunities to use Lao were filled with joy and the knowledge that Christ is with us as we work to cross language and cultural barriers. I was reminded throughout this experience that just as we cross language and cultural barriers in order to be in relationship with others, Christ crossed the ultimate barrier, death, so that we could be redeemed and brought into a deeper relationship with God.

In addition, a visit to a rural village provided yet another Christ encounter. My friends and I visited a CAMACraft village, where women are provided with the means to generate income through intricate needlework (you can see some finished products at the following website: The final products are fair trade, with the women receiving 100% of the income for their work. Watching the relationships between the women of the village and the women of CAMA, I was blessed to witness how God’s love can be shown to those in need as the women gained valuable skills while supporting their families with income. The visit was, for me, an opportunity to witness Christ’s love to those who suffer from poverty.

I also encountered Christ in meeting the many workers who are in Laos ministering to the people there simply by being with them and loving them. I truly treasure the opportunity to witness Christ at work through the lives of these workers and hearing their stories of how Lao people are responding to Jesus’ call to follow after Him.

This trip encouraged me to continue to keep my eyes open to the opportunities to encounter Christ here in Ethiopia. I hope it encourages you also, wherever you are, to keep your eyes open to seeing Christ around you.