Advocate. It’s a word we hear every once in a while. No, it is not a smooth green fruit that gets turned into guacamole. And no, it’s not a liqueur made with eggs, sugar and brandy. (Yep, I’m talking about the Dutch liqueur known as Advocaat. Yuck.)
Jokes aside, advocacy is an activity we talk about, but rarely take part in. So what does advocacy really mean, and what does an advocate do?
An advocate is a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy.
Or, more simply: a person who pleads on someone else’s behalf.
To quote the wise words of Mike Hogeterp, Director of the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue: “Advocacy is a crucial part of our discipleship as believers.”
I agree with Mike.
Last week, I spent two and half days in Ottawa with 14 other young people from across Canada on a Justice Leadership Tour. The Tour was organized by World Renew and funded through the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB). The goal was to learn about advocacy, to meet with MPs from around the country, and to urge support for the Good Soil Campaign.
The Good Soil Campaign is a national advocacy initiative of CFGB, aimed at encouraging the Canadian Government to continue its long history of fighting global hunger by increasing its foreign aid funding to assist small-scale farmers in the Global South.
Monday was spent in a day-long workshop, with various speakers: Jared Klassen, a Public Policy Advisor for CFGB; Geoff Brouwer, an Advisor for International Affairs and Development with the Treasury Board of Canada; and Mike Hogeterp (mentioned above).
Tuesday was spent meeting with MPs from across Canada—we met with 11 of them, in all. These meetings were between MPs and groups of three to five people, and usually lasted around 15 minutes to half an hour. I was involved in meetings with Karina Gould, MP for Burlington and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development; with Dean Allison, MP for Niagara West—my home riding—and lastly, with Parvinder Singh, special assistant to the Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development.
Each meeting was concluded with a main “ask,” in which we asked for a number of desirable outcomes. Often this was in the form of a letter to the Minister of International Development, recognition of the Good Soil Campaign/CFGB through social media, or the sponsoring of a petition in the House of Commons.
What this tour did—for me—was bring politics and parliament down to earth. MPs are humans too. They want to talk with their voters and constituents. They want to hear about what you’re passionate about. They have a duty as politicians: to listen and to convey the voice of the people they represent, and to have relationships with them.
And this is where our duty lies as well: to advocate on behalf of both local and global communities. We should try to foster relationships with our members of parliament. It may be frustrating, and we may have to be persistent, but change and development happen slowly—often we do not see the growth of the seeds we sow until years have passed.
Churches are called to petition their MPs, to write letters to ministers, and to advocate. It’s not a common activity of the deacon, but it easily slides into the job description. In Isaiah 1:17, when we are told to “plead the case of the widow,” we are quite literally being told to advocate.
It took William Wilberforce over twenty years to finally see slavery abolished in England. Advocacy is effective and it can create positive change, but it often takes much longer than we expect.
And this is what advocacy really is: the art of timing. Successful advocacy requires the right people discussing the right topic at the right time. Throw in the movement of the Holy Spirit, and some wonderful things can happen.
Want to talk more about advocacy? Contact DMC’s Justice Mobilizer, Dan Galenkamp, at firstname.lastname@example.org.