A group of Christian Reformed Church members piled into vans a few weeks ago and headed to Washington, D.C., for the annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) conference.
This year’s EAD theme was “A World Uprooted: Responding to Migrants, Refugees, and Displaced People,” which not only spoke to the current political climate but also had specific relevance to the CRC, which has a history of immigration advocacy.
Joining people from all over the country and diverse denominational backgrounds, the CRC group attended workshops and panel discussions exploring migration and the many factors that influence it today. They heard from speakers who have been fighting for a more just immigration system for years, including Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, dean of Esperanza College at Eastern University, who gave the opening keynote. Other highlights included hearing from a panel of Dreamers — young people affected by DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program instituted by President Obama to help shield from deportation those whose parents brought them into the United States when they were minors.
Along with joining in interdenominational worship, CRC participants attended workshops that explored migration in diverse ways.
New at EAD this year was the Spoken Word Cafe, where people were able to share poetry and music on topics of injustice and faith.
The educational part of the conference pointed to Monday (referred to as Lobby Day), when conference attendees would present what they had learned to their representatives in Congress to urge them to reform immigration laws.
This year’s legislative request, assembled by the EAD team, asked Congress to redirect some funds away from deportations and detention of undocumented immigrants and use the resources instead for foreign aid that addresses the root causes of migration.
In total, 24 CRC participants attended. They came from First CRC, Oakdale Park CRC, and Madison Square CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich. The intergenerational group included pastors, youth, youth leaders, and older members of these congregations, and for some it was their first time, while others were regular EAD participants. The conference trip was organized by the CRC’s Office of Social Justice, Office of Race Relations, Faith Formation Ministries, and World Renew.
Having the opportunity to speak truth to power and walk in faith gave participants much to reflect on as they came back to resume their daily lives.
“Ecumenical Advocacy Days provided a wonderful opportunity for us to learn about the problem of migration in our world and to gain experience in speaking to our representatives,” said Steve Mulder, coordinator for the CRC’s Climate Witness Project.
Randy Buursma, pastor of First CRC, said that EAD “combines a unique learning experience with an opportunity to share God's love of justice with our elected leaders.”
When asked why it is important for Christians to speak about biblical justice with the people who make our laws, Shelton Rodriguez, a high school student from Madison Square CRC, responded, “I think it is easy for people my age and for my generation to forget that we have a powerful impact, but the youth do bring a ferocity and a personal tie or personal connection to movements.”
It is important, said Rodriguez, “for Christians to take care of other immigrants and to take care of each other because God calls us not to be of the world but to be in the world. To be in the world means that we have to be stewards of the things that God has given us, and God has given us each other.”
After reflecting on the same question, Kyla Dukes, another high school student from Madison CRC, responded, “I think that as people of faith and as a community of faith, it is our duty to come together and be stewards of God, showing and advocating for those who might not have a voice and who need that voice, who need help, who are asking for help because they feel that people in power aren’t looking to them and helping them with whatever needs they have.”
Other reflections about EAD included appreciation for all the new information learned from experts and each other, and many participants noted they felt spurred to further action.
Many of the teen attendees from Madison Square CRC participated in a demonstration in Grand Rapids after their weekend of advocacy in D.C. The demonstration focused on urging people to act on the legislative limbo that DACA recipients are living in today.
Debra Buursma, associate professor of education at Calvin College, said that her congregation at First CRC plans to include EAD in the church newsletter and report back to the church immigration team about everything learned at the conference.
Danielle Chun, advocacy fellow for 2017-18 at the Office of Social Justice, added, “EAD challenged me to think more deeply about faith in action and showed me the beautiful power of the body of Christ united in love and purpose. Knowledge of the truth compels me to act; to me, following Christ encompasses doing advocacy.”