Advocacy Is About Relationships
Two men chatting at Bread for the World’s 2011 National Gathering. (Alisa Booze Troetschel)
By Mary Getz
When I was in college, I had the opportunity to spend a month in Honduras on a service-learning trip. We worked on a variety of projects and spent time talking to those alongside whom we worked. We learned about culture, agriculture, and the economy.
One afternoon after our group had finished putting in a concrete floor to a community building and we were feeling pretty proud of ourselves, we heard chuckling from some of the men with whom we had been working. We could tell that we were the source of their amusement. When we asked to be let in on the joke, the answer turned our perspective on the day upside down.
The men explained that while we did a fine job on the floor, they were capable of doing it more quickly without us. They said that the important work that day was the friendship we built and the details we learned about each other’s lives.
The men told us, “You have something that we don’t have. You have a voice. You can go back to the United States and tell our story.
"Tell about what it means to be a small farmer here. Tell about what you’ve learned about how trade in your country affects people in our country. Tell our story.”
Our friends’ call to us that day mirrored Proverbs call to action:
Speak out for those who cannot speak,
for the rights of all the destitute.
Speak out, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:8-9)
We are called to advocacy—to work for justice—to speak out for those that cannot.
Advocacy is about building relationships to achieve goals. We tend to focus upward towards our elected officials when we think of advocacy. But that focus can obscure the important relationships that are at the heart of our advocacy—people who are hungry or living in poverty. Our most authentic advocacy is done when we are in relationship with those that we are assisting.
In Matthew we read,
for I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you gave me clothing,
I was sick and you took care of me,
I was in prison and you visited me. (Matthew 25: 35-36)
By meeting Christ in those around us, especially those who are in any kind of need—and by being in relationships with them—we can learn their stories and share those stories with people in power.
We can speak up for those who cannot.
Mary Getz is the grassroots and online communications officer for the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations. She manages the Episcopal Public Policy Network, a grassroots network of Episcopalians committed to the active ministry of public policy advocacy.
[This piece originally appeared in the April edition of Bread for the World's e-newsletter.]
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