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Empowering Change: How Biblical Advocacy Shapes Our Response to Global Crises

World Relief boldy engages the world’s greatest crises in partnership with the church mostly on the ground level. For eighty years, our staff and our vast, global network of church-based volunteers have come alongside those facing global humanitarian crises of disease, hunger, poverty and displacement, directly meeting physical and spiritual needs.

But sometimes our on-the-ground response exposes underlying structural considerations and problems. For instance, churches can serve as trusted resources for information on how to prevent disease but it takes a coordinated governmental effort to provide life-saving medications on a large scale. Or, World Relief staff and volunteers can welcome and help newly arrived refugees but they cannot make the decision of how many, if any, refugees are allowed into the United States. 

When we encounter these systemic barriers that harm those we are called to serve, we engage the world’s greatest crises through biblical advocacy, leveraging our voice and our influence to encourage and persuade those in positions of governmental authority to pursue just and compassionate policies.


Jesus taught us that part of the greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. He provided the example of a “Good Samaritan” who sacrificially met the physical needs of a vulnerable traveler who has been the victim of injustice (Luke 10:21-37). Loving our neighbor means stepping out of our comfort zone. Loving our neighbor also means asking hard questions about why unjust conditions persist and stewarding the influence that God has entrusted to each of us to change them.

We have compelling biblical models for such advocacy before governmental authorities. Moses reluctantly followed God’s call back to Egypt to confront Pharaoh, insisting that he let God’s people go. Esther first fasted, then courageously went before King Xerxes to plead for her people, ultimately being used by God to save her people in the face of genocide. Nathan boldly and creatively confronted King David with his complicity in injustice. And John the Baptist challenged King Herod – and paid for his advocacy with his life.

God does not promise that every advocacy effort will be successful or without cost – but he does promise to be with us and guide us as we go “before governors and kings” as witnesses to Jesus and the values of his Kingdom (Matthew 10:18-19). And he tells us that he himself will be our advocate (John 14:26, 1 John 2:1).


Biblical advocacy has been one way that World Relief has partnered with the church to engage the world’s greatest crises throughout our 80-year history. In the 1960s, our leaders urged the Soviet government to grant safe passage to Soviet Christians seeking refuge in the U.S. During the early 1970s, we advocated for humanitarian aid into West Africa to prevent a genocide. In 1979, Grady Mangham, who with his wife, Evelyn, founded World Relief’s U.S. ministries, joined Mother Teresa and other religious leaders to urge President Carter and the U.S. Congress to expand refugee resettlement – which they did, in dramatic fashion, with the signing of the Refugee Act.

Throughout the 1980s, World Relief advocated for Central Americans fleeing civil war to be allowed to seek safety in the U.S. And World Relief’s executive director at the time, Jerry Ballard, traveled to Cuba to lobby Fidel Castro to release political prisoners.

In the 1990s, World Relief president Art Gay joined other evangelical leaders in signing “An Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation” recognizing the impact of environmental degradation. A few years later, the new World Relief president Clive Calver began raising the alarm of the HIV/AIDS crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. Within a few years, President George W. Bush would sign the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief after advocacy from World Relief and other Christian organizations.

Our efforts have continued in the past few decades, as World Relief has advocated for immigration reforms, noted by President Barack Obama in his 2010 National Prayer Breakfast address. In 2012, we helped convene the Evangelical Immigration Table, coalescing broad evangelical support around the need for immigration reforms.

World Relief’s efforts have never been partisan: we never endorse or support particular candidates, but we do want to be stewards of our influence to implore Republicans and Democrats alike to pursue public policies that serve the common good, that protect the lives and dignity of those fleeing persecution and that ensure the ability of churches and Christian ministries to live out their faith.


And while we believe that speaking before governments is an essential way that we love our neighbors and engage the world’s greatest global humanitarian crises, we also advocate through prayer. Scripture tells us to pray “for kings and all those in authority” (1 Timothy 2:2), and we take that charge seriously. 

As we enter into a contentious campaign season in the United States, we invite you to join us both in advocating with governmental leaders and in praying for God to grant wisdom to all those in government leadership.

Matthew Soerens Matt began his World Relief journey in 2005 as an intern in Nicaragua. Since then he served as a Department of Justice-accredited legal counselor in Chicagoland before assuming the role of U.S. Director of Church Mobilization and Advocacy. Matt is the co-author of three books including  Welcoming the Stranger (InterVarsity Press, 2018) and Inalienable (InterVarsity Press, 2022). Matt also serves as the National Coordinator for the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition that advocates for immigration reforms consistent with biblical values. He is a graduate of Wheaton College, where he has also served as a guest faculty member in the Humanitarian & Disaster Leadership program, and earned a master’s degree from DePaul University’s School of Public Service. He lives in Aurora, Illinois with his wife Diana and their four children.

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