At World Relief, we believe the government has a role in promoting peace and justice while also addressing systemic and structural issues that perpetuate extreme poverty and injustice. Our commitment to advocate on behalf of the poor and oppressed is based on biblical truths and on the example of Jesus. We believe such advocacy is an important witness to a watching world about the character of Jesus. Recently, I sat down with Jenny Yang, World Relief’s Vice President of Advocacy and Policy*, and asked her all about advocacy, why we do it and why it’s important.
What is Advocacy?
Advocacy is speaking up with those who are vulnerable to address the underlying causes of injustice and oppression by influencing the policies and practices of people in power. We should love our neighbors on an interpersonal level. But when systemic injustice is at the root of a problem, loving our neighbor means advocacy as well. Advocacy consists of organized efforts and actions seeking to highlight critical issues, influence public attitudes and enact or implement laws and policies. It starts with the reality of “what is” so that a vision of “what should be” can be realized. The ultimate aim of advocacy is to demonstrate the good news of the coming of the Kingdom of God.
What is the Scriptural basis for pursuing advocacy?
Throughout Scripture, we see God move for justice. Time and again, through ordinary people, God brings His vision of justice to a broken world. Moses helped free the Israelites from slavery, speaking boldly before Pharaoh. Esther asked for mercy on behalf of the Jewish people before King Xerxes. Nehemiah went before King Artaxerxes to ensure his people were protected in Jerusalem. Deuteronomy 10:18 says, “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.” Malachi 3:5 says, “I will be quick to testify against… those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice.” If these are the actions God took on behalf of vulnerable people, then these are the actions we must also do to reflect God’s character in the world.
When did World Relief start doing advocacy work?
World Relief has been engaged in advocacy work for many decades. Evelyn and Grady Magnham, the founders of World Relief’s U.S. refugee resettlement program, began conversations with the State Department in the late 1970s to help refugees from Vietnam resettle to the U.S. These conversations led to a partnership between World Relief and the Department of State to resettle refugees with the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980. World Relief has received several distinctions for our advocacy work, as Matthew Soerens was recognized by President Obama as a Champion of Change for Immigration Reform and met with him in the Oval Office to discuss our immigration advocacy work in 2013.
How is World Relief involved in advocacy?
We’re involved in two ways — directly with the U.S. government and through mobilization and education to broader communities. We meet with Members of Congress and their staff to help write policy briefs, organize letters and campaigns and build and work in coalitions to address key issues such as international humanitarian assistance funding, gender-based violence prevention, and promotion of refugee and immigrant rights in the U.S. As we connect with communities and educate people on policy issues, we empower more people to advocate themselves. Through sign-on letters, calling their Members of Congress directly and even working with pastors, we help people raise their voices on important issues.
Can you share a story from your work in Advocacy and how you’ve seen God move to help those we serve?
In January 2017, an executive order suspended most all immigration to the U.S., including green card holders and refugees. In a collective effort to call out inhumane targeting of people groups, World Relief collaborated with prominent church leaders to publish a full-page ad in the Washington Post, speaking out in support of refugees and immigrants. After the national outcry, the executive order was rescinded, although there were subsequent iterations of the executive order targeting smaller groups of immigrants. But this was a key moment where the church spoke, and our voice was heard.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.
Dana North is a marketing leader and brand strategist in Chicago. She worked in various roles on World Relief’s Marketing Team from 2017-2021, including Marketing Director. With a background in graphic design and advertising and experiences in community development and transformation, Dana seeks to use the power of words and action to help create a better world. Dana is especially passionate about seeking justice for women and girls around the world.
*As of March 2023, Jenny Yang works as the External Relations Office for UNHCR, and Matthew Soerens is the Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at World Relief.