Each February, MCC’s Ottawa Office hosts a seminar for university students from across Canada. This year’s theme was “Citizen. Disciple. Advocate. Christian faith and political responsibility.” The seminar included discussions with Members of Parliament and representatives of non-government organizations, a tour of the Parliament buildings, and a public witness walk, among other things. The reflection below is written by Kyle Tydeman, a student at Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford, BC, who attended the seminar.
It is difficult to describe my experience of the Ottawa Student Seminar. The best word to begin with would probably be the word challenging. Being among a Christian sub-culture of many like-minded people, I expected my previously held beliefs and practices to be affirmed and reinforced. Instead, they were incredibly challenged.
Going into the seminar, my peers and I had maintained glib political perspectives. We saw government and political figures as nothing more than a bunch of bantering individuals, greedily seeking taxpayers’ money. Attending the seminar and encountering people involved in the political process — people who held high hopes for change — forced me to recognize the faces of those relentlessly fighting for the benefit of the oppressed, minority, or forgotten groups. This experience radically shifted any negative preconceptions of mine and replaced them with a hopeful outlook on the world we live in.
Although I cannot say I have determined a response to all—or even some—of the world’s problems, I can confidently say I feel empowered to change because of the resources I received during the conference.Thus, the second word is encouraged. Aside from the cliche associations with such a word, the optimism demonstrated by Members of Parliament and representatives of various non-government organizations engaged in advocacy has greatly influenced my perspective on political involvement.
Throughout our discussion times, we heard that political advocacy can be described as “relentless incrementalism”— a statement supported by individuals who are committed and determined. For me, seeing political figures and advocates passionately affirm the need to lobby our leadership to produce change in our world was very encouraging.
In addition, several practical principles, relating to the full scope of citizenship, discipleship and advocacy, became clear to me. The first and foremost point is to get involved locally—without this step, little change is possible. Secondly, when considering what kind of organizations or issues to be a part of, it is important to focus on one specific problem and stick with it, rather than taking on the bulk of the world’s issues. Third, It is important to remember that failure will happen, and that it can be a motivator as well as a form of evaluation.
Finally, through my experience at the Ottawa Student Seminar I met and developed relationships with other people who share my faith, goals and interest in social justice issues. It has been said that it is not what you know, but who you know—and in this context, networking is critical.
With these new relationships, knowledge and motivation, I can say that my desire for the well being of people has received new inspiration. A door is opening and a new way is emerging for me to help my community progress and develop. It is called advocacy.