Steve Reynolds, director of advocacy mobilization at World Vision, shares his heart for advocacy and its potential to create lasting change. Note: Photos taken before CDC guideline to wear masks in public.
In my work with advocacy here at World Vision, I sometimes get the question: “Why is World Vision involved with advocacy?” It’s a fair question. Why would an organization that was founded by an evangelist in the 1950s care about working with and influencing governments, including the U.S. government? Shouldn’t World Vision and other Christian organizations just stay out of politics? Here are a few reasons why we think speaking out for children and communities around the world is always a good idea.
Advocacy is at the heart of the gospel
Many of us are familiar with Proverbs 31:8-9: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (NIV). Simply put, as a follower of God, one of our jobs is to speak out on behalf of those who are in need, and whose voices cannot be heard by those in power. It’s clear. It’s simple. It’s not optional.
But for the Christian, advocacy is more than a command. It is deeper than a rule to be obeyed. Advocacy is at the very heart of the gospel.
I love what Pastor Quovadis Marshall said in writing for Prison Fellowship:
“The holistic nature of the gospel is that Jesus is an advocate. Advocacy is at the heart of the Trinity. What I love about the gospel narrative is we get to see the life, mission, and ministry of Jesus. We get to hear His teaching, lean into His heartbeat, understand the ways that He interacts with people, how He loves and restores them—which is at the heart of justice. It’s restorative. Jesus says, ‘I’m going to send you a helper, the Holy Spirit.’ (John 14:26 KJV) The word ‘helper’ there is the Greek word paraclete. In some translations, it’s translated as ‘advocate.’”
Jesus advocates on our behalf to the Father, having purchased our salvation on the cross. The Holy Spirit advocates for us here on earth, helping us to “love God and love our neighbor” which is the essence of the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:37-40). Advocacy is at the heart of the gospel, and it sets our faith in motion.
Advocacy is the great “multiplier”
World Vision depends on our caring and generous donors to do the bulk of our life-saving and transformative work around the world. Our faithful sponsors give every month so that one specific child (and their family and community) can enjoy life in all its fullness. That miracle-bond between sponsor and child — a bond that transforms the lives of not only the child and their family, but the sponsor themselves — has been going on for almost 70 years. Other donors pledge monthly or periodic one-time gifts to help a specific need or project, while churches, corporations, and some donors with greater resources provide huge gifts to fund major sectoral projects such as water systems, irrigation systems, and large-scale health programs.
But no single private donor can match the resources of the U.S. government in the ability to make sweeping change in countries that are struggling to achieve development goals. It would take many years for an organization like World Vision to raise the amount of money that Congress appropriates in a single year for development and humanitarian assistance. I often say that the U.S. Congress can do more with the stroke of a pen than World Vision can do in 20 years of fundraising.
And here’s the exciting part. When we advocate with World Vision, we promote funding for development and relief work that expands and deepens the work that World Vision is already doing based on our years of experience. In most cases USAID funding is “matched” by World Vision’s privately funded programs. We are already there doing the work that needs to be done. These government grants simply extend the work to larger and larger sections of the country and allow us to add additional services that we may not be able to provide within our own means.
So, in a very real sense, U.S. Government foreign assistance funding “multiplies” World Vision’s privately funded work. It’s the bargain of the century!
Advocacy makes World Vision’s work more efficient and creates sustainable change in the field.
One of the programs I get the most excited about at World Vision is “Citizen Voice and Action” or CVA for short. CVA is a program that trains local communities to engage with their local governments and advocate for improved local services. Sounds boring, right? This program doesn’t include thousands of people building a dam or large food distributions. It basically consists of a series of meetings between local communities (including children) and their leaders. The idea is to create trust between citizens and the government officials they elect to represent them and to use that trust to advocate for improved services — services that the government is supposed to provide but in many cases does not. CVA works slowly and patiently to bring increasing pressure on local governments to provide basic services such as education and health to resource stretched communities in our field countries.
It may sound boring, but the results are astounding! External evaluations of programs like CVA have proven how effective it can be. One randomized control trial in Uganda documented a 33% drop in child mortality; another showed a 9% rise in primary school test scores. All because of a “boring” series of meetings? Well, yes, in a way. Meetings lead to dialogue. Dialogue leads to understanding. Understanding leads to action, and action leads to results.
It’s a simple concept, but it works amazingly well. We use the same basic model in our U.S. advocacy.
Advocacy can be easy and fun
Here at World Vision, we have a saying. Advocacy is “so easy, a kid can do it.” We go to great lengths to take the mystery and hassle out of the experience of speaking to your elected officials. We have a system that, with the click of a button, allows you to send an email to all three of your members of Congress at the same time. Yes, it’s that easy!
But that’s not all. We also make it easy to make a phone call to your member. Phone calls are often more effective than emails and can really get the attention of a member of Congress. Again, with the click of a button, we provide you with a screen that includes a one-click dial to your member’s office AND a pre-written script that you can read when you make the call. It really is that simple. In fact, the hardest part of making a phone call to your member of Congress is “plucking up” the courage to do it! We hear all the time from advocates that, once they’ve done it once, they wonder why they were ever frightened in the first place!
I’ve seen a lot in my 37 years with World Vision. I’ve traveled more than 2 million miles and seen more projects than I can count. I’ve met with presidents and prime ministers, actors and rock stars. I’ve sat on satin chairs in presidential palaces and on mud floors in thatch-roofed huts. I’ve seen how effective our work is in many contexts. But as I look at the next generation of development work, and the move toward sustainability, being a part of World Vision’s advocacy work is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.
I love that advocacy gets right to the root of systems that keep people poor. The goal of advocacy is to put organizations like World Vision out of business. How? By ensuring that all communities can stand on their own feet, push for their own rights, and through empowerment, witness “life in all its fullness” for generations to come. It might be a while before that happens, but I’m delighted to be part of the journey.
Steve Reynolds started at World Vision in 1983 as a Media Producer. He lived overseas for 12 years and has traveled extensively in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific helping share the stories of World Vision’s work with people of faith in the U.S and globally. He has three grown children and lives in the Pacific Northwest where he enjoys volunteer service, golf, bike riding, and of course, advocating for change!
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Top photo: World Vision Volunteer Advocates take a photo outside the U.S. Capitol building before advocating for child protection. (©2019 World Vision/photo by Laura Reinhardt)