Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Christian Citizenship Seminar 2015 takes on the topic of immigration

Some notes taken during the 2015 Christian Citizenship Seminar on the topic of immigration
Photo by Kristen Hoffman

Some notes taken during the 2015 Christian Citizenship Seminar on the topic of immigration

Two of the senior high youth who participated in this year’s Christian Citizenship Seminar report on the event and its impact:

Youth discuss connections between immigration and faith

By Jenna Walmer

On April 18, Church of the Brethren youth gathered in New York City at the start of Christian Citizenship Seminar (CCS), a conference that allows youth to explore the connections between a specific topic and our faith. This year the topic was immigration.

The seminar culminates with congressional visits in Washington, D.C. Throughout the seminar, we discussed the importance of our faith’s connection with citizenship and how immigration impacts our lives. It is a busy week filled with learning, fun, and spiritual growth. Following is an abridged version of what goes down at CCS.

Walking through New York’s Times Square with luggage in tow is definitely an adventure. We admired the sites of the city, but we walked many blocks to find our hotel. After we recuperated from the long walk and went to dinner, we had our first session led by Nate Hosler and Bryan Hanger of the Office of Public Witness. Nate discussed the connections of immigration to the Bible. Then, Bryan introduced talking points for our congressional visits.

The next day, we split up and went to churches around the city. I went to Judson Memorial, a church that is affiliated with the Baptists and United Church of Christ. This church was very different and not what I expected, but I could definitely see myself attending. The preacher was pretty socialist, and the whole congregation was accepting of everyone: people with AIDS, homosexuals, immigrants. They also promoted being politically and socially active.

What interested me was that the preacher was arrested with Dorothy Day and Cesar Chavez. Later in the evening, the speaker was actually the preacher we listened to that morning at Judson. She told story after story about immigrants she has helped. This developed an emotional connection to the facts we already started to learn. Putting a story to the facts is important to connect with congressional visits.

Rev. Michael Livingston of Riverside Church in New York speaks with the CCS group
Photo by Kristen Hoffman

Rev. Michael Livingston of Riverside Church in New York speaks with the CCS group

On Monday, we started off the day with the pastor from Riverside Church, who discussed the systematic problems of immigration and the general process. After this session, many headed to the United Nations for a tour and another educational experience. At the UN, the group learned about human rights. I would recommend that everyone visits the United Nations at least once because it opens your eyes to what the world as a whole is working towards.

Finally, the day of travel! The bus trip is one of the first times you get to interact with a larger group of people. Then, we arrived in Washington, D.C. We had a meeting with Julie Chavez Rodriguez, deputy director of the White House’s Office of Public Engagement. We had the opportunity to be on the White House campus! We were sniffed by a drug dog. I even saw the fountain that you always see on TV, and I have pictures of the outside of the West Wing and all the Secret Service Cars. Julie Chavez Rodriguez gave us insight on President Obama’s agenda on immigration. She also told us about the internship program at the White House.

After dinner, Jerry O’Donnell gave us our first full lesson on how to talk to our representatives. He told us to use personal experiences, and acknowledge the conditions of the government currently. Also, he reminded us that we are speaking for those who do not have a voice, the immigrants.

Wednesday we had another legislative training session in the morning. This session gave us examples in the form of a pretend meeting of what to do and what not to do while in an office. We also discussed our main points once again, so they were fresh in our memory. The speaker told us to lead with a story of how immigration has impacted our lives. She also told us that congressmen don’t demilitarize the border because they are afraid. They don’t act on immigration reform and give immigrants rights because they are afraid. These points stuck with me as we moved into our own groups and preparation for our Hill visits.

My group went to Senator Bob Casey’s office. We asked him about demilitarization of the border. Casey is a Democrat. He votes to keep military at the border because it is one thing that the Republicans want to keep in immigration reform. The aide explained that this is “give and take,” what Casey “gives” to the Republicans so he can receive something else in return. In the evening, we reflected with the larger group on our visits.

Our final session reflected on the week, and how we’ve grown mentally and spiritually. After the session, we took many pictures, exchanged hugs, and said our goodbyes. Our pastor arrived with our van and we were off, ready to be disciples of Christ, now able to spread the word about immigration to our communities to make a difference in the world.

As we become active in politics and discern what issues are near and dear to our hearts, remember to keep a connection to faith in mind. Remember to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. Finally, remember to act without fear.

-- Jenna Walmer is a high school senior from Palmyra (Pa.) Church of the Brethren who also blogs for the Dunker Punks blogsite.

Source: 5/13/2015 Newsline

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