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A Pastor Explores Advocacy

By Rev. Dorisanne Cooper
October 2009

True confession: It was the first time I actually wished someone on the plane would ask me what I did for a living.

Most of the time, the answer “pastor” invites raised eyebrows and the occasional “Really.” Throw “Baptist” in and you can multiply that a few times more. But this particular weekend I was returning home from a trip to Washington, DC, that included learning from and training with Bread for the World staff in order to meet with members of Congress.

Our task was to encourage our representatives to reform U.S. foreign assistance and to focus it more on poverty reduction in a way that also makes it more fiscally responsible and efficient. So just for that day on the airplane home, I would have loved to answer the “What do you do?” question by saying, “I lobby Congress to reform foreign assistance.”

After all, I had done just that. As part of a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship endeavor, I traveled with a handful of other pastors from around the country to learn from several agencies how we might talk with our senators and representatives about our concerns for those who are poor. The trip was intended to help us explore the role of advocacy in our work as pastors and give us hands-on experience as well.

It did that—and more. In two days, we learned much of the history and structure of foreign assistance and were trained on how best to talk with our representatives about it. Bread for the World had told us of the vital importance that members of Congress attached to hearing from their constituents back home, especially when they are dealing with complicated matters. Not until I showed up for my appointment and walked by several groups of people lined up trying to see my representative did I appreciate how true that was.

I was so grateful for the opportunity to talk with him about poverty issues and the importance that people of faith in his home district placed on his continuing to be an advocate for the alleviation of poverty. During those days I was reminded of the power that Congress can have on poverty reduction at home and around the world, and the responsibility we have to educate them about our concern that they do so.

Having a front-row seat in that meeting and others, just for a few days, transformed my awareness of the vital role advocacy plays in the call people of faith have to care for poor and hungry people, not to mention discipleship itself. I even came home a new convert to the importance of Bread for the World’s Offering of Letters—an activity that had, quite candidly, become somewhat rote over the years. I have now seen and heard first-hand of the impact that it truly does have. I came home more convinced than ever of my own responsibility to weave advocacy into the way I live out my faith.

Rev. Dorisanne Cooper is pastor of Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco, TX, which is a Bread for the World Covenant Church.

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