Witnessing transformational advocacy

Noel Castellanos, chief executive officer at Christian Community Development Association (wearing sunglasses), praying with fellow walkers during El Camino del Inmigrante. Buddy Bleckley for Bread for the World.

By Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy

The last two weeks have been inspiring. Even for us following El Camino del Inmigrante via social media, we have witnessed local congregations, national evangelical religious leaders, and community members coming together to stand in solidarity with brothers and sisters who are suffering from our broken immigration system. 

Bread for the World was a key sponsor of El Camino, and Bread’s church relations director, Bishop Jose Garcia, walked every one of the 150 miles from Border Field State Park at the U.S.-Mexico border to the Los Angeles Detention Center.  This event highlighted the need to fix our country’s immigration system, which is again a hot-button issue of the presidential campaign. 

As we watched the pilgrims gather, pray, walk in solidarity, and offer alternative voices to an increasingly divisive narrative that scapegoats immigrants, we also witnessed the practice of transformational advocacy articulated in the new book Advocating for Justice: An Evangelical Vision for Transforming Systems and Structures.

The vision for El Camino del Inmigrante was born from the work of Christian Community Development Association (CCDA).  From the earliest days of CCDA’s work around the country in the 1960s, Christian development practitioners have humanized poverty and marginalization, faithfully revitalizing some of the most broken neighborhoods in the United States.  Guiding Christian Community Development practitioners is a model framework that focuses on:

  1. Proclamation of the gospel and formation of leaders
  2. Compassionate ministries
  3. Restoration and development.

Yet CCDA’s current president, Noel Castellanos, added a fourth characteristic to the CCDA’s incarnational model of ministry: confronting injustice.

Castellanos says, “Because I was incarnated in the community, living side-by-side with my undocumented brothers and sisters, I became acutely aware of their situation. . . I was already convinced that as Christians, we were called to love and serve the poor in their distress, but now, I was beginning to see more clearly that the most vulnerable people in our world were often victims of oppression and injustice. It was not just individuals who needed to be confronted with their sin, but broken and fallen systems needed to be changed and confronted as well!”

Castellanos’s testimony shows how incarnational ministry based in local communities led CCDA to integrate advocacy into its development and ministry model. Eleven days and 150 miles later, El Camino del Inmigrante demonstrated the importance of confronting brokenness at a systemic and structural level. And CCDA’s deep involvement in local communities brought forth an immense cache of powerful stories about poverty and injustice to bear on this national policy conversation.

Transformational advocacy is defined in Advocating for Justice as intentional acts of witness by the body of Christ that holds people and institutions accountable for creating, implementing, and sustaining good policies and practices geared toward the flourishing of society.  If you need a mental snapshot to go along with this definition, El Camino would be a fitting picture.

Evangelicals are reawakening to justice witness in public life, and El Camino del Inmigrante is a clear expression of that posture. El Camino gave us a chance to see evangelicals walking the path of advocacy as part of their Christian discipleship. 

Could it be that when we steward our influence and use our prophetic voice to change public policy and address root causes, that the next Congress and next president will listen?

*Excerpts of this blog appear in Advocating for Justice. This book is for sale at Bread’s web store.

Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy is the senior associate for national Catholic engagement at Bread for the World and the co-author of Advocating for Justice: An Evangelical Vision for Transforming Systems and Structures.

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