Story contributed by Vicki Bentley, a World Vision Advocate in New York.
Estimated read time: Seven minutes
“Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want. (Amos 5:21-24 MSG).
What can I possibly do to help? The question had been quietly stalking me for months. As every day brought more news of war, natural disasters, famine, and disease across the globe, I felt increasingly helpless. The scale of it all was overwhelming and reached far beyond my own meager resources and influence. It seemed futile to even try. How could I—a mother of two living in a quiet suburb of upstate New York—even scratch the surface of this colossal international need?
Then war in Ukraine started. Heartbreaking images flashed across the screen showing moms—just like me—suddenly facing the unimaginable, forced to abandon their husbands and homes and flee with their children to safety. It utterly broke my heart. But what’s more, my children looked to me to offer some kind of solution.
“What can we do to help mommy?” my seven-year-old asked. “Whose job is it to stop this?”
I had no answer for her—until an email from World Vision appeared in my inbox that very same week inviting me to consider becoming a World Vision Advocate.
A reluctant call
I was already well acquainted with World Vision; my husband and I currently sponsor two girls in Sri Lanka and a boy in the Philippines. Through my sponsorship updates and writing my sponsored child, I witnessed how World Vision partners with communities and equips families in transformational development.
Now I felt it was time to take my next step. I was feeling a not-so-gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit to use my voice as an Advocate and help amplify the voices of vulnerable children, families, and communities around the world.
Advocacy, however, was a giant leap out of my comfort zone! I had zero political knowledge or experience, and the thought of speaking to members of Congress was hugely intimidating. Not only that, having emigrated from the United Kingdom 10 years earlier, I had only been a US citizen for a year myself. Would they even take me seriously?
It all seemed too overwhelming. I empathized with Moses in Exodus 4 asking God to send someone else—someone more eloquent, influential, and better equipped for the task ahead. Certainly not someone who identifies firmly in the ‘introvert’ column and considers public speaking the stuff of nightmares. Much like Moses, however, God wasn’t interested in my doubts and excuses. “Do it anyway,” He insisted. “Do it for Me.” So, before I could come up with any further reasons not to, I took a deep break and sent off my application. My Advocate journey had begun.
Equipped and eager
Soon after, I received a welcome pack in the mail and was contacted by Hayley, the grassroots organizer for my region, to arrange a virtual orientation meeting. Hayley was warm, supportive, and encouraging. She affirmed my call to this work and assured me I was indeed exactly where I was supposed to be. It was, I would soon realize, the first of many very warm welcomes.
Going into this role, I had assumed that I would be joining a large team of Advocates already established in my state. I wondered, in fact, if I would even be needed. So, you can imagine my surprise in learning I was the only active World Vision Advocate in the entire state of New York. Evidently this was going to be no mere background role. I was going to have to jump in with both feet. Yet despite my trepidation, Hayley eased me in by first asking me to send a few emails to my representatives about an urgent foreign assistance request—template included. This was something I could certainly do!
The next step was to prepare for the upcoming fall meetings with my members of Congress—two senators and one house representative. Now that I knew I was going to be meeting with them by myself, this prospect seemed even more daunting. But before I had to even think about the meeting, it was time to prep. And, oh, were we prepped!
First, there was an Advocate-wide meeting to introduce and explain the key goals and legislation that were going to be the focus of the upcoming meeting season. We were also provided with a script of sorts that we could use and personalize as we saw fit to form the basis of our meeting complete with relevant statistics, stories, and the all-important ‘ask’ at the end. Since I was a new Advocate, Hayley also met with me again one-on-one to talk through the process and provide further support in how to structure a first meeting and use the information provided to my advantage and play to my strengths.
At each stage of the process, the Advocacy team cheered us on and exuded a spirit of infectious joy, encouragement, and gratitude. Even from my own small corner of the country, these meetings helped me feel like I was part of something bigger—something only God could have orchestrated—and it was humbling to reflect on the opportunity and responsibility I had been given to steward the stories and amplify the voices of God’s children around the world. Despite my own nerves and reservations about the upcoming meetings, I soon felt wholly equipped and eager to get started.
One aspect of World Vision’s mission that really sets them apart is their commitment to relational advocacy. It’s a far cry from the demanding, shouting-to-be-heard attitude that is often associated with advocacy, and instead encapsulates an encouraging-our-government-leaders, letting-them-know-we-care-about-them kind of partnership. Through regular meetings with our representatives and their staffers, we are encouraged to build a foundation of trust, authenticity, and even friendship with our leaders that paves the way for Kingdom values to be debated and the love of Christ to be shown. It’s an attitude that says, “We’re in this together. We appreciate the role you are doing, and we want to support and pray for you as you carry out this important work.”
With this perspective in mind, I embarked on the process of setting up my fall meetings. After quite a bit of telephone tag (and some gentle persistence), I was thankfully able to arrange virtual meetings with staffers in all three offices. Despite the butterflies in my stomach and some initial technical hitches, I soon found my stride, and as I began to share, experienced a peace and boldness like no other—a sure sign of the Holy Spirit at work. The staffers were respectful and interested in the topic at hand, asking relevant follow-up questions, and giving me plenty of time to go through my talking points and lead up to the ‘ask’. And though the staffers were unable to give me the immediate positive response I had (somewhat naively) hoped for, they all promised to take the request back to the legislators themselves and provide feedback following these discussions—which they all did in due course.
Far from being the grilling I was expecting in areas of complicated foreign policy, I found the meetings to be an exciting and refreshing opportunity to come to the table and share my heart on issues that are not only important on a global scale, but to God and His Kingdom work. It was freeing to understand that I don’t need a degree in political science to be useful in this sphere but simply a genuine desire and willingness to be an advocate for children across the world. It’s as simple (and powerful) as that.
Finding my people
Shortly afterward, I had the incredible opportunity to fly to Washington state and attend the 2022 World Vision Advocacy Camp. After a relatively solo experience in my home state, it was an absolute joy to gather with like-minded Advocates from all over the country as well as the grassroots organizer team at the World Vision US headquarters.
Over one beautiful weekend in September, we received a wealth of information and training, shared stories and experiences, and had time to worship and fellowship together. We even had the opportunity to virtually visit a World Vision partner in Bangladesh and see for ourselves how the foreign assistance we had been advocating for was being used to change lives in a tangible way. I was able to understand for the first time how my seemingly small role was contributing to World Vision’s wider mission to seek justice and transform lives in partnership with communities around the world. It was one clear way I could put my faith in action and respond to God’s call to “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” (Proverbs 31:8-9 NIV).
During one particularly poignant session where many of us stood up and shared our journey to becoming an Advocate, I had an overwhelming sense that I had found my people. It was awe-inspiring to think how God had called each one of us from different states, cultures, professions, life experiences, and circumstances and led us to this moment—gathered together in this room for such a time as this. Even for a newbie like me, being welcomed into the fold felt like attending a beautiful family reunion—without the drama! I knew then that I had found a space where I belonged, and that I had made friends and connections I would have for life.
Start your journey
Not long after I returned home, I received an email from my congressman’s office confirming that he was planning to cosponsor the very two bills I had discussed at the meeting. What a win! Furthermore, I later received a heartfelt email from one of the senators (whose office I met with) reaffirming his ongoing commitment to foreign assistance and thanking me for giving my time to discuss these important issues. It was the icing on the cake of an inspirational weekend and provided the affirmation I needed that I could use my voice to make a real and tangible difference—reaching all the way to the US Capitol and beyond—right where I am.
Perhaps you’re reading this and asking yourself the same question I did: What can I possibly do to help? Well, the truth is—quite a lot. Through partnering with World Vision in relational advocacy, God can and use your unique voice and story for good—just like He is using mine—to meet global needs, further His Kingdom work, and perhaps even change the hearts and minds of the political leaders that have been elected to serve in these roles. And it doesn’t even take up that much of your time.
If you’re on the fence today, I urge you to consider again this holy calling God has placed on your heart then jump in with both feet. Before you know it, you too will have started your very own advocacy journey and been warmly welcomed into a community of fellow Advocates with open arms. And I promise you, your life will never be the same again.