By Jenna Walmer
On April 18th, Brethren Youth from around the United States gathered in New York City. That Saturday was the start to Christian Citizenship Seminar (CCS), a conference that allows Brethren youth to explore the connections between a specific topic (this year was immigration) and our faith and 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 Time Square with luggage in tow is definitely an adventure in itself. We admire the sites of the city, but we walked many blocks to find our hotel and collapse in the lobby. After we have recuperated from the long walk and everyone has arrived, we go to dinner the same place as last time, eat some delicious food, and reconnect with old friends. Later that night, we had our first session led by Nate Hosler and Bryan Hanger. Nate discussed the connections of immigration to the Bible. Then, Bryan introduced our talking points for our congressional visits.
The next day, we split up and went to new churches around the city. I went to Judson Memorial, a church that is affiliated with the Baptist and United Church of Christ denominations. This church was very different and not what I expected, but I could definitely see myself attending that church if I ever end up in New York. 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, we had our next session. The speaker was actually the preacher we listened to that morning at Judson! She told story after story about immigrants that 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.
On Monday, it rained and rained, and we walked through that rain! 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 groups 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. Instead of going to the United Nations (since I was through that tour multiple times), we were free to explore the city! We decided to check out Hot Breads, a bakery that was recommended from the coordinators of the trip. The Hot Bread bakery makes homemade bread according to traditional recipes from immigrants. The bread was really good! Later that evening, my group decided to venture out and just walk until we found something to eat. We walked 15 blocks until we decided to go to our fourth diner for the trip, and it was only day three!
Finally, the day of travel! This day was probably most exciting of all… after the buses arrived. We waited… and waited… and waited. The buses got stuck in New York City traffic, and we stood outside, all 80 plus of us, waiting for the bus. The bus is always the best because it 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, the Deputy Director of the White House’s Office of Public Engagement. Therefore, we had the opportunity to be ON THE WHITE HOUSE CAMPUS! So, you know those black fences that are around the White House? We were INSIDE of those! We were sniffed by a drug dog! I even saw the fountain that you always see on T.V., 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 that, we split up for dinner throughout the city. I went to Chicks’, which was really delicious and super environmentally friendly! After dinner, we had our second session for the day. 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. He also told us DO NOT read of your advocacy ask sheet verbatim. It was a helpful reminder for Do’s and Don’ts from last year’s training. After this, we headed out to find an ice cream shop! Today, the group learned that D.C. IS a city that sleeps and stores actually close before ten! Who would have known? Coming from New York and stores being open all the time, it was a change to adjust too!
Wednesday was the day. We had another legislative training session in the morning. This session gave us examples in form of a pretend meeting of what to do and what not to do while in the 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 life. She also told us that congressmen act out of fear. They don’t demilitarize the border because they are afraid. They don’t act on Immigration Reform and give them rights because they are afraid. These points stuck with me as we moved toward our own groups and preparation for our Hill visits.
After this, we broke up into our groups and discussed who was going to talk about what in the meeting. Now, we were off to the Hill. We went to Senator Bob Casey’s office. He is our easy visit because they always agree with what we are saying. Our aide agreed with a lot that we said, but he was very eager to get out of the meeting. However, we kept plugging away at our information and asked him about a point that Casey and the Church of the Brethren do not agree, which is the demilitarization of the border. Even though Casey is a Democrat, he votes to keep military at the border because it is one thing that the Republicans want to keep in the Immigration Reform. The aide explained that with this it is “give and take” and that is 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. After that, we had another ice cream trip! The next day would be our last and we would have to say our goodbyes.
Our final session is always the best because we discuss the whole trip. We reflected on the week, and how we’ve grown mentally and spiritually. We were ready to take back the information of immigration to our home towns and now we were going to spread the word about immigration. 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 of 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 hears, remember to keep our connection to faith in mind. Remember to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. Finally, remember to act without fear.
Jenna Walmer is from Lancaster County and is currently in 12th grade. In school, she loves to research historical events. If she were to live in a specific time period, she would want to be a hippie and live in the 60s or 70s. Her favorite past times are swimming and playing her trombone. If you want to know more about her random life, follow her on twitter:@jaymarie2100