Dordt Students Leadership Conference in D.C.

Jonathan Beltman-Contributing Writer

During the last full week of January, Dordt students Ryan McDermott (SO), Tianna Top (SO), Kate Van Weelden (JR) and I had the opportunity to participate in the National Association of Evangelicals’ Christian Student Leadership Conference.  This conference drew about 100 college students from Christian colleges and universities across the nation together to learn and discuss what it means to be a faithful Christian college student operating within the realm of politics.


LR: Ryan McDermott, Tianna Top, Jonathan Beltman, Kate Van Weelden

Throughout the conference, students listened to a plethora of speakers talk about current issues and how to use our faith to address these topics.  The speakers served in a variety of occupations related to politics and policy. We heard from senators and representatives, a few ministers and a handful of presidents and CEOs of non-profit advocacy groups.  The conference aimed to include speakers from across the political spectrum, and our group spoke with both Republican and Democratic Congressmen about how their faith influenced their political identity.  Some of the more notable speakers from the senate included Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island.  Both individuals spoke on topics that are important to their constituents. Senator McCain addressed the issue of immigration, while Senator Whitehouse spoke on creation care and its effect on the coast of Rhode Island.

In terms of non-profit advocacy groups, we listened to leading CEOs talk about their organizations’ work.  Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and well-known economist, spoke about immigration’s effect on the economy.  In addition, Prison Fellowship senior vice-president for advocacy and public policy Craig DeRoche presented his incredible testimony and thoroughly explained the issues surrounding the criminal justice system today.  We heard from speakers from many other organizations including Focus on the Family, the Evangelical Environmental Network and the Progressive Baptist Church throughout the course of the conference.

On two occasions, students had the opportunity to meet with senators’ staffs to advocate for issues we cared about.  On the third day of the conference, the other Dordt students and I accompanied President Hoekstra to advocate for Christian private higher education in the offices of Iowa’s Senators.  I thoroughly enjoyed advocating on behalf of Dordt and other Christian colleges in Iowa with President Hoekstra.  I did not fully realize the complex relationship between the federal government and private colleges before we discussed the issue with our Senators’ staffs.

On the fourth day of the conference, each student met with the Senate offices from their home state.  Top and Van Weelden met with the Minnesota and Wisconsin offices respectively, while Ryan and I met with the Iowa offices for a second time.  Ryan and I were accompanied by two Northwestern students, also from Iowa.  We decided to discuss U.S. foreign aid and immigration, since Donald Trump had issued the executive order to build the wall along the southern border on the previous day.  Ryan also talked with the offices about Sarah’s Law because of his close connection to the bill.  Sarah’s Law is a bill that addresses the issue of how to deal with undocumented immigrants who have committed violent crimes while in the United States.  This law would ensure that illegal immigrants who commit violent crimes will be detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  Sarah Root, whom the bill was named after, was killed in a drunk driving incident that involved an undocumented immigrant who fled the country after being released on bail.  Sarah was also a friend of Ryan’s family.

Amid the busyness of the week, the NAE Christian Student Leadership Conference acted as a great opportunity for Dordt students and faculty to spend a week in the nation’s capital learning about Christian advocacy, and I am grateful for the opportunity to participate.

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