I never intended to live in Honduras for four years. The reports of violence alone keep most people from even booking a flight, and I wasn’t convinced I could eat tortillas three times a day. I certainly never imagined I would ride on the back of a motorcycle through the winding hills to meet with small groups of women–shy about speaking to the gringa, but keen to learn new skills for small businesses of their own.
What started as a one-year commitment turned into an experience that has profoundly shaped my worldview. Working in small business programs for women opened a window for me to understand the influence of government in helping or hindering progress. I believed strongly in the small business support I was part of, but there were many structural problems and systemic injustices that worked against the women at every turn. It is out of this experience in Honduras, along with my current advocacy work, that I now see public policy and citizen engagement as crucial components of stronger, thriving communities; and healthy government as a necessary tool to reach these goals.
In the Anabaptist tradition, there is much debate about participating in government, versus holding government accountable, or just staying out of the debate all together. But we have a wealth of biblical wisdom to draw on–examples of people who advocated for their families and communities, demonstrating that wise policies can make a difference in people’s lives and seem to be looked on favorably by God.
Coming from the United States, it was eye-opening to immerse myself in a country that lives in the shadow of our superpower. Hondurans understood the consequences—intended or otherwise—of U.S. policies that were affecting their economy, the country’s security forces and their elections. Friends in Honduras would share exasperation, anger and fear over the changes brought by increased militarization in response to gang violence and drug trafficking. But as we would lament the state of affairs, they would say, “It’s your government that funds all this. Go home and tell them this isn’t the kind of help we need!”
And so the journey took me to Washington, D.C. and my current work as a legislative associate for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Rooted in MCC’s work and partnerships overseas, we advocate to change U.S. policies to be more just towards our neighbors, both at home and abroad. We also share information with churches in the U.S. to help them understand government policies and speak out on issues important to them.
It is slow work and often hard to see progress on a short-term basis. But it is necessary for Christians to hold government accountable for harmful practices and policies—especially when they are easily tucked away in the complex accounting of the State Department or the Department of Defense. I encourage people regularly to find out more: read more, google more, diversify your news feeds. Talk to people who directly experience the impact of U.S. foreign policy and tell your representatives you are paying attention. We have avenues to speak to our government, to influence policies, and
we can’t be silent.
Charissa Zehr is a Legislative Associate for International Affairs in the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office. This post was originally published at The Gathering Place, a source for Anabaptist youth and youth leaders.