History is full of movements led by students

Emerging Leaders Conference participants advocating for international religious freedom at the U.S. Capitol

Critical religious freedom concerns can breed hard questions. Will ancient Christian populations survive in Iraq? How wretched a humanitarian crisis might Burma’s exiled Muslim population endure in the camps of Bangladesh? How long can Christian villages sustain continued attacks in Nigeria?

Problems like these can seem hopeless, and it is sometimes tempting to simply turn a collective gaze away from the turmoil. Thankfully, in each generation some people dig deep and choose to make a difference — because they can.

One of those people is Caleb Kostreva. Caleb is a senior at Howard Payne University, studying international human rights policy and humanitarian aid. During a semester abroad, he volunteered at a children’s home in Shanghai, China, and last month he joined 20 other students from across the country for the 3rd annual 21Wilberforce Emerging Leaders Conference. Caleb attended the conference, in part, to “gain a deeper understanding of how religious freedom is viewed and addressed around the world.”

The week-long conference equips young leaders to promote and protect international religious freedom, providing them with skills, tools and relationships to become effective advocates. The conference empowers students to get up and act. “Unlike many conferences, our learning was not in vain,” said participant and Baylor University student Kaitlyn Anderson. “Our knowledge was immediately put into action by advocating for religious freedom at our nation’s capital.” Students visited congressional offices to advocate for specific religious freedom issues in China as part of their itinerary.

Prior to their meetings on Capitol Hill, students attended practical workshops in the history, theology, advocacy, and current context of religious freedom, including its intersection with human rights and foreign policy. For James Madison University sophomore Lily Gates, that meant a deeper understanding of how “connected the IRF movement is with human rights in general, as well as how integrated it is into foreign policy between different nations.” Workshops also included professional development, communications strategy, and leadership.

“A small group of dedicated people truly can have a deep impact on international religious freedom.” — Trent Martin

Conference attendees began and ended each day in prayer, modeling the liturgy of Anglican World Communion. Students took initiative and prayed in ways that many were not used to, but in ways that fellow Christians around the world pray every day. In this way they stood in solidarity with others, praying for an end to suffering of fellow Christians, and in intercession of their neighbors of different beliefs and the 5.3 billion people who live without religious freedom around the world.

The week included visits to the Library of Congress and National Archives to view important historical milestones of religious freedom, such as the Gutenberg Bible, the Bill of Rights, and the Magna Carta. They visited the U.S. Supreme Court and joined in a private tour of the Capitol building with former Congressman Frank Wolf, who took them onto the House of Representatives floor and other private areas of the Capitol, sharing about statesmanship and service.

“It was very encouraging to connect with other young leaders who are also passionate about living out their faith by standing up for those who are persecuted for their religion,” said Trent Martin, a student at Patrick Henry College. “I learned that a small group of dedicated people truly can have a deep impact on international religious freedom.”

Take Action:

1. Sign up for information about next year’s Emerging Leaders Conference and share with a student who can make a difference

2. Pray this year’s attendees will continue to seek ways to help those suffering for their faith

3. Learn more about the pressing issue conference goers advocated for on Capitol Hill — the communist-backed Confucius Institutes and their ties to American universities

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