In March 2018, high school and college students from the Central Rocky Mountain and Nebraska regions, along with youth from the Nebraska United Church of Christ conference, traveled to New York City and Washington, DC for a week of learning and exploring.
The theme of their International Affairs Seminar (IAS) was “Being a Global Citizen,” based on Galatians 5:13-14, and the week’s itinerary reflected a focus on international issues and civic engagement. Participants met with churches and organizations that address global issues, toured museums and historic sites, and met with their congressional representatives on Capitol Hill.
For the leaders of this program, who have led IAS trips for several years, the experience was eye-opening in a variety of ways.
Rev. Marcia Meier, of Henderson, CO, has been an adult sponsor for several IAS trips. She sees the program as “a huge opportunity as Christians to understand our political system, and look at it up close.”
“No matter what we think,” Meier said, “we’re all united as Christians. We’re all following the teachings of Jesus, so our political beliefs don’t have to divide us.”
For D’Arcy Blosser, a youth and outdoor ministries volunteer in the Nebraska region, also a long-time IAS sponsor, meeting with stateside organizations provides another important lesson: “How do you become a global citizen? It’s by starting where you are.”
Blosser also said this event helps the youth experience the world beyond their hometowns. “In Nebraska, many of our kids are coming from rural areas, so this might be the first time some of them have left the state or flown on an airplane, and they might not get to do something like that again.”
Program themes, which, in years past, have ranged from the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, to human trafficking, or the Israel/Palestine conflict, the program’s goal is to build community.
Rev. Sondra Tilsley, a former associate regional minister in the Central Rocky Mountain region and now retired, remembers attending as a leader before she went to seminary, watching students experience big cities and broad diversity for the first time.
She was also one of numerous participants who felt called to a life of service while attending an International Affairs Seminar. While she went into ministry, others pursued social work, and some even went to work for the representatives they met on the trip.
“It reminds us to be active,” Tilsley says of the experience. “We have a right to share our voices, and we should be doing more. This age [late high school and early college] is all about making decisions about their lives. Students felt calls to all kinds of work, because they never knew about those other options before.”