A week in Washington, D.C.

Northwestern juniors Caley Vink and Emma VanDrie, both political science majors, were nominated by Northwestern political science professors to attend the 2018 National Association of Evangelicals Christian Student Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. The conference brings college students together who are passionate about pressing issues to learn and consider how to engage in public policy.

Reflections from Caley Vink: 

This year, from January 22 to the 26, I embarked on a brief vacation from the day-to-day routine of college classes and track practice in order to engage in a personal encounter within our nation’s core: Washington, D.C.


Here, I spent a week at the National Association of Evangelicals Christian Student Leadership Conference of 2018. Our theme for the week was “for the health of the nation,” and we kept this theme in mind as we heard from different leaders who deal with subjects such as creation care, immigration, criminal justice, international relations, gun violence, tax reform, capital punishment, nuclear war and more. As for the speakers, we heard from many current senators, lobbyists and other experts in these fields of national interest. Students were offered extensive opportunity in Q&A sessions to consider and communicate practical public policy related solutions to real problems.

The experience was eye-opening for more reasons than one. To bask in the wisdom and knowledge of our nation’s leaders and policymakers was wonderful, but what has truly stuck with me weeks after returning to Northwestern College are the things that were never directly spoken aloud. When a person speaks, it doesn’t take long for the listener to begin to understand the heart of the one who is speaking. I arrived in Washington, D.C. unsure of what to expect from my experience, but what I left with was a newfound hope in our nation’s leaders because of what I saw in their hearts.


Where there was a flicker of hope in my heart that persisted through times of darkness, there is now a blazing fire determined to believe in the efforts of our leaders and the processes of our government, society and political systems. Speakers like Tom Tarrants, Senator Marco Rubio, Chaplain Barry Black, Senator Chuck Grassley, Pam Pryor and more made their commitment to their faith and the health of our nation clear. Their hearts beamed with pride in the American people and the complex society they engage in, and I was both thankful for and inspired by their courage and hope.

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Outside of our experiences in the Q&A sessions, Emma and I made lots of new friendships that have continued to this day. One such friendship includes that with a former member of the Secret Service, Rachel Klay, a 1980 Northwestern alumna. We witnessed exclusive rooftop views of the city, dined at some of the best restaurants, took the metro train with a group of friends across the city to get Krispy Kreme donuts, learned Bachata dancing in our hotel room, toured the White House, visited museums and monuments, laughed a lot, and learned much about our nation and about ourselves.

 One thing for readers to take away from this blog post is that getting in touch with your local, state or national leaders is not as far-off and intimidating as it seems. The people we heard from during our week in Washington, D.C., go to considerable lengths to make themselves available for hearing from their constituents, and they do it with intentionality. You do have the ability to advocate for yourself and others in an impactful way, and often setting up the opportunity to do so is only a phone call or email away. And of course, this experience would not have been possible for Emma and I without the nomination from our amazing professors Dan Young and Jeff VanDerWerff. Sincerely, I say: thank you!

Reflections from Emma VanDrie: 

I am so grateful for the opportunity to attend the National Association of Evangelicals Christian Student Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. It was a very fun and insightful trip. We heard from a variety of speakers on topics including the environment and caring for creation, immigration, criminal justice reform, North Korea, gun violence, the death penalty, tax reform and the national debt. We had the opportunity to ask each speaker our own questions, which led to some very interesting discussions. 


Tom Tarrants, the vice president for ministry and director of the Washington Area Fellows Program for the C.S. Lewis Institute, spoke on the first night we arrived at the conference and shared his testimony.

Sen. Mike Lee and Sen. Rand Paul spoke about criminal justice reform and the bi-partisan support for sentencing reform acts, as well as our calling as Christians to view and care for people as individuals rather than seeing them as merely criminals.

We visited the Museum of the Bible, where Tim Goeglein, the vice president of external relations for Focus on the Family spoke, as well as speakers on gun violence and the death penalty.

Chaplain Barry Black and Sen. Chuck Grassley spoke about faithfulness in public life. 

Sen. Marco Rubio and Maya MacGuineas, the president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, focused their talk on tax reform and the national debt. 

At the White House Eisenhower Executive Office Building we heard from members of the State Department, the Office of Management and Budget, and the National Security Council.

We also had the opportunity to be on the floor of the House of Representatives, where former Rep. Frank Wolf discussed the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, as well as other organizations such as World Vision, Open Doors, and Voice of the Martyrs that Christians can partner with to make a difference in public life.

The last day we toured the White House.

I was able to meet with the staff of Sen. Dick Durbin and Sen. Tammy Duckworth to discuss immigration reform. This experience inspired me to get involved in lobbying for different issues in my home state and looking into partnering with different social justice organizations.

Overall, this trip was very beneficial for me. It was an amazing and enlightening experience to hear directly from political leaders, see the government in action, and advocate on behalf of issues I am passionate about. This experience has made me more certain about what I want do with my life. I am so thankful for Northwestern College for providing me with such a fantastic opportunity.