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Mar19FriMaking an impact through critical analysis of issues. March 19, 2021 by Simon Hopkins
(Above) Simon Hopkins participates in the Eurodiaconia Conference, a European network of churches and Christian nongovernmental organizations providing social and health-care services and advocating social justice
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In 2014, my mom took a position in Mons, Belgium. As incredible as living abroad is, it can also be challenging living in a community that speaks a foreign language. Our move happened between grades 8 and 9, and meant leaving everything I knew behind. Like any other Canadian, I had studied French in elementary school, but I was in over my head in a French-speaking country. Yet we were welcomed into the Quaregnon Corps with open arms, and faith and fellowship provided consistency in our lives. Despite the language barrier, a Bible verse is a Bible verse, and a hymn is a hymn. Even though I was 3,000 kilometres from Canada, being able to play in the band and attend an Army corps helped make Belgium feel like home.
Three years later, in Grade 12, I left Belgium to spend a year in the small town of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, where there was another small, gracious Army corps. The first Sunday, the officers invited me to their quarters for lunch. The second Sunday, a retired officer couple asked me to their home for dinner. The third Sunday, I ate with the other young people from the corps. Though the streak of free Sunday dinners didn’t last an entire year, the hospitality and fellowship did.
Being on my own in a country where I knew no one, it could have been easy to feel isolated, but my church family kept me grounded through these changes. In every place I’ve lived, it was a Salvation Army corps family that provided me with a sense of belonging.
In high school, I loved to debate and joined my school’s model United Nations society. I attended conferences throughout Europe, where thousands of students congregated to write mock policy dealing with international issues. I was inspired by the innovative and complex ideas of my international peers and decided that I wanted to create policy as a means of responding to world issues. But I had no idea how I could become a policy maker or how to relate my faith and values to policy making.
In 2017, I met Major Mike Stannett, a British officer who was stationed in Brussels to lead The Salvation Army’s European affairs office. Major Stannett worked in an advocacy role, expressing the Army’s concerns and positions on European issues. I reached out to Major Stannett to ask if I could visit Brussels and observe his work, and he invited me to a conference his office was hosting. Religious organizations from all over Europe were convening to draft a briefing note for the European Union.
The conference came at the height of the refugee crisis. Millions of people fleeing war were arriving on European shores and living in tent cities, shelters and camps, unable to work or move to other countries. The people at the conference were representatives from Christian organizations providing shelter, food, job training and legal assistance.
I was so excited to observe the working minds of these remarkable leaders, but what I didn’t expect was to be part of the process. Less than 10 minutes into the first meeting, I was asked to introduce myself and engage in the discussion. By the second day, I was presenting the notes I had taken from a breakout group. I was only 17, but I realized there was a place for me. I had a drive and a calling that needed to be fulfilled. Policy advocacy is a tool we can use to engage leaders and help us fulfil our mission and values.
This experience inspired me to pursue a career in policy. I’ve almost finished my degree in public policy at Carleton University in Ottawa, and recently finished a diploma in emergency management from Ryerson University in Toronto. One framework commonly used in the academic world is the streams model, which describes policy as the coming together of three streams: problems, policies and politics. When a prevailing issue, a solution and the public desire to fix the issue all coincide, the policy process can occur.
When studying policy, you start looking at the world around you through that lens. I see it showing up when I look at issues The Salvation Army deals with, both in my community and in the broader scope of social justice. I believe that with the course of my studies, I will have the knowledge and ability to make an impact in my community through policy, and my desire to do so is a calling from God. I am motivated to help people by providing critical analysis of issues, rooted in my values.