Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., is full of politicians, lawyers and interns. Men in blue suits and long gray overcoats carrying briefcases weave between people on the way to meetings. Women dressed in pencil skirts with their hair slicked into neat low buns enter buildings swiftly, ready to tackle whatever is at hand for the day. And on the week of January 30 to February 3, Christian college students from across the country joined the herd of finely dressed professionals. 

Capitol Hill got a small taste of northwest Iowa as eight Dordt University students, including myself, flew in to attend the Christian Student Leadership Conference, a week-long event of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Typically, Dordt awards four students the opportunity to attend this conference through an all-expenses paid trip. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference took a few years off. Since this was the conference’s first year back in person, Dordt was able to send more students this year.

“I was excited for the opportunity to learn more about how to engage as a Christian with politics, while also getting a taste of what happens on Capitol Hill,” said Bryce Enger, Dordt’s student body vice president.

While there, the students immersed themselves in what life is like on Capitol Hill. Through the words of many state senators, representatives, Christian and secular organization speakers, and other political spokespeople, each student learned a lot.

Topics covered throughout the week ranged from current political issues, different bills being sought or passed, research being conducted, faith-informed views of politics, and internship opportunities available through various organizations. Students heard conference speakers at the Senate office buildings, the White House, and the U.S. Capitol buildings.

“I appreciated being able to see professionals who are leaders in their work and hearing examples of how they have made an impact,” Emily Zuidema said. “They provided tangible … examples of how I could make an impact someday, as well as currently as a student.”

The NAE Christian Student Leadership Conference also coincides with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities President’s Conference. Dordt President Eric Hoekstra has attended every year since taking over the presidency in 2012. Accompanying the Dordt students for a day of talking to senators on Capitol Hill is often a highlight for Hoekstra.

“What I want to do by bringing students is to help them get involved and know that they can make an impact,” Hoekstra said. “As the famous Abraham Lincoln quote goes, ‘Democracy is a rule of the people, for the people and by the people’ — and that includes students.”

A common misconception of D.C. is that it is all work and no play. But after fulfilling childhood dreams of exploring the various museums along the National Mall, walking along downtown D.C., fully embracing being tourists by taking pictures in front of everything, and eating Chinese food with other students at 11 p.m. each night, the group learned the falsehood of that statement.

From 550 feet above ground and through a small foggy window in the Washington National Monument, the busy city of D.C. looks peaceful and connected intricately. This view models values of government we should strive for as discussed throughout the conference.

“I hope those who attended can infect our campus and their home communities a little bit with their newly gained knowledge,” Hoekstra said.