To say that EC student Zachary Hardee had a lot on his plate last semester is an understatement. However, when an email was sent regarding an opportunity with the Religious Freedom Institute, the Pensacola, FL native knew it was something he couldn’t pass up.
“You get to take part in a four-week course and then apply to take part in a trip to Washington, D.C.,” he said. “The course was 2-3 hours per week watching videos, reading an article, or doing an activity that reflects the freedom of religion in the United States as well as abroad.”
After the course, Zach applied to take part in the trip to D.C., unsure if he would be one of the 25 students selected.
When he was selected, Zach jumped at the opportunity to experience several firsts, including his first time on a plane and his first visit to the nation’s capital.
While there, the students spent a great deal of time at the Museum of the Bible, where they experienced an exclusive tour of the library and get to see private exhibits housed in the museum.
As a School of Christian Ministries major, this experience in itself was surreal as he saw first-hand several things he learned about in the classroom.
The students also learned from several guest speakers from the United States, Canada, and England.
“We heard from a Reverend Father from Canada where they are still on lockdown,” Zach said. “He shared about how their freedom of religion looks a bit different now with the pandemic.”
The group also heard from Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey, who came to the group and spoke in person.
“It was phenomenal how many speakers we had come and pour into us about the freedom we are so freely given,” Zach said. “They shared about that and how important it is that it stays free.”
Although Zach enjoyed hearing from all of the speakers, Congressman Smith’s words made an instant impact.
“First, we got to see his passion come out as he talked about some cases he has worked on and a bill he was trying to get passed for Freedom of Religion in another country to give them aide,” he said. “I got to see that passion and it got me excited because here is this person, he’s in D.C. and he’s making a difference. That’s what stuck out to me.”
After spending a few days in DC, Zach left reflecting on how fortunate he was to have the opportunity to be a part of this trip and gain the experience and knowledge he did.
“With me being in ministry and wanting to exemplify Christ and how he wants to give us freedom, this was important,” he said. “I also have to be mindful that other nations and countries don’t have that freedom and it made me feel humble that we do, even through this pandemic.”
The biggest takeaway from his experience? Now is the time to spread God’s love.
“God has given us his love freely and that needs to be spread everywhere, as soon as possible,” he said. “We can’t do that with governmental restrictions. What I learned was to go into the cities, the highways, and byways and spread God’s love because it IS freely given. You’ll have pushback but keep on pursuing.”