ERLC interns gain cultural insight

WASHINGTON (BP)--College and seminary students interested in cultural issues from a biblical perspective have the opportunity to be involved in initiatives that impact millions of people through the Ethics & Religious Liberties Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

"We offer volunteer internships, providing students hands-on experience in the fields of communications, public policy and administration," said Bobby Reed, who directs the ERLC program.

Noting that an internship can be a formative experience for students as they prepare for their careers, Reed said the ERLC seeks to design each experience around the individual's gifts and interests.

"Our staff is committed to the success of each intern and will mentor him or her during the internship program and beyond," he said, noting that internships are available for qualified students throughout the year in the ERLC's offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington D.C.

The ERLC office in Washington is located at just four blocks from the Capitol in a house called the Leland House, named for John Leland, a Baptist minister who championed the cause of religious liberty in Colonial America.

There, the ERLC interacts with members of Congress and their staffs on a daily basis to urge their support for issues that relate to faith and family.

Clifton Drake had just graduated from law school at Georgetown University when he decided to pursue an internship with the ERLC in 2008. Placed through a fellowship connected to the Alliance Defense Fund, Drake spent six weeks in the ERLC's Washington office working on public policy issues of interest to Christians.

Among the issues that summer: global warming, broadcast indecency, Internet gambling and the FDA's regulatory authority over tobacco products.

"I could not believe the types of things I was able to do," said Drake, now a prosecuting attorney in Florida. He attended Senate hearings, took notes and even debated policy with staffers, providing them a grasp of the SBC's positions.

"From Day One, I got to interact with really high-profile cases and people," he said, recounting that he read and analyzed various bills to share his gleanings with Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research with the ERLC, who manages the D.C. office.

In return, Drake received insight into the political process, particularly with the Christian perspective.

As a 20-something student, he found himself constantly marveling, "I can't believe they're letting me do this! I am actually debating public policy for the SBC!"

In addition to his other responsibilities, Drake drafted letters and action alerts, including content for ERLC's 2008 "40/40 Prayer Vigil" that focused 40 days of prayer on personal, church and national spiritual revival.

In a similar way, Natalie (Kaspar) Bunch's work involved research and personal interviews. In the ERLC's Tennessee office, located downtown Nashville, she observed the editing and recording of the "Richard Land Live" radio program hosted by ERLC President Richard Land.

Serving as an intern while a student at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas, Bunch said, "The ERLC got me out of the college writing bubble and into the bigger ministry bubble."

Now a freelance writer for the "Upstream Collective," a nonprofit organization that challenges churches to be more missions-minded, Bunch remembers how hard it was at first to interview nationally known figures such as Vicki Courtney (author of "5 Conversations You Must Have with Your Daughter" and "Your Girl").

"I remember being terrified, but now it's just part of my job," said Bunch, who once served as an International Mission Board journeyman and continues to write for the IMB on a freelance basis. "The ERLC was a great stepping stone for me -- and for me to learn how to do things well."

Brandon Bryant also helped research news stories for the ERLC's radio programs. While involved in the technical editing, he gained experience in media "that I wouldn't have had otherwise" during his internship as a student from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.

He now serves at Overseas Radio and Television, a nonprofit Christian multimedia company in Taiwan that uses television, radio and magazines to teach English and to share Christ with the Taiwanese and the greater Chinese population.

Bryant said it was the unexpected blessing of a mentorship at ERLC that propelled him into ministry. He credits much of his growth to long talks with Harold Harper, the ERLC's executive vice president.

"It was the coolest experience, much more than the job itself," he said of how Jesus was evident in Harper's life. "In our discussions about personal life matters, Harold was instrumental in helping me grow spiritually."

Queries about ERLC internships can be directed to Reed at bobbyreed@erlc.com. Interested students should provide a résumé, brief personal testimony (page or less about spiritual journey and passions), paragraph about goals and expectations of an internship, time frame of availability (spring, summer or fall) and samples of writing abilities.


Shannon Baker is the national correspondent for BaptistLIFE, newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.

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