A Life-Changing TED Talk

There have been a handful of times in my life where I can viscerally remember my world being turned upside down. I can remember where I was, what was said, and how everything changed in that moment.

Hearing Gary Haugen speak was one of those moments.

Like so many of you, I am someone who has a picture of a sponsor child on my refrigerator. I have supported missions trips to build water for clean wells, written checks to educate girls, bought a stake in a goat to feed a hungry community.

But until I learned about the Locust Effect, it had never crossed my mind that it was little use to provide a vegetable garden to a widow in Uganda, if her greedy neighbor can steal her land and produce and get away with it. It is of little use for me to pay for school fees and uniforms (and menstrual supplies) so that girls can go to school, if they are so afraid of being raped on the way that they cannot go. It is of no use at all to send clothes and books and staples to impoverished communities in India, if the people are enslaved and physically cannot leave the property to avail themselves of help.

Compassion needs to move us to address the heartbreak of poverty. (And, thank God, it does.)

But wisdom needs to inform our compassion so that, in addressing poverty, we are also addressing the violence which so often keeps poor people poor.

Maybe you’re not a reader. Maybe books like the Locust Effect and Half the Sky are not your thing. But maybe you have twenty minutes to watch a video clip, or to cue this up to listen to as a podcast. It’s a game-changer.

Please listen. This is the best TED talk I have ever listened to. And, I dare say, probably the most important. (Click on the picture, and it will direct you to the talk.)

Share the video, find out more and follow up with International Justice Mission here.

“History will convene a tribunal of our grandchildren, and they will ask us…. “what did you do?” – Gary Haugen

I want to have a better answer to that question.

Hope engaged


I would love to introduce you to my friend Katie. I met Katie in 2005 when we served on a short term mission trip together, and it has been my great joy to stay in touch with her in the years since then. She has been on all sorts of adventures.


A while back, Katie started a blog. She called it “hope engaged”. She and Kevin had recently got engaged and I assumed from the title of her blog that she was writing a couples-blog. Not being a big partaker of romantic sentiment, I skipped over it. My loss.

Far from being a blog about romance, Katie’s blog is her record of being brave with life.

…. For there is a world of heartache and brokenness out there. So much injustice and pain and loss. This is a topic that is close to my heart. But there is a God who cares about us and this world and who has done something about it. Jesus’ death and resurrection set into motion a new Kingdom: and there is life, restoration, peace and forgiveness to be found in Him. This is our HOPE.

… But our hope is not an airy-fairy-pie in-the-sky-when-you-die type of hope. God’s concern about life and justice is not a cheap comfort held out as a celestial carrot – offered only in the future. Rather, the New Testament says that God, both directly by His Holy Spirit and indirectly through his church, is concerned to act in this broken world NOW, and to bring eternal life to humanity NOW. To show glimpses of the comfort, peace, justice, truth that is to be had fully in the future by living that way NOW. In other words, this is our hope ENGAGED.

Katie and Kevin took a brave step and asked God: “We know we could live a comfortable life here in California – but what do YOU want us to do? What’s important?” Hope engaged is the blog recording where that prayer has led them. At this moment, that prayer has led them to Nepal, where they are working in a home for little girls who have been rescued out of sex trafficking.

Katie’s blog is full of beautiful pictures and beautiful words: images and thoughts which encourage me to be brave with my life too. So without further ado, let me lead you to the click you’ve been waiting for:

… a great introduction to Katie and her blog, and the most recent post which left me weeping for joy.

We have a great hope. Let’s engage.

Turning impotence and injustice around

(This article originally posted elsewhere in December 2012. I still believe it is true, so here it is again.)

When I was 15 and finishing high school, I applied for a number of scholarships to cover the many years of tuition which lay ahead. One of those scholarships was a full-ride ticket offered by Anglo-American, arguably the most prestigious scholarship available at the time to school-leavers in South Africa.

For the interview, I had to travel to their shiny skyscraper HQ in Johannesberg, and I well remember feeling intimidated and exhilarated as I stared up at the giant glass building. The interviewers asked me about myself, my background, why I wanted to study law. “I want to help women and children,” I said, “I’m interested in justice for women and children who would otherwise not have a voice.”

The chief interviewer smirked as I answered a few more questions, and finally said goodbye. I remember her words as I left: “It was good to meet you and we wish you all the best at university, even if your ideas are a little naive.” Coming from a shiny-successful person in a shiny-successful building, her words stung, and I remember feeling a little ashamed of my gung-ho “I’m going to save the world” declarations.

I did not get the scholarship, but I did go to law school, and on more than one occasion I remembered her words. It was true that the ivory-tower ideals of law school often met with the much more gritty reality of what actually happened in court. I realized I was studying about the LEGAL system, not the JUSTICE system. What I learned seemed to confirm my cynical interviewers words: the desire to really do good and oppose injustice is fanciful, naive, immature.

Well, life took me – or should I say God took me – in different directions. First vocational ministry, which I would NEVER have guessed I would land up in. And now, full-time suburban motherhood, which remains a very unexpected outcome in my opinion. I definitely saw myself in the shiny-successful role in the shiny-successful building, rather than behind a sink and using my Mommy voice to explain (again) why my preschooler should not bash his fork into the dining table. But here I am, in full time Mommy zone – a million miles away from law school and career ambitions and the person I thought I would become.

Until recently.

A friend sent me Kristof and WuDunn’s book halftheskyHalf the Sky” and asked my opinion on it. I read it in stolen moments over several weeks, and as the pages turned, so too the wheels in my heart and mind turned. There is still much for me to process in the aftermath of the book, but here’s the beginning of it.

Millions and millions of women in our world are subjected daily to cruel treatment, medical failure, abuse and exploitation. Little girls are sold into sex slavery, girls have their genitals slashed, women die needlessly in childbirth. Women and girls starve to death, because they are considered less important to feed than boys and men. The suffering is deep and widespread. And the impact of undernourished, undervalued, impoverished and uneducated women is borne by community after community, generation after generation.

Reading such things is gut-wrenching and eye-opening. My first impulse is to weep. My second impulse is to shake my head, feeling helpless and unable to do anything. After all, haven’t I carried a thought in my head for some twenty years which scolds me “it is naive and foolish to think you can do anything for women and children. The shiny-successful lady told you so.”

But the message of this book is not just to alert readers like me (and you!) to what is going on in the world. It is primarily a book to galvanize action: small and purposeful changes CAN and DO make a difference. One extra year of education for a girl dramatically changes the statistical trajectory for her life. One extra year of school for one girl means she is far more likely to marry later, to bear less children, to suffer less physical harm from youthful childbearing. It increases the wage she is likely to earn, and thus her access to health care. One extra year makes it more likely that, as a more numerate and literate person, she can contribute to her family, her community, her country in the years to come.

And friends, I can help with one year of education for a girl.
I can help with deworming kids.
I can help support legislative efforts to police sex trafficking effectively.
I can help, by prayer, aware-ness raising, and purposeful contribution.

I am not impotent in the face of injustice. I am willing – I have always been. But now, after twenty years of believing a lie, I am also willing to say I am able.

Here are three ways our little suburban family tried to make a difference:

1) We prayed about injustice, with hope and specificity. I have lacked faith to pray about matters so big. But I can pray.

2) We decided to give some Christmas gifts which would “keep on giving”. To my sisters, I gave a donation to Food for the Hungry to educate a girl for a year. To my vegetable-growing mother in law, we gave a donation of vegetable seeds to a poor community in South America. etc.

3) We have decided to switch to buying fair-trade only coffee. For a long time I have put all the buzz words of our day (organic, free range, fair trade, nitrate free, sustainably developed etc) in the same category. Organic was the only category I had given a little thought to – and I figured that the risk was ours: we could choose to brave the pesticides and wash our fruit and veggies, or not. No harm to anyone else – our risk alone.

But now I realize that they are not the same. The risk is OURS if we buy non-organic products. But to but non-fair trade products means the risk was someone else’s. Learning about our slavery footprint was eye-opening.  A package of coffee which is not marked as being fair trade could perhaps have a stamp on it which says “hand-picked for your enjoyment by oppressed people worldwide.” So I will buy fair trade coffee.

There’s more to be done, even in our own home. I read an article just before Christmas which has given me much more to think and ponder. But for now – this is where we start.

Shiny-successful lady, you were wrong.

It is not naive to want to help women and children. It’s human. It’s necessary. It’s what we must do. I serve the God who cares about the poor, the fatherless, the widow. He came to set the captives free. I dare not think that, as one of His children and one of His disciples, doing nothing is an option.

This is an exciting year. I can feel it already. I’m taking my 15-year-old self out for a treat to see how little-me can make a big-difference to little-you out there.