Share your story. Change the world.

I am a small-time writer with a small-time blog, but recently I posted a piece that got really big really fast. I had been scared to post it. I was scared because it was personal. I was scared because it was political.

I posted it anyway, thinking “well, it won’t make much difference anyway. It’s just my little story,” but I could not have been more wrong. People responded to my story with comment after comment and email after email about how hearing an individual’s story had helped theme to see “the other side” of the debate for the first time, how the personal had cut through the rhetoric. My story encouraged others in turn to write and tell me their stories of how they have suffered under immigration laws. Hearing my story apparently opened up compassion in people who had not ever thought compassionately on the topic before. Sharing my story put a social justice issue on people’s hearts in a way that it had not been before.

storytelling

Story telling has great power to effect change – great change – far beyond what politics or philosophy could possibly do. I think stories are powerful for three reasons in particular:

1. Stories are disarming.

In a world where opinions are thrown at us day in and day out, our natural tendency

is to keep ourselves braced against the onslaught of ideas and words. We read the news with our defenses at the ready. We listen to speeches with our BS-meters finely tuned.

A story, however, does not demand our attention or allegiance. It is an offering of one person’s life and point of view: it does not threaten, it does not demand change. It simply tells. Our generation values being heard, and so when people speak from the heart – we listen. A story can reach the places of the heart, places we generally keep shielded from politicians and activists.

 

  1. Stories cut through bias.

Our natural tendency is to sort people into categories: like us, and not like us. Our inherent bias finds it easy to regard those in our camp as being individuals, unique and distinct. On the flipside of that coin, we tend to believe that all those “in that camp” are all one way. We make these generalizations because it helps us sort through issues of identity, it is our natural sorting hat for classifying, understanding and articulating difference in the world. However, the dangerous side of our natural coping mechanism is that we always carry a set of beliefs about what “they” are like.

The power of the story of just one person is that it breaks open the “they” category, and reminds us of all the individuals in “that camp”. It allows us to feel compassion and empathy for those who are “not like us”, because for the first time the story reminds us that in some way, that person is a lot like us.

3. Stories allow us to choose our response.

In their ground-breaking book “Half the Sky”, Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn challenged readers to respond to three specific social justice issues which affect women world wide. They had an armory of statistics and facts at their disposal, yet they chose to make their appeal by telling specific stories about individual women impacted by each plight.

Our brains cannot process facts like “there are 2 million sex slaves in the world right now”. We can, however, hear and understand the story of Suryesh, kidnapped from her family at 10, beaten by thugs and raped repeatedly each day until she submitted to the brothel owner. Big campaigns and huge numbers overwhelm us. We become immobilized by the enormity of the task, and change seems impossible. However, the story of one gives us a non-threatened space to respond: I cannot save 2 million, but I can make a difference to Suryesh.

Stories have the power to reach and to mobilize people far beyond the reach of politicians and power-mongers. In the quest for social justice then, here are two very powerful things you can do:

 

First: Share Your Story

The personal is political. If you have a story to tell, be brave and tell it. Tell your story of how your friend’s family got deported. Tell the story about the high school kids you work with and the things they go through. Tell your story about the poverty you’ve seen, the prejudices you’ve suffered, the abortion you went through. Share your story of loss, of mistakes made, of learning to hope through adversity. There is healing in the telling, and there is also healing for the hearers. Sharing your thoughts, your fears, your hurts can do far more to reach hearts than you might imagine.

 

Second: Share Someone Else’s Story.

By “share” here I don’t mean tell someone else’s secrets, I mean “share” in the internet sense of the word. I have a few dozen readers of my blog, a relatively small group of people who could hear my story. What made the story BIG was not so much my sharing, but that readers shared the story again and again. Every “like”, every “tweet”, every link emailed across the globe passed the story further and further. I shared my story with 200 people. A week later, it had been read by thousands.

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Social media (used well) can allow us to do impactful work for for building bridges, for bringing understanding, for furthering social justice. Every click of a mouse sends a story’s ripple a little further into the pond, and allows that story to do it’s disarming, awareness-raising, compassion-building, change-bringing work.

Of course, the power of stories should not come as a surprise to us. The Great Storyteller Himself chose stories to teach, to rebuke, to illustrate, to challenge. He chose the gospels, four stories of His life, to be the means by which we see the face of the eternal and invisible God. And he chose us to tell His story, a story which, once heard, shapes people’s eternal destinies.

Share a story. Change the world.

 

You might also like this story: The pair at the door….

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.

katie

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.