Want to change the world? Start right where you are.
Posted by Simon on January 6, 2012
In 1990, at the age of 23, I set out on a trip around the world. I was planning on a leisurely ‘sight-seeing’ journey. But God rudely interrupted my life, and as my heart started to change my hike along the Inca trail in Peru was replaced by an uncomfortable two months in a children’s home in El Salvador. The civil war was still raging. Some time later I found myself working with Burmese students and guerrillas in Bangkok, Thailand and at Manerplaw on the Thai/Burma border.
My cosy upbringing and my rose-tinted view of the world (and of myself) was shattered by that year. For the next two or three years, back in the UK at college (I was what is hilariously known as a ‘mature’ student), I wrestled with what to do about it. I didn’t have the benefit of ignorance, and the reality, extent and complexity of the vast problems in the world were too big for me, emotionally and practically. I’d lived with abandoned, abused children. I’d seen people moments after they’d been shot dead. I’d talked to people who’d witnessed or experienced horrendous injustices. I’d corrected the English of Burmese students writing stories of how “the villager’s legs
was were blown off”. I’d met the Prime Minister-in-exile of Burma, seeing him try to establish a government in the malaria-ridden jungle on the Thai/Burma border while most of his NLD party members were in prison near Rangoon, Burma. What was I, this one little person, supposed to do with that knowledge?
By the grace of God (for my sanity, and for doable next steps) I came to the conclusion that the minimum I must do is act justly, and seek justice, where I am, in my immediate sphere of influence. If I’m not treating people around me with justice, then what kind of hypocrisy is it to campaign for justice elsewhere? And by people I mean family, friends, business owners, musicians, artists; everyone.
This is isn’t a matter of order – it’s not to say one must fix ones own back yard first – but a matter of integrity.
The closer we get to people, the harder it is to act unjustly, or the more the injustice is exposed for what it is. But if we want to change the world, we have to start where we are. I hope, I pray, that at the very least that’s what I’m doing.
For a story of how a mega-church did that in a declining neighborhood of Indianapolis, read “Before ‘Transforming’ Your Neighborhood, Talk to your neighbors“.