I'm an unlikely activist.
When I was a college student I was focused on preparation for ministry and ‘saving souls.’ My dreams, plans, and desires were how to be more effective in youth ministry, camps, mission trips, etc. I strove to be a person who made an impact, and what mattered was how the now impacted the ‘future coming glory.’
I recall one instance on my college campus where a student group was showing a film relating to to the actions of the CIA in El Salvador. At the time, I couldn't be bothered to go and see it, I wasn't into 'social justice.'
After a number of years in full-time ministry my story slowly began to change. Etched into my memory is a trip to Mexico, where our group lead a vacation Bible school (VBS), and one of the activities was a craft. On this day we had children glue beans and macaroni to a plate to make a picture. The VBS was held in a home and at the end we gave the leftover macaroni and beans to the hostess. As we were cleaning up to go back to our basecamp and American style dinner, I noticed the hostess sweeping the dirt floor to pick up the beans and macaroni that had fallen during the craft. It suddenly hit me that for her beans and macaroni were FOOD not craft materials. My North American cultural arrogance hit me hard. I determined at that point never to do a craft that included food items again.
My path toward activism continued to change after my wife and I went to Great Britain to live and work. My eyes were opened to a global world which was different than my sheltered American upbringing. I met followers of Jesus from a variety of cultures who thought and lived very differently to me.
While living in the UK I was able to travel to a number of countries, including Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was just after the war in the late '90's and I saw firsthand the devastation of extreme poverty. I had seen poverty in Mexico, but the depth of poverty in this war torn country was shocking.
That trip, and others around the globe like it, have shaped me in profound ways. My own naive college-student ideas of both theology and what 'social justice' meant has shifted.
In 2006 I heard about ONE and the work it was doing to alleviate poverty in Africa. My family had lived in the UK during the turn of the millennium when the "Make Poverty History" campaign began and at that time had tried to participate and promote it. Because the goals were similar, I signed up for ONE.
ONE is a bi-partisan organization which describes itself on the website ONE.org as: “ONE is an international campaigning and advocacy organization of more than 6 million people taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa because the facts show extreme poverty has already been cut by 60% and can be virtually eliminated by 2030, but only if we act with urgency now. Cofounded by Bono, we raise public awareness and work with political leaders to combat AIDS and preventable diseases, increase investments in agriculture and nutrition, and demand greater transparency so governments are accountable to their citizens.”
As a point of entry into “activism”, with ONE it was easy to feel like an activist- the website is set up in such a way that all I needed to do was click and I was able to send a message to my congressperson on issues of poverty in Africa, mosquito nets, immunizations, and electricity. I was what some call a 'clicktavist' and it felt good to help.
My family moved to Wichita in 2013 and through conversation with the ONE headquarters I have become more involved. I agreed to the role of Regional Faith Leader (RFL) for Wichita. By this step I have moved deeper into activism.
The role of RFL led to me attending the ONE Power Summit in Washington DC at the beginning of March. I gathered with about 150 fellow ONE members from around the USA to learn more about the issues of global poverty to hear from policy makers from across party lines, and to spend a day on Capitol Hill talking to Senators and Congresspersons about issues of electricity, immunizations, and global HIV/Aids treatments. It was fun to visit Kansas lawmakers with fellow Kansans to talk about these issues.
I've come along way from college when I wouldn't see a film because it had to do with peace and justice. I now actively promote these issues because I see the Kingdom of God as much more than "pray a prayer so you can go to heaven when you die". I believe that the Church is called to make a difference here and now in this world. As Jesus says in Matthew 25:40: The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Please join me and the other 6 million ONE members from around the world by adding your voice to speak up for the world’s poor at ONE.org
I plan on writing more about ONE and issues of poverty in the future. Stay tuned.