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"We're too young to know that some things are impossible, so we will do them anyway." William Pitt in the film Amazing Grace
Hey, friends! When I was writing Generation Change, I did research on young people who were doing good in the world and doing it well. Well, that was four years ago, and now this book could be four or five times longer. It used to be that when I spoke at an event, people had a lot of questions about what they could do to make a difference. Now the conversations I have when I'm out speaking at events are quite different from conversations I used to have. There are more and more people coming up and telling me what they're already doing to help people in their community or around the world. Honestly, it's really encouraging to me. But I have also been discouraged by the people who believe social justice is just another fad or trend for our generation. And I do get concerned about that. If we reduce justice to a simple click of a "like" button on Facebook, or just wearing a cause's T-shirt without really giving of ourselves—or if we fail to develop a mindset that views our wealth and influence as things to be invested in the plight of people who are hurting—then, yes, our generation's justice efforts may become a passing phase, something we neglect as we enter into adulthood. Though I'm guessing that if you bought this book, you probably share these concerns and want compassionate justice to be a deep and lasting part of who you are.
If we could sit down together, I'm sure you'd have stories to share of friends who are making a habit of service. Or tell me about things you're doing to bring relief to people who are suffering. I'd love to hear those stories. But since I can't sit down with all of you, I hope you'll share those stories online by visiting my Facebook page (facebook.com/zachhunter) and telling me what you or those you know have done to promote change.
But for now, I'm really glad you picked up this book. Its purpose is to shed a little light on some of the biggest problems facing our generation and to inspire people to find ways they can make a difference. I was only sixteen when I wrote Generation Change. I don't pretend to be an expert on all these issues then or now, but I'm learning a lot about the work that needs to be done. (If you're an adult reading this, you may think, "He's so naïve." Well, you're probably right ... but I hope since I'm still just a teenager, you'll allow me to be naïve for a little while longer.)
As I've traveled I've met so many students who want to invest their youth to help improve the world. I've been really inspired by my generation—not only by the encouragement other students offer me in my own activities but also by the way so many kids in our generation are unselfishly helping others.
As you read this book, you'll notice that I talk quite a bit about my faith. That might bother you if it isn't what you expected when you picked up the book. Jesus and the Bible's teachings have shaped the way I view my responsibility in the world, so it's an important part of my story. But I know the big issues in this book are important to lots of people, not just Christians. So whether you share my beliefs or not—if you're interested in making a difference in this world, I welcome you. Thanks for reading.
WHERE IN THE WORLD DO WE START?
We have to start with ourselves. We must undergo a change in our thinking, finding a deeper commitment to helping "others," and maybe even a new sense of wonder about what could be and how we can be a part of making that "could be" happen. Ultimately, the change needs to happen within our hearts. For those of us who call ourselves Christians, that means seeking God diligently and yielding ourselves to him, asking him to change us and give us a new set of priorities and a deeper love for all people.
If we're really going to follow Jesus, we need to make sure our priorities are in line with his priorities. Over the past few years I've been amazed at the amount of teaching in the Bible that focuses on how we are supposed to treat the poor. I had no idea what a huge priority this was to God.
People sometimes say that those of us who claim to follow Jesus are self-centered and focused on our own comforts and wishes. They think Christians seem petty and small-minded. It bothers me that this might be how some people view me and my friends who follow Jesus—especially since that's so far from what God calls us to be. I was just reading in the ancient book of Isaiah and discovered an interesting section where God talks about his priorities:
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
That's from the 58th chapter of Isaiah. (I know it's kind of a long passage, but I hope you didn't skip it. If you did, please go back and read it.) It's pretty radical. God says that if we spend ourselves on behalf of the hungry, and if we focus our attention on taking care of the poor, the hurting, and the oppressed, then we will shine. I think people who shine and reflect the goodness of God might be an answer to the criticisms many make about Christians.
I have a lot of hope in today's generation. I really believe God wants to use us in incredible ways. Our generation has seen the hurting in the world in living color: the media has brought every major human rights, health, and environmental crisis right into our living rooms and classrooms. We know the comfortable lifestyles of most Americans are not "reality" for most people in the rest of the world.
I wrote this book in 2007, which was the 40th anniversary of the famous "Summer of Love" that marked the beginning of the hippie movement. I believe our generation should launch a new movement of peace, love, and justice—but this time do it with God. The hippies talked a lot about "free love," but we've got to realize that true, lasting, life-changing love isn't free. It costs—it costs a lot! Real love means sacrificing something of ourselves, some of our own comfort. It means giving ourselves up like Jesus did. He wasn't prideful—even though he had all the answers. He wasn't a finger pointer—even though he was sinless. But he spoke the truth, even when it was hard to hear, and he got busy helping broken people put their lives together and meeting real needs like the need for food, shelter, and healing.
It's easy to complain about what's wrong with the world today. But I think our generation is tired of hearing complaints and excuses, and we're eager to see people get busy and do something about the problems. And I don't mean just more talking and meeting about the problems—I mean finding solutions to meet the needs. I think we feel a connection with history, rather than a hatred of it. We want to continue the good work that's being done, but also write new chapters that show we've learned from some of the things done well (and done poorly) in the past. If we can learn from the failures and successes of those who have come before us, and work with God, we will not be stopped. We can carry on the torch of great people of the past. Who knows, maybe God has called this generation specifically to demonstrate his love and care for the poor. Maybe that is the "work he's prepared in advance for us to do."
That's an exciting thought!
People sometimes talk about how the church is selfish. They say we're eager to build huge buildings and bigger parking lots, serve up fancy coffee and sit in cushy chairs, and stock the youth rooms of our churches with Wiis, Xbox 360s, and snacks—but ignore a hurting world. It's time to give people a different idea of what the church is all about. We hear a whole lot about what Christians are against (we're known for being "anti-this" and "anti-that")—and I do think it's important to stand against some things. But it's time for a generation of Christians who are known because they stand up for something. It's time for a new day. It's time for Generation Change.
So, if you're ready, here's what I think Generation Change would look like:
People who love Jesus radically, and who translate that love into real action in their own lives and the lives of others.
People who know that to love Jesus well you need to know him personally and study his ways.
People who demonstrate the love of Jesus by seeking to work shoulder to shoulder with all who share the desire to help others, not just with other Christians.
People who lead humbly by serving.
People who spend time helping the poor and the oppressed in the world.
People who invest their influence to help others rather than hoarding it for themselves.
People who prepare well for their future so they are equipped to bring about change.
I've listed some of the great examples of Generation Change in my acknowledgments. I encourage you to check them out. These are people I am watching and learning from.
A youth worker once asked me, "If you could tell adults anything, speaking for your generation to ours, what would it be?" I had two things: The first had to do with dreams. When speaking to kids, pastors and youth workers love to quote 1 Timothy 4:12: "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity." Our generation hears it all the time, but do we really believe it? Adults, imagine a kid walks into your office and says, "Here's my dream." The kid goes on to tell you about a ridiculously impossible plan for ending world hunger. What do you say? Would it be something like, "Maybe when you're older." Or "Umm ... right ... but there are a few reasons why this isn't a good idea" or "That's been tried before, and it didn't really work that well." Or do you instead encourage that kid to pursue the dream and tell them how awesome it is that he wants to do something to help others rather than just thinking about himself? I encouraged the youth worker to let those kinds of dream take root in kids' lives. Let them imagine the big things they might accomplish in the world. The time will come when they'll need you to talk through their plans and guide and direct them—but don't be quick to squash the dream.
The second thing I told this youth worker was to give us God. My generation is dying of thirst in a desert and we don't even know there's an oasis right in front of us. We come to youth group and church because we think there may be answers there that we're not finding elsewhere. Sometimes instead of the living water that Jesus offers, we're greeted with more of the same stuff we get the rest of the week—games, music, food—but very little God. I like fun and games too—I am still a teenager—but I believe we're desperate for so much more. We don't need a fun and easy substitute. What we really need is to find our true identity and purpose in God.
BEING GENERATION CHANGE
This book is intended to help equip Generation Change to get busy. Lots of people tell me their hearts are stirred to bring hope and help, but they aren't sure where to begin. If that's true for you, then you'll find some ideas in the pages ahead. Take them, expand on them, work them out in your community, make them better, and come up with your own.
But in this book, you won't find a complete description of all the ins and outs of every issue or an exhaustive listing of every possible thing you can do to make an impact. What you will find is an overview, lots of ideas to get you going, and some personal stories of people from our generation who are working to change the world.
A lot of the ideas in this book focus on helping children. I've learned that children are often the most vulnerable people in the world, especially when they are orphaned. I've spent the last few years trying to work against modern-day slavery. (You'll read more about that in the chapter on justice.) Once, when I was taking questions after speaking to a group of students, a girl asked if adults were still enslaved today—because I'd been talking mainly about children in slavery. I responded that there are many adults enslaved today, but I tend to talk more about children for a couple different reasons. First, since I'm a young person, the issue became more personal for me when I learned about kids my age in slavery. Second, half of all victims of slavery worldwide are children. And third, God has a soft spot in his heart for children. Jesus once said, "See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven" (Matthew 18:10). Children are very close to the heart of God.
NEAR AND FAR
Some of the ideas you'll read about in this book are "near"—they're about addressing problems in your own neighborhood. Some are far away—in other parts of the world. You may not be able to travel all over the world, but you can raise money and awareness, and through those activities you can bring help to the people who live thousands of miles away. I think we need to balance both—helping neighbors near and far.
I want to thank you again for reading through this book and for walking with me on this journey. I'm learning a lot. At times I'm disappointed in myself and my walk with Jesus. I feel discouraged by how much I have to learn and the opportunities I miss to make the most of what I do know. But more often I'm excited at the possibility of being used by God. I feel like I'm getting to know him better. And I'm thrilled to be a part of a generation of young people who are coming together to make our world a better place.
I'm hoping we can continue to learn together how to "spend ourselves on behalf of the poor" and be the Generation Change that will spark a revival that changes the world.
Excerpted from GENERATION CHANGE by ZACH HUNTER Copyright © 2011 by Zach Hunter. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted November 24, 2012