If you could save the world, would you?
Across the world, people like you are rising up to fight poverty, oppression, and injustice—not just professionals, but bloggers, musicians, entrepreneurs, artists, homemakers, and advocates. People who refuse to accept the world as it is, who dare to believe change is possible.
But we face a crisis of vision. We sense what needs to be done, but often we don’t know how to do it. Without a better blueprint for doing good well, our moment in history will slip away.
Stephan Bauman, president of one of the largest relief organizations in the world, believes true change begins in the hearts and actions of ordinary people. In Possible, he presents clear and biblical thinking, powerful stories, and practical tools for sustainably impacting our workplaces, neighborhoods, villages, and cities.
Possible is an eloquent and personal call to reconsider what it means to change ourselves so that we can change the world.
|Publisher:||The Crown Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Stephan Bauman is president and CEO of World Relief, a leading international relief and development organization. He is also a poet, ordained minister, and strategist who considers his African friends his most important teachers. Stephan and his wife, Belinda, live near Washington, D.C. with their sons, Joshua and Caleb.
Read an Excerpt
Recovering Our Call
do we dare disturb the universe?
Do you want to do something beautiful for God? . . . This is your chance. —Mother Teresa
During an otherwise normal worship service near Washington, DC, I received a text message I couldn’t ignore. A rebel militia was wreaking havoc in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the world’s most Christian countries yet also one of its poorest and most violent, especially for women and children. My wife, Belinda, was receiving similar messages on Facebook. Gunshots and mortar fire threatened the lives of people we loved.
I sat down to exchange a flurry of texts. Belinda sat down to cry. She was thinking about her friends in Congo. Only a few months before, Belinda knelt with Esperance, a victim of sexual violence, on the dusty concrete floor of a rural church, where they laughed and cried. “You remind me I am still human,” Esperance said.
When you and I hear stories about violence, war, stolen girls, boy soldiers, or hungry children, we feel helpless, exasperated, sometimes even physically ill. When we learn about senseless poverty, brutal racism, mind-boggling violence, or preventable disease, we feel overwhelmed. We pray. Sometimes we give. But we struggle to do more.
Because we cannot change the world.
Or so we think.
A handful of years ago a friend from Indiana, Joe Johns, began to ask hard questions about conflict, faith, and peace in Congo. He and a Congolese pastor named Marcel began to help people see how local militias were turning neighbors against one another. Tensions between churches, they realized, mirrored tensions between tribes. So Marcel convened a group of fellow pastors to help them see where they were wrong. Some shed tears as they forgave one another. Others knelt and prayed together. All committed to developing a better future, making peace a priority, and mobilizing their communities to help people become peacemakers.
And mobilize they did.
Meanwhile, back home, Joe inspired his church to take on the impossible—saving Congo. His friends began to recruit their friends to help. Others gathered resources. Hundreds ran in their local half marathon to raise awareness. One group even rode bicycles across the country in a race to end Congo’s suffering.
Across the country a rapper-poet and friend to Joe began to speak out on how tungsten, tin, and tantalum—all components in our cell phones and other electronics—help fuel the war in Congo, exploiting tribes and perpetuating violence against women. A few people from Bend, Oregon, also took the risk to talk about Congo, the impossible situation no one wanted to tackle. But they did anyway, their voices joining together to become a megaphone, a collective shout too loud to ignore.
A group of women from across the United States heard their appeal and traveled to Congo to meet those most affected by the conflict. Belinda joined their cause. They met ten women, including Esperance. All ten had been victims of violence and had overcome incredible odds to start businesses, provide for their children, and even forgive their perpetrators. They asked Belinda and the others to tell their stories so the world would know about “the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience.”1 So one began to tell the world through art, another through digital portraits, and others through blogging.
And they haven’t stopped since.
When Belinda learned Esperance had escaped the warring militias, she cried tears of joy. Esperance and her sisters found strength in each other, their communities, and their new friends across the world. Now they are helping other women—their “sisters”—some as young as fifteen, to heal from rape and rebuild their lives. Some are also working to mitigate future violence.
Today thousands of peacemakers are changing Congo, and their numbers continue to swell. With their friends from across the United States, they are waging peace to save Congo one village at a time.2
A poet and a blogger, a few warrior moms, two tenacious pastors, and a crew of volunteers offered their gifts, their strengths, their vulnerability, and their grit to inspire a sea of Congolese women, heroes on the front lines of suffering, to change their forgotten corner of the world in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Can we change the world? I believe people like you will do extraordinary things when given the chance, turning some of the most entrenched, seemingly intractable situations of our day into something hopeful, something . . .
I’ve seen it firsthand: students who took the time to help a child in Ghana learn how to overcome a life-threatening disease. A young couple who helped a woman they’d just met to escape a war in Sierra Leone. The gutsy, over¬worked doctor who helped a frightened mother deliver a baby girl only hours after an earthquake hit Haiti.
I believe “there are no ordinary people,”3 only people who are bold enough to think they can save a life, or some corner of the world, and fierce enough to try.
I am convinced the world’s suffering lingers not because people aren’t willing to help. Faith, compassion, and justice stir the souls of many. They are bloggers, technicians, musicians, entrepreneurs, artists, writers, nurses, electricians, rappers, moms, politicians, PhDs, lawyers, students, researchers, and doctors. They are you, and people like you—a groundswell of individuals who simply refuse to accept the world as it is. They want to give their lives to something more, something greater—something possible.
But we cannot change the world the way we used to. The vision of the past is insufficient to carry us into the future. While we honor those who have given their lives before us—their sacrifice, their ingenuity, and their perseverance—we are on the cusp of a seismic shift in how we bring change, moving from an era of a few extraordinary heroes to an era where tens of thousands, even millions, will effect change.
We face a crisis of vision, not will. I meet people every day who long to be part of meaningful change but experience disappointment instead. You may feel this way too. You may wonder if you can really make a difference, if you can genuinely impact the world. You understand the urgency, the gravity—real people, real lives, a billion hungry, twenty-seven million slaves4—and why we must do something. You may even understand what can be done.
But you may not know how.
Unfortunately the idea of changing the world has become rhetorical, superficial, and sometimes even cliché. What we call “change” may ring hollow or prove false. Efforts may be short-lived, paternalistic, or even harmful.
Many would-be activists succumb unwittingly to cynicism. A well-intentioned vision is oversold or gets reduced to a marketing slogan:
Overcome poverty by sponsoring a child.
Buy something “red” and eradicate AIDS.
Tweet “abolition” to end modern-day slavery.
We want to believe the world can be fixed that easily. But we know the challenges are far too complicated for easy solutions. And not only do quick solutions fall short, but they are also costly. Sometimes we do injustice to the very people we seek to help. We dabble with one issue, then shift our attention to another, or lose interest altogether, leaving our relationships shallow. We pursue versions of human progress void of local ownership, creativity, and perseverance.
We hurt ourselves too. We assume the answers—whatever they are—reside with us, because we’re slow to recognize the deep wisdom and untapped potential of those who suffer. Our theology and practice remain tethered between false dichotomies of word and deed, sacred and secular, us and them.
God forgive us.
History is inviting us to join something deeper, something more, something beyond ourselves, where we boldly stare down the facts without dumbing down the issues, where we stay the course—from impossibility straight through to possibility.
Our tipping point is near. We can seize it—or miss it for a generation or more. With a better vision for how to change the world, you and I can reset how we engage and overcome some of the world’s most desperate problems.
As outrageous as this might sound to you, this book tells how.
Belinda and I didn’t set out to change the world. In our twenties we left our rural hometown in Wisconsin for a six-month stint in West Africa, hoping to do some good while trying to find our calling. Having barely traveled, we were inexperienced and naive. Within months we were asked to lead a medical team into the bush. Villagers streamed to our makeshift clinic, some with mild infections, others with rare tumors, and one woman with a severe case of gangrene, her wound wrapped in chicken manure and banana leaves, the local remedy. Overwhelmed by the needs, the medical staff asked for our help. Belinda and I pulled guinea worms—a common, waterborne parasite—from the legs of children. I remember a boy letting a tear slip as I cleaned a wound near his eye. He was ashamed, perhaps for the pain he felt but more likely for needing help from me.
Days later I scavenged a used newspaper in Ghana’s capital city of Accra. Its front page reported the World Health Organization had eradicated guinea worm from the planet.
I begged to differ.
Belinda and I had planned to volunteer in Africa for six months. We ended up staying for six years. I resigned my job in business back home, and Belinda resigned hers as a teacher. Africa became our home and justice our calling.
But Africa changed us more than we changed it. We left home with the hope of changing the world and came back wondering if it was even possible. We had answered the why question without adequately considering the what and especially the how. Well-intentioned as we were, if we learned anything, we learned by doing things the wrong way first. We went to Africa with an¬swers and left with questions—honest questions regarding faith, culture, and what seemed like superficial solutions in light of a torrent of pain: What is God’s purpose in human suffering? What is my calling in light of this pur¬pose? How can we create lasting change—change that meaningfully empow¬ers those who suffer most? What must I learn from those I am seeking to serve? Who must I become? What is my appropriate role, given the rise in capacity in the majority world?5 Maybe you’ve asked similar questions.
Times have changed, and so have we. We’ve learned from our mistakes, the grace of friends, and the wisdom of those who suffer. There are good answers to your questions and mine, questions we’ll explore together in the pages ahead.
In one of T. S. Eliot’s poems, the character J. Alfred Prufrock asks, “Do I dare disturb the universe?”6 But he queries not with courage or resolve but with cynicism and cowardice. Prufrock has given up, resigned to finish out his days without dreams or hope. But where Prufrock whimpers, you and I can declare, “With God we dare.”
I am convinced that clear vision and thoughtful action will unleash us to do more and to do it better. There is a fork in the road for all of us. Faith or fear, courage or capitulation will determine our path. One is easy, the other difficult, but only one can create the lasting change we need most. As in every age, God calls his people to do the very thing we think we cannot do. Dallas Willard spoke of a coming age of unprecedented heroism, “a time for men and women to be heroic in faith.”7
I believe that day has come.
What if there was a better way to change the world, a vision of such pervasive change that only the language of reformation would suffice? God invites us to change the world. Biblical? Yes. Possible? Yes. But it will require an over¬haul of how we understand our calling, a radical shift in how we see the problem, and an honest look at how we think, who we are, and how we live.
We cannot remain as we are. “Vision leaves our present situation indefen-sible,” says Bill Hybels.8
Can we imagine a different future?
Envision tens of thousands, even millions, of people, whether young or old, rich or poor, super gifted or modestly talented, discovering their callings and employing their strengths to create meaningful, compre-hensive, and lasting change in neighborhoods, villages, and cities.
Thus far, most of our efforts to change the world involve only a few—experts, clergy, and professionals—leaving the majority on the sidelines to serve marginally or to observe passively.
Imagine instead a village or com¬munity that invites everyone, especially the most vulnerable, into the prob¬lem; that calls upon their diverse, resilient, and profound strengths; that co-creates solutions with those closest to the problem.
Imagine our global faith community, in all its expressions of worship, prayer, and study, focused first on those who are left out, those who suffer, those who are unable to experience the tangible love of God.
Much of our faith community is organized around ourselves, mainly our spiritual and social welfare. Out of our excess we devote a bit of time and resources to the vulnerable. But what if we were to flip this paradigm on its head and instead organize around God’s love for the least first, where worship doesn’t sidestep the world’s suffering but includes them?
Consider a group of people so thoroughly captivated by truth, compas-sion, and justice that their words and actions spontaneously impact others to pursue the same.
Too often we offer compassion or “do justice”9 merely to feel better about ourselves. We serve only if it’s safe. We risk primarily for reward. Imagine, instead, a groundswell of people so thoroughly infused with the love of God that they risk their lives for others in uncommon ways.
I know people like this. Maybe you do too.
This book proposes a set of universal principles—what I am calling blueprints—for anyone seeking to create and sustain change. Blueprints give just enough detail to help us visualize and build or arrive at something new. Think of a topographical map of a forest or mountain that shows the elevations, the likely terrains, the lakes. The geographical features are fixed, cre¬ated years before, but the path you cut through the forest or over the mountains is personal and creative. Blueprints don’t show everything, but they do point the way and infuse our creativity. The right blueprint can turn your life into a sacred adventure or quest, a journey that actually chooses you and changes you so completely you cannot resume your old life.10
There are three essential blueprints for us to discover:
1. The first is universal, archetypal, and invitational. It’s God’s divine blueprint for saving the world. It speaks to the purpose for everything and why you are invited, by design, to join in. We’ll explore several archetypal patterns of change and their implica¬tions for us today (chapters 1 and 2). And we’ll grapple with, and reframe, age-old conundrums about faith and injustice (chapter 5).
2. The second is personal: how God has uniquely created, called, and designed you to participate in remaking the world. In chapter 3 we’ll rethink who’s called and why, dispelling some common myths. We will unpack the journey of calling, from the mountaintop experience through the valley of disappointment (chapter 4). Then we’ll explore and expand the idea of creativity and our role in remaking the world (chapter 8).
3. The third is practical: what you must do to effect positive change, what the best way is to do it, and how to start. We’ll explore a model for change to help you practically engage your commu¬nity, church, neighborhood, or village (chapters 6 and 7). We’ll also look at what it takes to multiply impact by investing in surprising agents of change (chapters 9 and 10). Finally I include two tools at the end of the book to help you practically apply these ideas to your context.
Throughout the book you will find suggestions to create your own blue¬print for engaging and applying these principles to your life and the world. We will craft vision together, diagnose root issues, and map change. The ideas that follow are based on proven practices anchored in universal princi¬ples, so they will apply regardless of your context, and each will build upon the other.
If you are willing to accept this invitation, pick up a blank journal and across the first page write the word Possible. Unprecedented times call for exceptional people to do uncommon things. Let it begin with us.
a fellowship of dissidents
Sometimes the first step is the hardest. In the opening scene of the movie The Fellowship of the Ring, Sam Gamgee, a homegrown Hobbit who has never left his village, comes to the edge of the Shire to begin his unexpected jour¬ney. He says to Frodo, his Hobbit friend, “If I take one more step, it will be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been.” Frodo replies, “Come on, Sam. Remember what Bilbo used to say: ‘It’s a dangerous business going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no know¬ing where you might be swept off to.’ ”11
And so it is with us. The first step beyond the familiarity of home com¬mits you to a journey that could falter or forever change the world and your life too. Sam Gamgee stepped into the “seeming void” and found “the rock” of faith.12 I believe a rock is waiting there for you as well.
Years ago I took that first step, but I went kicking. I lived an ideal, almost clichéd life growing up in rural Wisconsin—Green Acres via rabbit ears on the family television, the Green Bay Packers on Sundays, and green bean cas¬serole for the holidays. I played the drums in my father’s wedding band, rang the altar-boy bells at church, and fell in love with the girl next-door.
After graduating from college, I began my days in a skyscraper cubicle with the New York Times and a cup of caffeine. And it was there that injustice split my world in two. For months the Serbian siege of Sarajevo, the longest in modern history, captured the world’s attention. It caught mine too. I re¬member a 1993 headline that read: “Two lovers lie dead on the banks of Sa¬rajevo’s Miljacka River, locked in a final embrace.” Bosko and Admira, both twenty-five, were shot by a sniper while trying to escape Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, under siege. “They were shot at the same time, but he fell instantly and she was still alive,” said a soldier who witnessed their deaths. “She crawled over and hugged him and they died like that, in each other’s arms.”13
In 1993 Belinda and I were also twenty-five. We were born just eight hours apart in the same small town in the same hospital and fell in love in high school, just like Bosko and Admira. For the first time I encountered war—viscerally somehow, even from the safety of my skyscraper. I could no longer dismiss someone else’s injustice and suffering. Although a world away, Bosko and Admira felt up close and personal.
I vowed to do something.
At that time celebrities like Bob Geldof and Bono began talking about “stupid poverty,” about suffering that just shouldn’t be, about children dying from diseases the world had long known how to cure. The world witnessed the Ethiopian famine, courtesy of CNN. Nelson Mandela was rebuilding a nation torn and oppressed by racism. On the surface I ignored these currents, but privately, in the quiet corners of my busy days, I wondered if my faith was too small.
So I said a dangerous prayer: “God, if there is more, please show me.”
Belinda suggested we volunteer in Africa, a dream she had nurtured for years, but I turned her down flat. When I finally said yes, I did so in stages. We committed to a few months at first, and then a few more, until we finally said yes for good. Belinda chose the “road less traveled”; I followed, and as Robert Frost said, it made all the difference.14
The groundswell we dream of requires more than a few people to say yes. If we can do this, you can too . . . and a couple hundred of your friends with you.
We need a generation to think big in order to inspire a fellowship of dis-sidents, innovators, and mavericks. When a Xhosa man was living out his twenty-seven-year prison term on Robben Island, off the coast of South Af¬rica, he wasn’t thinking about saving his country. He was doing something more difficult: forgiving his prison guard. When he walked free, he said, “I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”15
Twenty years later he invited his former prison guard to be his honored guest at his presidential inauguration. Nelson Mandela held back “a tide of vio¬lence”16 in post-apartheid South Africa with radical forgiveness. Talk about change. Mandela said,
Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. . . . Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation.17
Mandela’s words echo that of another dissident some two millennia ear¬lier. Jesus, himself an unlikely candidate for bringing change, called the least likely people to change the world—many uneducated, all inexperienced, and all rough around the edges. His language to us is always “whosoever” or “if you believe” or “anyone who . . .”
Do we dare disturb the universe?
I suggest anything less than a full-throated yes is tantamount to turning our collective moral gaze away from what we know to be right, what we know to be biblical, and what we know to be possible.
speaking of faith
If you are new to faith, turned off for one reason or another, or merely an outsider looking in, I invite you to read on. Faith is at the heart of our con-versation because the notion of saving the world demands answers to ques¬tions that are both epic and personal in scope.
A filmmaker friend who had all but thrown in the towel on faith traveled with me and a few others to Congo a few months after an upsurge in violence.
After meeting with several women who told us how they had forgiven their violent perpetrators, he made this stunning statement: “I don’t believe in the God of the United States, but I believe in the God of Congo.” My friend encountered people who spoke a profound message through their lives: “God is with us in our suffering, and that is enough. We believe.” For him it took a journey into the heart of the world’s suffering to glimpse the heart of a lov¬ing God.
I pray that you, too, discover the relentless God of the universe, not through shimmering stained glass, but instead through faces marred by suf¬fering yet marked with unspeakable joy. No one is excluded from the quest to make a difference in the world. We need you now.
truth and dare
If you dare to disturb the status quo, then you are not afraid to seek the truth. You are probably already asking honest questions, such as these:
• Isn’t it a bit arrogant to think I can really impact the world?
• What if I just don’t have the stomach, let alone the courage, to take on suffering?
• Isn’t God the only One who can save the world?
The following questions will help you grapple with the possibility of changing the world. They are designed to help you begin your journey to¬ward meaningful change.
You may want to discuss these questions with your friends, family, small group, college class, book club, or church. Don’t settle for pat answers, and don’t give up on your big ideas and deepest hopes. Try not to overthink the questions; just give your honest response. If certain questions don’t make sense to you, move on. They are meant merely to stimulate your thinking.
[Answer the following questions using: Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Undecided, Agree, and Strongly Agree]
1 Needs should be understood first before trying to help.
2 Victims can help themselves.
3 Faith and justice belong together.
4 Everyone should change the world.
5 Simplifying the problem is important for people to engage.
6 It is important to be a voice for the voiceless.
7 It’s best to do it right the first time.
8 Outsiders to the village, community, or neighborhood should be careful when offering help.
9 We will always have poverty in this life.
10 God wants us to help him save the world.
[Answer the following questions using: Fairly Often, Sometimes, and Almost Never]
11 Over the life of a project, you see an increase in leadership by the people in the community, neighborhood, or village.
12 You follow a learning process for understanding what works and what doesn’t.
13 You see resources coming from within the community over the life of a project or partnership.
14 You are surprised by the root issues of injustice or poverty.
15 You see people who are often considered victims speaking up for their community.
After you’ve worked through these questions, consider journaling the reasons you are setting out on this journey, and list a few hopes as well. As you do, don’t be afraid to dream.
Whoever you are, whatever your journey, I trust this book creates an event in your life marked by “before” and “after.” I believe you will encounter God through this journey, because engaging suffering and injustice is a high calling, one that is close to the heart of God. What you do with your life matters—to you, to the world, and most of all to God.
Table of Contents
How to get the most out of Possible 1
Part I Recovering our call
1 Do we dare disturb the universe? 7
2 The fierce urgency of now 23
3 There's more to you than you know 37
4 Awakening your life 55
Part II Reframing the problem
5 Six impossibilities before breakfast 75
6 When caterpillars fly 91
7 A beautiful collision 101
Part III Remaking the world
8 Begin the world over again 113
9 The making of heroes 137
10 Hatching hope 151
A word after: all things 167
Appendix A The beautiful tree: a tool for discovering and designing change 171
Appendix B Mapping a better future: a tool for mobilizing, implementing, and multiplying change 177
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Our world is weighed down by great suffering. We see suffering in the news and on social media. We see the suffering of others in our communities and families. We become overwhelmed by the suffering, so that though we desire to do something about suffering in the world, we end up doing nothing. We become paralyzed by what we see and hear. Stephen Bauman has written a great book on how each of us can change the world. The change begins with us. The book offers practical steps intertwined with supporting antidotes. Scriptural support and solid theology supports his thoughts on how we can change the world. We do not have to settle for how the world is today and accept that suffering and hopelessness is just a part of life. Instead, we can clarify our vision, believe change is possible, and know that our passions define the path we can take to affect change around us. This book would be great for those in outreach groups in churches as well as those who are passionate about social justice. “Possible; A Blueprint for Changing How We Change the World” is a much needed handbook on how we can impact world change through our passions and gifts. It is “possible” to change our world. "Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review."