Saturday, May 29, 2010

15 seconds

My year as a Faiths Act Fellow officially comes to a close on Monday. It has, without a doubt, been the most formational year of my life. We were all chatting with Eboo Patel earlier this week at our alumni launch, and he asked us at what point during this year did we realize we had become interfaith leaders. I shared how, for me, it was the moment I realized I had a story. And that story is one that is compelling, and worth sharing. I can recount times in the Fall sitting down with people over coffee who had never heard of interfaith work before—in fact were quite hostile to the idea—and by the time our coffee cups were empty they were asking when our next event was so they could attend. That is a testament to the power of Rebecca and I embodying what you are passionate about (or trying hard to do so), and knowing the reasons why you are doing something. I had the privilege of speaking to Tony Blair on skype at our closing dinner as Fellows on Wednesday night, and I shared that with him. I basically said, “Here I am, an evangelical Christian who had never even heard of interfaith work a year ago, and I now consider myself an interfaith leader, and these ideas about collaborating across religious lines have been woven into the basic fabric of who I am.” He kind of sat back on camera in his hotel room and told me that what I said was very inspiring and encouraging to hear. He said he is often meeting with people trying to tackle some of the world's toughest problems, and sometimes he wonders if it is even possible. But then he thinks about young people like all of us, and remembers that his ideas aren't impossible. He was inspired and encouraged by what he has heard from us. That is something else I have learned. I am part of a much larger movement, spanning over 70 countries. People from all walks of life dedicated to their perspective beliefs, but willing to work with others to better the world. This is not some world peace pipe dream from the mouth of a ditzy beauty contestant. It is leaders of the world coming together, and grassroots activism showing the innovative next chapter in religious participation and dialogue; and I have been able to be a small part of it the last eleven months. I am unable to walk away the same.

And did I mention the people I got to do this journey with? The 29 other young people from the US, UK, and Canada who are wise beyond their years, and incredible leaders in every sense of the word? We like to jokingly refer to ourselves as “malaria ass-kickers.” The final numbers are still coming out, but it looks like we raised around $140,000 though our networks. This is 14,000 bed nets, or 3000 families saved. And that is before Tony Blair matches it. Our supervisors estimate 40,000 people had personal discussions with us during the year about our work, and there were 10,000 event attendees. All this to say, I have worked with some INCREDIBLE young people this year, who have inspired me daily with their faith, passion, and ability to fulfill our crazy vision. And if I have learned anything, it is that we were not the first to step into this work of interfaith cooperation and malaria eradication. There are huge shoulders we stand on, and I am sure incredible people will come after us to continue the fight. And we won’t be stopping either. We are alums of this program heading off to pursue all sorts of various epic things, but I know we will continue to raise awareness and fight to eradicate deaths from malaria. For me, part of being a leader means that I need to be committed to caring about issues that might not affect me personally where I live, and that impact people who don’t always look or act like me.

I heard this week from another Fellow that the UN is considering changing the statistic from, “Every 30 seconds a child in Sub-Saharan Africa dies from malaria” to “Every 45 seconds a child in Sub-Saharan Africa dies from malaria.” Never in my life, did I ever think that 15 seconds would mean so much to me. Children are still dying from malaria. All the time, in fact. And it’s completely preventable. But if because of all the work that has gone on in the past 5 years, the international community is making a dent, I think I am entitled to sit back for a second and feel satisfied that I was a part of something that impacted people’s lives for the better. Then I will get back to work.

This is just the beginning. My generation is just getting started. I know the other Faiths Act Fellows would agree with me.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

God speaks

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.


This is fitting for me right now. I don't think I can explain it any more than that. The poem speaks for itself. At least to me. Hopefully it speaks to you too.