Changing the world

October 20, 2014

Do you believe one person can change the world? That was the question on one of those quizzes that get shared through Facebook. This one was to determine whether you were a pessimist or an optimist. Turns out I am a realist, which is why I pondered that question a lot.

In my own life, I have no expectation that I personally will be able to eradicate Ebola, resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, or eliminate poverty in Minnesota. And yet, I recognize that throughout history there have been people who have been propelled or raised into roles or positions that have indeed changed of the course of history and, ultimately, the world. Leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. come to mind—but so do pivotal persons humbly living out their call and ethic, people like Mother Teresa and Rosa Parks.

So, are those the exceptions, or can all of us have such an impact on the world? As I kept pondering, I reflected on the fact that while the world knows the name Martin Luther King, Jr., there was a whole movement behind him. There were church folks praying and marching. There were sit-ins at lunch counters and students on buses to register voters. There was a courageous president in Lyndon Johnson to enact legislation. The world was changed. But without each person saying, “I can be the one person,” there would not have been the many who created the movement.

There is a great TED Talk by Derek Sivers in which he talks about movements that start with one lone nut dancing. He says somebody needs to be the first person to put himself out there, but the real leadership is not exhibited by the lone nut dancing—it is in the first follower who gets up to dance with him so he not just a lone nut anymore. And things really get going when three or four more join in and it becomes a movement . . . something cool to be a part of. Eventually, the entire crowd will join in because the rest of the people don’t want to be left on the outside.

We have all seen that phenomenon time and again, haven’t we? I was recently at the banquet celebrating 25 years of OC Ministries. This movement began when Kathy Horn said to Lyndy Zabel: There is a need and we need to do something. Now, I am not saying they were lone nuts, but I suspect that early on, it could have felt as if they were all alone—and they may have heard more than once some skeptics saying, “You want to do what?”

Today, 25 years later, OC Ministries is more than Operation Classroom. The “C” also encompasses churches, clinics, crops, clear vision, clean water, and connections . . . and the nonprofit mission is doing work in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Jamaica. Hundreds of people have participated in its mission, and thousands have been impacted. OC Ministries is educating, feeding, and healing children who will someday become the next leaders who may indeed change the world.

What impresses me most about OC Ministries is that it was started without annual conference legislation or a conference committee approving it beyond saying, “Sure, you can raise money through us for that in a Love Offering and Advance Special status.” It has never had a line item in the apportioned budget. And yet, thousands of dollars have been given and used for making a difference. Lives have been changed for the better, and what it took was passionate people seeing a need and believing they could do something about it, and other people willing to be the first followers and inviting others to join the dance.

I am realist. I am realistic about how complex and big and difficult are the challenges we face in the world. I understand Jesus saying, “The poor you will always have with you.” He was not saying to do nothing about poverty—don’t bother because you can’t solve this one. You see someone hungry, you feed them. You see someone naked, you clothe them. You see someone in prison, you visit them. He was very clear about that. But at the same time, he knew how pervasive human greed, power, and self-interest are. That is why we need a savior, and ultimately, the shalom of God will not be realized until the fullness of time when God acts.

But in the meantime, we participate in bringing in the kingdom by courageously showing up and doing good in all the ways we can. You just never know how God might use you. Do you ever wonder: If Peter and Andrew had not dropped their nets to follow Jesus, how would history have been different? Two Galilean fisherman . . . nobodies . . . who started a movement that has had a profound impact on my life and yours.

So can one person change the world? You bet. Especially when Jesus calls them by name and they believe God can use them to do great things.

Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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