“What is the most resilient parasite? An idea. Resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain, it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed, fully understood. That sticks, right in there somewhere.” – Dom Cobb, Inception
Our 20s and 30s are full of beginnings and endings: I spent almost all of my 30s working as director at Tearfund in Northern Ireland, and am now moving on after 14 years. As I do this, I’ve been reflecting on three life-changing ideas I will take with me into the next chapter.
1. We are blessed in order to bless others
In 2012, I met Sam, a man whose life was changed by a single idea – that God’s call to him was “to be blessed to be a blessing” (Genesis 12). Sam was an HIV+ disabled farmer, who struggled to feed his family. With Tearfund’s support, Sam’s local church helped him to earn enough money to buy orange trees. Ten years on, I visited him in his flourishing orchard, which is generating enough income for him to feed his children and send them to school. And because he’s captivated by the idea of blessing others, Sam’s set up his own charity, enabling 42 other people who are HIV+ to thrive.
Thousands of years on from making His promise to Abraham, God showed me through Sam that He longs to bless us, to bless others. This idea resonated deeply with me, fuelling a desire to be open to God’s blessing in my own life and to share His blessing through Tearfund, my church, my coaching business and into the wider world.
2. God places potential in each one of us
Last August, I met Yvette who had lost eight of her family in the horrors of the conflict in DR Congo. For the next eight years, a traumatised Yvette lived on one meal a day – on good days. On the other days, they starved.
Yet, every single day of those years, Yvette had God-given potential within her to bring change. Yvette had the skills of a tailor and the brains to establish a little cooking business, but she didn’t have anyone to unlock that potential within her.
As I spent time with Yvette, I was reminded that Jesus fed the 5,000 by using what was in the hands of a little boy – five loaves and two fish (Matthew 14:13-21). Following Jesus’ example, local Christians were able to help Yvette use what was in her hands. They gave Yvette $30, alongside some personal and professional support, to set up businesses making doughnuts and women’s clothes. Her eyes lit up with dignity as she described how she now could feed her children better, send them to school and live in a better house.
As a leader, I’ve learnt over the years that each staff member, volunteer and supporter comes with unique gifts and abilities to unlock. It’s led me to listen more and talk less, which has opened up some incredible possibilities: helping to launch Tearfund Ireland and Thrive Ireland to unlock God-given potential in churches in Ireland, mobilising 15 cyclists to take part in our Cycle of Hope raising more than £40,000 and releasing potential in our incredible team of speakers who help us raise more than £150,000 each year.
3. God calls us to follow one step at a time
In 2013, I challenged Northern Irish Olympic medalists Richard and Peter Chambers to join Doreen and Jouvllet, two Ugandan teenagers who every day carry 20 litres of water to the top of a mountain – a mountain quarter of the height of Mount Everest. I can still picture Richard sinking to his knees in exhaustion at the summit, describing the walk as one of the “hardest training sessions he’d ever done”.
In the middle of this incredibly challenging walk, there was an unforgettable moment of hope. A local teenage boy noticed that Jouvllet was struggling. So, he carried her jerry-can for her for part of the way. It was a simple but Christ-like act: he lifted the burden from her and gave Jouvllet a break.
In Mark 12:28-34, Jesus calls us to love our neighbours as ourselves. Like the teenage boy we are called to love the individual in need in front of us. As someone who loves to achieve, I found incredible release in realising that Jesus doesn’t ask me to change the whole world by myself: he calls me to play a part in changing the world in small and bite- sized amounts.
As I looked around the hills around me, I saw how our local partner was doing just that – building the kingdom person by person, water tank by water tank, community by community. Over the last 25 years, this approach has helped 250,000 people living in extreme poverty to thrive.
My 14 years at Tearfund has shaped me deeply as a person, a professional and a Christian. I have learned about how God seeks to bless us in order to bless others, I’ve learned about the potential He places in each one of us, and about the call to follow Christ’s love for the world, one person at a time. It’s those life-changing memories and life-giving ideas that I’ll take with me into the next step of my journey.
We’re hosting an event tonight, called Does Activism Really Work? – if you’re itching to get started on something that will make a positive change in the world, come along to meet our community of activists, dreamers and doers – there’s still a few tickets left (and they’re free).