When I was 12 I started a campaign to end modern-day slavery. I wasn't a theological prodigy. I was just an awkward, pre-adolescent kid trying to follow Jesus. I heard about people being bought and sold and abused day in and day out and I couldn't imagine Jesus being O.K. with it. So, I decided to do something about it. Now, seven years later, I'm still speaking around the world about the subject, and students have gotten on board helping raise money to set people free. My passion is to help my generation identify an area where they can end suffering.
Occasionally, I've received some criticism about encouraging this kind of passion in my generation. Mostly, it comes from people who share my faith -- I've even been told, "It's great what you and your friends are doing, but why aren't you just preaching the gospel when your whole generation is going to hell?" First of all, what a way to phrase your question -- have they really just predicted the eternal destiny of my generation? Second, I ask these people to place themselves in a specific scenario: What if you are volunteering in a soup kitchen and a homeless woman who hasn't eaten in days approaches you desperately needing something to eat and drink -- would you hand her a Bible and tell her, "Jesus loves you?" I doubt that she'd be feeling the love.
I was in the Kibera slum in Africa and met a mom who was looking for a way to feed her children. If I had talked to her about her need to change her ways, my words would seem cruel and not at all good news. And, surprise to many -- this woman already was a Christian -- she just needed her brothers and sisters to show up and meet her physical needs.
Over and over I find myself asking, "How are people who are hurting or who are in need supposed to believe that God is loving?" Especially if those of us who have the means ignore the needs of people and only provide a verbal presentation of the Gospel as the answer for their suffering? How does that make any sense at all? Shouldn't we give her soup, bread and water and by doing so, demonstrate love? I've read about a time when Jesus fed a hungry crowd sitting on a hill, meeting a very practical need. I've learned about him ending suffering by restoring someone's eyesight, stopping bleeding or healing a skin disease. I can't help but believe that these acts of compassion gave his words about repentance, grace and love more credibility. I have experienced people who are curious about my faith because of my passion for abolition. Maybe this is what James meant when he said "faith without works is dead."
Some critics believe speaking the Gospel should be the priority. Others believe living the Gospel is the priority. I don't understand why we've created this polarization. Loving God compels me to show love to others -- and especially to those who are suffering, even if they don't share my beliefs. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not shy about my faith, I am eager to share what I believe with others because I believe it's the best news I've ever heard. But, I am equally passionate about living it out in a way that proves what I believe. This is not unique to me -- I meet young followers of Jesus around the world who share this mindset.
My generation has a front seat to the suffering in the world -- media has bombarded us with images of famine, genocide, poverty and human trafficking. These realities have left us asking if the spoken Gospel has more power when a follower of Jesus is compelled to extend compassion and justice to humanity. We understand that it is not enough to talk, talk is cheap. We must "Be the change that [we] wish to see in the world." (Gandhi) Because of this knowledge, students are shaping solutions to many social ills. From ending slavery to caring for orphans, many of the most innovative solutions are coming from teens and twenty-something's.
I've recently met a 13 year-old girl who has just funded and built an orphanage in Haiti and established a fish pond in Africa. I know a group of college guys who have dug a dozen clean water wells in Africa. A group of university buddies launched a campaign several years ago that almost single-handedly propelled the plight of child soldiers to the front page of newspapers. A good friend began fighting malaria through her own campaign called "Bite Back" and she has literally saved the lives of millions of people. All of these young people share my faith and felt it required of them not turning the other way when they found suffering in the world, but to be an active part of the solution.
Now at 19, I'm still far from a theological prodigy - and have been called naïve and ignorant. I have learned the value of working with people who think differently from me because there is too much to do to be petty or territorial. I still think I'm awkward and misfit and I find it interesting that people are surprised to learn I'm a Christian - not because of the bad things I think and do (and there are plenty) but because of the passion I have to do good. I'm grateful this misconception about Christians is gradually changing - especially in a day when we're all ready for some really good news.