By Seth Barnes, Founder of Adventures in Missions
Jesus was an activist. He stirred things up. He made people mad. He took on the existing social order. Following him was often a stressful proposition.
Which raises the question: Are you more of an activist or a student? The word “activist” acquired some odd connotations in the 60’s. People correlated activism to hippies organizing campus sit-ins.
But true activists are rare; most people are more cautious by nature. Trying to change the existing social order can be painful.
At the same time, insofar as activists are about addressing injustice, we need more of them. We need people who recognize that controversy is a necessary by-product of their efforts.
One of my favorite activist illustrations comes from the Civil War. At the outset, General McClellan was in charge of preparing the Union army to fight. He did a great job of drilling them. The problem was, he could never put the machine he’d created into gear.
Lincoln got frustrated; in his gut he felt he needed to engage the confederates sooner rather than later. He’s reported to have quipped to McClellan, “If you’re not going to use the army, could I at least borrow it?”
When the season comes to act, further preparation is counterproductive. Once a pastor friend of mine saw a vision of me helping lead an army into battle. They were marching in lockstep, but were still putting on their uniforms as they went. They had a bias toward action as opposed to preparation.
We need more people with a bias toward action. When, fresh out of college, I was challenged to establish a microcredit agency in Indonesia, I didn’t go get a degree first; I learned on the field. What I learned was practical – I put it to use right away. Nowadays a lot of people feel they have to get an advanced degree before they can do microcredit work overseas.*
For example, look at the sex trade in Thailand and Cambodia. Many advocacy groups have formed to “raise awareness.” But how many groups have formed to actually do something about this issue? In the fall, we’ll be sending a team of five women to live in Cambodia for two years. They’ll learn the language and go into bars and work to get 14 and 15 year-old girls out of those horrible places.
They’ve watched enough videos and read enough articles. They’re lacing their boots as they go (go here to read their team leader’s blog). They have looked at the sex trade and determined that something has to change. They are ready to put their lives on the line. They are activists.
Where have you been preparing long enough? Where do you need to act?
Seth is the executive director of Adventures In Missions — an organization that sends people on short-term mission trips around the world. He lives in Gainesville, GA with his wife Karen. You can visit his blog “Radical Living in a Comfortable World” at sethbarnes.com.