Question #2: What voices do you allow to have influence in your life?
Kony 2012 is an example of marketing genius and demonstrates an effective exploitation of social media to move a story quickly and generate massive amounts of support for a cause. It raises many interesting questions if we decide to take the time to think and investigate instead of simply reacting to a message from a short video that a lot of our friends like.
If you follow a few hundred people on Twitter and a few hundred people on Facebook, you have the opportunity to be bombarded each day with whatever those people think is most important for themselves and everyone around them. You will also occasionally receive messages encouraging you to click a link to see who is saying bad things about you, or to get a free $1,000 gift card to one of your favorite stores. The moment you do it, you release your identity and allow someone else to use your reputation to influence your friends. They will then use your identity to convince your friends that you believe it is worth their time to do something you value, except that it’s not what you really value. Our fears and desires are well known and they are targeted every day. Who are we really allowing to speak to us and how much of what we are listening and responding to is an accurate portrayal of reality?
One reason I am personally passionate about this whole phenomenon is due to my former ministry. I worked for almost ten years, traveling internationally to visit churches and equip them for compassionate service to the poor in their communities. I have friends in Uganda and I know missionaries there who have first hand experience working with children who have escaped out of the LRA. Because of my experience, I also know that if you were to listen to the voices of many people living in Northern Uganda today, they would tell you a very different story than the one you heard through Kony 2012.
When I first entered the world of church based international relief and development all those years ago, one of my predecessors gave me some very wise advice to consider that is beneficial for any Christian who wants to get involved in serving the poor and the suffering in international contexts. It has everything to do with your choice of counselors and the partnerships you develop.
1. You should begin by seeking wisdom and understanding from God. What do the Scriptures say about it? Pray and ask God to show you what He has said about something, what he is already doing, and how you can best be involved. Ask if he is calling you to do or support a specific kind of work in a particular location. The difficulty in deciding what one thing you should do often comes because there are so many good things you could be involved in. You need God’s guidance.
2. Find people who are already involved in the kind of work you want to pursue. Learn from their successes and failures. Watch them for a while before you start doing anything. If you are responding quickly to the first thing you hear, you will always be prone to being led into doing all kinds of things for other people. Find and listen to people you respect. Make sure they demonstrate humility, trustworthiness and experience in the kind of work you are considering.
3. Develop relationships with the people you want to help. You must know the people you want to serve, otherwise you will end up doing things that you think are best for them, without any concern for what they think and how your help affects them. You may actually end up hurting them, even if it’s not your intention.
This is an important litmus test: Anyone who asks you to get involved in a cause and gives you the impression that there’s no time to ask questions is using you. The cause may be for a good purpose, but the method of employing your help must also respect your ability to think. People seeking your help need also to recognize the responsibilities and priorities God has called you to be faithful with in your own life. There are many ways that people will try to lead you to help with their mission, and it may have nothing to do with God’s mission or your part of God’s mission.
You must involve your heart and mind in preparation to act. You must seek wisdom. If you do not, you may end up contributing to something you think you believe in, only to find out the full story is different than what you were told. Do you only listen to what’s most popular or to those who speak the loudest? Do you listen to the one who speaks first, or do you wait to hear from others (Prov. 18:17)? Wisdom comes from having a multitude of counselors (Prov 11:14, 15:22, 24:6).