Preparing for the Spirit in Action 16th Anniversary earlier this month gave me a chance to reflect on the role models that are the foundation of Spirit in Action’s vision. Below is my reflection on three leaders that keep me encouraged and inspired:
We spent three days with Canaan Gondwe in Malawi and it felt like we were there for weeks.
People had told us to prepare for “Africa time” nothing happens quickly or on-time. But Canaan had everything in order; he kept us on a tight schedule, rushing us off to meet with people, see farms, share and listen to people. There were so many in that rural village who wanted to meet us and thank us, as representatives of SIA.
Right from that beginning, when Canaan quickly drove us back to his village because our bus was 1.5 hours late, I saw that Canaan was a strong leader. He commanded respect and showed respect to everyone – greeting men, women, and children on the road. He has a warm smile and a booming voice. When he gave his presentation welcoming us, people listened and clapped in agreement. When we went to visit farms, people sought his advice on pig farming and growing tomatoes. People willingly shared their car with him and worked in the office with him.
Serving happens person-to-person
So Canaan is our first role model today. There is a quote by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen saying, “Fixing and helping create a distance between people, but we cannot serve at a distance. We can only serve that to which we are profoundly connected.” She is saying that serving is a closer relationship than fixing or helping. Serving is about being God’s channel and letting the service flow, rather than being a fixer or a helper with our own plans.
Serving creates a stronger bond. It is the best way for us to create chance – really allow chance to unfold.
Del’s dream of co-creation
Del’s dream, included here, talks about connecting with role models who contribute to their communities. Canaan is that role model, that leader – serving others by being there in the community, encouraging them, giving advice, modeling spiritual faith and practice. And his leadership is the strength of the Manyamula Savings and Loans group (MAVISALO).
Del was ahead of his time with his dream about connecting with role models already active in their communities. So Del is our second role model of the day. I think that Del really understood that international service is about encouraging others.
Many feel the call to serve others around the world – people who have less than us, people who lack their basic needs. And the challenge is to allow the service to flow through us, rather than expect the service start and end with us. This is the hard part – and yet I thank Del for his vision for an organization that allows and encourages others to lead change in their own communities. Spirit in Action is designed to recognize and encourage self-help projects and help get those started and flourishing. To summarize – we see that more change can come through a local savings and loans group, rather than a newly dug water well by American volunteers that no one uses.
Channeling a higher power
Del talked a lot about being a channel – Christ’s channel for healing and soothing injustices in the world. So our third role model is Jesus. Following Jesus’s model and being a channel for service recognizes that it is not our own power that will solve the problem or save a community. We see power in others and encourage that. In many ways knowing that we are channels, not the only power, is freeing for me. It lifts the weight of needing to have all the answers; instead the answer is to follow my role models.
Now, just because we are channels doesn’t mean we are inactive or passive – in fact our name, Spirit in ACTION, demands we do something. When we find our local role models like Canaan, we are called to manifest God’s spirit of goodness and love – and support and collaborate with Canaan and his community as they organize to assist the most vulnerable people, get more youth in school, help new families build houses and start farms.
So, it is with this spirit of our role models that we celebrate today – celebrate the model of Jesus, the dreams of Del, and the leadership of Canaan. We celebrate that through these 16 years we continue to stay true to the dream of cultivating leaders, co-creating with them, and channeling support to those leaders best poised to serve their fellow neighbor.