My friend Gabriel wrote a recent blog called “why even introverts should mouth off online“. In essence, he says that we live in a participative world, and “by talking up the good, we allow it flourish a little longer.”
That seems like a good idea, I thought. I’d like to be part of that.
I work part-time for Tearfund, an organisation working to address poverty and injustice around the world. They send me places and I meet extraordinary people. I collect stories and try to spread them round a bit, infecting whoever I can with a double dose of reality and hope.
The other thing I do is put stories on the stage. I’m part of a theatre company called The Ruby Dolls, and we write and perform our own material, telling stories that we think matter. They’re different kinds of stories, admittedly, but there are common threads. The importance of journey, hope, creativity, compassion and living a good story.
So I find myself with many stories, and a lot of them are about the good stuff. It’s time to share more of them, I reckon. And I’ll start with the story I come back to most often.
In 2006, I went on one of my first trips with Tearfund, to north-east Brazil. Almost the first place we visited was a large church in the city of Recife. Right opposite the church was a favela (shanty town/slum), and a dangerous one. By the age of about 12, most boys were pimps, and most girls were prostitutes. There was no sanitation, there were no roads. The church had been there for years – it was a fancy old building in good condition, mainly filled with middle-class Christians who assembled on a Sunday and then left and went home again, without setting foot in the favela. I met three beautiful and courageous women in that church, called Marta, Marcia and Katya; they were probably about 30 and had joined the church some months earlier after finishing at a Christian college. For some reason, it seemed unthinkable to those three women that they would stay away from the favela and still call themselves Christians. So they went in. Against everyone’s advice. Three single women, the same age I am now. They met kids, and mums, and started a kids club.
When we were there we walked round the favela with them and their friends from the community. We were welcomed into houses held together by corrugated tin and wire. Just behind the favela were flashy new skyscrapers.
Despite that gaping inequality (not Brazil’s finest achievement), things were starting to change in the community by then. The kids work had grown (I witnessed a hall full of hundreds of kids singing and dancing), education was improving, and there was a project working with mums too. What’s more, the government had decided that if these three women could go into the favela then maybe they could too. So they were building roads and installing a sewage system.
I have returned to that story so many times in the last five years because it leaves me with a huge question. I have no reason to think that any of the people in that church were bad people, or insincere, or uncommitted. So why did the action of these three women come as such a surprise to the church? And moreover,what makes me into the kind of person who will walk, with my friends, into a favela when it scares me and everyone tells us not to, rather than staying inside my church (or whatever symbolises my nice safe life lived alongside people just like me)? What makes me into the kind of person who can imagine things changing (despite the naysayers), and who has the courage to try to be part of that process?
The best answer I can come up with is that I have to keep searching out the stories of people who live courageously, imaginatively and compassionately, in the hope that they rub off on me, in the hope that my heart and my imagination keep expanding, not contracting. I need stories of people who are just like me but making braver choices, and stories of people whose life experience is a million miles away from what I know.
So this blog is in the world to talk up the good. I want to spread stories about the good stuff, so you hear about more of it and have a little more hope for the world. But I’m also doing it for my own sake, in the hope that it might just draw a bit more of the good stuff out of me.