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July 6, 2011

Hayley Darden: Jesus was a system changer

For a long time, the Jesus Matthew, Mark, Luke and John describe didn’t live up to my idea of a savior. He fed 5,000 people with a school of fish and a bread basket, but why not all of planet earth’s hungry people? And what about the sick? Did he ask if Caesar might have been willing to sponsor a first century nonprofit called “No More Diseases” and put the Roman stamp of approval on a scaled healing ministry? Why did he turn water into wine? That seems like an absurd use of divine power. But, if absurdity is okay, I would have expected much more walking on water -- because that seems like a really good community building activity for the disciples!

Like those who couldn’t imagine a dying savior, I couldn’t imagine a savior who didn’t “save the world.” What social and political action did he lead at scale? Could the Jordan river fishing industries have been more green? Sometimes, I couldn’t help but see Jesus through Sam Harris’ eyes in, “The End of Faith.” Harris’ beef with Christianity: It doesn’t deal adequately with human suffering.

A few years ago that’s what I would have ordered in a savior, too. At least until Ashoka changed my mind.

Ashoka is a citizen sector organization with some particular ideas for “how to change the world.” Social entrepreneurs address complex social problems and -- in our increasingly complex and fast-moving world -- more and more people need those same kinds of skills. Ashoka imagines and builds a world where “everyone is a changemaker.”

Sound abstract? Let’s start with an example.

Frank Hoffman is an Ashoka Fellow in Germany. Frank is a gynecologist by trade and was frustrated with Germany’s health care rules: Women could not receive preventative breast cancer mammograms until age 50. Frank knew that women needed these services much earlier. He may have been able to advocate for a legislative change, but didn’t. Instead, he taught blind women how to give mammograms. Lacking sight, these women saw the world through their hands. And these sensitive hands could detect -- as well as expensive medical equipment -- early stage breast cancer. Not only did German women receive preventative breast exams, this innovation also meant employing a group of women who would otherwise have been relegated to society’s economic margins.

Ashoka is full of these stories, working with over 2,700 social entrepreneurs in over 70 countries. Like Frank Hoffman, these social entrepreneurs address the causes of systemic disorder, rather than bandage symptoms. They’re not merely problem solvers; they’re system changers.

Jesus was a system changer, too.

Jesus did not feed all the hungry people in the first century. And he didn’t heal all the sick. And Jesus only raised one dead guy from the grave. While walking through Palestine -- and sometimes on water -- and between building cabinets and drinking wine, Jesus “saved the world” because he dealt with the root of the problem. Hunger leads to starvation leads to death. Wounds to infection to death. Sin leads to death. Generally, human life leads to death. That’s what Jesus changed. He killed death so that human life can lead -- to life.

And that’s where I see my part and your part: There are still symptoms of death that need changing. There is too much pain in our world. Too much hunger, too much sickness, too much exploitation, too little economic opportunity. And we see these problems clearly. The agenda for change is divvyed up to governments, non-profits, churches and businesses. And when you put the problems back together, you see that we’re still crying for our Jesus to save the world. Thank goodness he did, and that we play a part in Christ’s work in the world.

Whether you are a social entrepreneur or whether you give life to the world in another way (maybe you give much or pray deeply), a look at Christ’s life through system changing eyes shows that our salvation is more than a ticket out of this world. It’s an invitation to change it.

Hayley Darden is a search leader at Ashoka, currently recruiting social entrepreneurs for their empathy initiative. She is a graduate of Wheaton College.

1 Comment

Great insight

Hayley, thanks for writing this piece. The life and work of Christ is indeed a great insight into some of the ways we should approach compassion, social change, and initiative.

I find that, in a culture where the media and political lobbying are so prominent and where sound bites rule the day, I/we are constantly led to view most issues through an either/or lens for issues. It's always refreshing to hear about groups and organizations that take the "c" approach in the world of "a or b", and I'm glad Ashoka is facilitating and fostering the growth of such entities.

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