The teenager whose film of George Floyd's death sparked global protests said she ‘stays up apologising’ to him for ‘not doing more’. Darnella, now 18, was one of four young witnesses to take the stand on the second day of Derek Chauvin's trial. I’m sure that we can all identify with the anguish she must feel. But, how might this relate to Initiatives of Change (IofC)?
Sharing stories to make connections
When bombs exploded in the London underground in 2005, killing 52 people, there was a big anti-Muslim reaction in the UK. I met Musa Aliyu, a young Nigerian Muslim student who was deeply concerned about this, as was I. We decided to go to school sixth forms together, as part of a programme which I coordinated, to portray a different narrative of working together with a common heart. We went to sixty schools.
One story which Musa often shared was that during an outbreak of violence in Nigeria, in which over 50,000 people were killed, he had worked as a journalist. As he covered one story, a Muslim mob attacked a Christian girl. It looked like she would be killed. Musa, himself a Muslim, abandoned his camera and notepad and intervened. The girl was saved but in the process Musa’s arm was broken and he was nearly beheaded, before he himself was rescued. For the following two years, he felt traumatised.
The students we met in schools, often in groups of 100 – 150, were struck and challenged by what Musa shared, and the courage his action must have taken. Several reflected on their own experiences of inner struggle, which didn’t appear to be particularly related to the ordeal that Musa had shared, but which had somehow become highlighted for them.
I realised the power of stories which illustrate experiences which we can all identify with. You don’t have to be a Muslim, Christian, atheist, black or white to identify with the inner struggle that Darnella is confronted with. But, I suspect that in her situation, we would all feel that there was little else she could have done.
The spiritual center; humanity
To me, stories like this point us towards the spiritual heart of Initiatives of Change, which is more about spiritual experience than about beliefs. The founder of Initiatives of change, Frank Buchman’s, life was transformed when the self-centered aspect of his pride became focused by a vision of Jesus on the cross.
This transforming experience set him free of his anger towards certain people, and on a journey, that has made a big impact on the wider world. He was already a deeply committed Christian, so this experience was not about belief conversion. And, some who gave their lives to work with the organisation he inspired were from other religions, or atheists and, as in my case initially, were very antagonistic towards any religion.
Some of my colleagues may see what happened to Buchman differently to me. But as I see it now, the transforming path I identified with was a human experience which anyone could relate to. It wasn’t a Christian experience, nor a Muslim experience, or a Buddhist, atheist or any other ‘ist’ experience. It was a human experience.
There are numerous other examples of people facing their personal dilemmas, such as Irene Laure, in her hatred of the Germans. But, wherever we detect people like Darnella, Musa, Buchman or Irene Laure encountering their inner struggles, that is the heart of IofC whether it happened as consequence of being part of our fellowship, or in the course of the wide diversity of life we all encounter as human beings.
We encourage people of all faiths, and none, to explore what it means to build bridges of trust across the world’s divides. However, in IofC we feel that the first step towards global change is personal change, and that comes through reflection on one’s motives and behaviours. We invite you to learn more about us and how to get involved with IofC – feel free to reach out to your local team!
Howard Grace worked with IofC as a full-time volunteer for 14 years after studying physics at university in the 1960s. This included five years in India and Australasia, and four years in South Africa during apartheid times. In 1979, after falling foul of the security police, he returned to the UK and trained as a teacher where he then spent 15 years teaching mathematics. Howard founded and led a programme conducting workshops in hundreds of school Sixth Forms (age 16-18) around the UK on issues related to purpose in life and motivation.
He was also part of the faculty for Foundations for Freedom courses in five Eastern European countries, and participated in ventures to China, Sri Lanka, and India. He continues to be active in a wide array of activities, especially related to peace and spiritual motivation, and in 2019 became the Newbury coordinator of the Progressive Christianity Network UK. Howard is also the executive producer of the film Beyond Forgiving.
NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. These commentaries represent the views of the writer and not necessarily those of Initiatives of Change as a whole.