Every morning I wake up to the news on my phone, scrolling through articles on my “News” app and checking out what I missed on Facebook. Over the past few months, this has generally set me up for a frustrating morning. Bad news after bad news has built up a lot of anxiety in me, and with others around the world, has tempted me to fall into fatalistic cynicism: the world is terrible and it’s only going to get worse.
And maybe it is, and maybe it will. I don’t know and I don’t want to diminish the real issues that we face. But there is a danger in this way of thinking, no matter how bad things actually are. When we allow the bad around us to dominate our worldview, we may not be able to see the good right in front of us; when we get bogged down by the negative details, we may fail to see the wonderful bigger picture.
One example of this was an opinion piece that was published in the New York Times last month entitled “Why 2017 May Be the Best Year Ever.” Unconcerned for a moment about the US political climate or the major problems elsewhere, the author provides a larger, more optimist look at the world. Because of our worldwide efforts in medicine, technology, trade, and diplomacy, 250,000 people a day graduate from extreme poverty. Since the 1980s, global poverty has been reduced from 40% to 10%, with a further decline to 3-4% expected by 2030. Inequality has dropped worldwide, major diseases are being irradiated, and 85% of the world is now literate. Add these things to numbers found from other sources, and we see that global terrorist attacks are also down since the 1980s and abortion rates in the US hit a record low in 2014, two statistics that point towards progress and should make us rejoice! In many ways, the world is doing really well, and there is reason to be quite hopeful.
The big picture can be a bit intangible, though, and hard to feel much emotion for. The fact that people 8000 miles away are less poor is fantastic, but too disconnected to have any real effect on our lives.
Enter some amazing people at Immaculate Conception Church to do the trick. On Wednesday of last week, we were notified that we were approved to sponsor a refugee family resettling in the area, a process that had begun in October (and promptly given up on in January…) Two problems: there were eight of them in the family, and they were arriving in five days. Yikes! Could we even pull this off? Fearing that the majority of the work would fall on me, I was hesitant at first and even considered saying “no” to the agency. “There’s just not enough time and we’re not ready. Maybe the next one.”
Thank God I didn’t.
Within 24 hours, saints emerged. One woman immediately jumped to work, and without even being asked began organizing an effort to collect, sort, and launder clothing, complete with a schedule, sign ups, and quotas; within two days we were turning away clothes. Another woman, within hours of the initial email asking for help, was in the parish office with a checklist of everything we needed, when and where we could get each item, and who to contact about difficult items; by the time we were given the key to the apartment, we had already acquired five beds, two cribs, a kitchen table, eight chairs, sofas, kitchen supplies, and countless odds and ends. Of course unable to do it herself, three men—who had nothing to do with the refugee planning team—found themselves taking off work to delivery all of this stuff, putting together beds, and making minor repairs; in two days we went from an empty apartment to fully furnished, organized, and decorated. On guy stepped forward to coordinate all of the volunteer efforts, creating a database online with all of our documents, schedules, message boards, and contact information in hours; we went from disorganized “reply all” emails to a password protected, organized hub fit for a corporation.
And it didn’t stop.
Everywhere I’ve looked for 11 days I’ve seen an outpouring of generosity: people dropping off clothes hours after we requested them, random volunteers showing up for an hour at a time to organize the house, a home-cooked meal for the family upon arrival, shopping on their behalf, people stepping forward to be on the team, a donor who fronted the entire budget for three months (Yeah. $5000.), volunteers taking time to learn words in Swahili so they can better communicate, and the fact that we have too many volunteers at this point to give everyone enough time with the family so some people are getting jealous.
That’s right, we have so much generosity we don’t even know what to do with it. It’s been one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
Had you asked me a month ago what I thought of the world and its outlook, I might have given a pretty bleak response. Politically, the world is in a tense time, and there is a lot to get upset about. The world is terrible, and it’s only going to get worse. Little did I know what I was about to experience. Looking at the world from a global, longitudinal perspective, and looking at the world as it exists in the hearts and minds of the people all around me, I see a much different perspective.
So, is the world good? Is the world bad? In a word, yes. The fact of the matter is that there are always ways in which we have fallen short and need to call for greater justice and progress, and there are always ways in which we’ve already accomplished so much and are capable of even more incredible things. The world is always a mix of “already” and “not yet.” The challenge, at least at times for me, is not the fact that there is so much wrong with the world that God still needs to transform, it’s seeing how much of our world has already been transformed by His grace all around us and allowing myself to be surprised by goodness.