Sixteen years old and in need of hope, he was a hard-shelled kid from a tumultuous home. He had two brothers, four sisters, and a mom who worked three jobs to keep the family afloat. All he needed was hope. He and his oldest brother came to our student ministries group that Wednesday. On Thursday, he lay down in front of an oncoming train.

Powerlessness. Futility.

These are two words that devour my soul. What could I have done differently? It makes me feel as though I am a bystander. I’m not in the moment — I’m watching someone else’s moment. I try to get involved, try to encourage the weak, try to make a difference. But moments still slip past, people still stumble, and I feel like a bystander.

The call to be a difference-maker

A struggle I have with the concept of change stems from my early Christian experience. One morning, a well-meaning pastor preached, “You could cure cancer, and it still wouldn’t be enough.” He was highlighting the difference that Jesus makes. Jesus turns me from darkness into light — a 180-degree turn in my final destiny. In one sense, I suppose that’s true. That’s a big difference. But what about change now?

Change. Impact. These are two words that create life in me. And a call to greater things.

Where is the call to be a difference-maker?

Does making a difference in Haiti have an impact? Does it make a difference when I talk with my neighbor, thank my bus driver, own up to the hurt I cause when I live selfishly? Jesus calls me, and us, to great things. In John 14:12, he says, “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these.”

Does this mean that I am not living up to my Christian faith when I’m not healing people, saving people, and bringing people back from the dead? Is this a call to greater miracles, loftier aspirations, and more incredible physical healings? Is change just about trying to one-up Jesus? Or is it something else, altogether?

Washing windows at a bus stop

At my public transit station, there is a man who cleans the windows every morning. People listen to their iPods, stare at the floor, and gather outside when the bus comes to take them away. No one is there to admire the view. Is this the kind of change I’m called to? I do the best I can in my sphere of influence, but in the end, it feels as though I’m washing windows at a bus stop.

I sit and watch the window washer. While he washes windows, he talks to people — anyone — about everything. While people sit, and wait, and watch for their bus, here is this man who washes windows talking to strangers. He reminds me of the whispering voice of God calling me to change my world. I hear the whisper over the cheer of the bystander.

Greater things than these

There are times when I do get involved. It makes me uncomfortable, or it’s awkward, or it’s a disruption in my busy schedule. I think of all the things that could possibly go wrong.

What if I helped that person holding four grocery bags and walking on an icy street? What if I donated a little more time helping kids learn to read? What if I decide to make a difference and it doesn’t make any difference at all?

The allure of being a bystander is that it keeps me safe. I don’t risk anything, and I am rewarded for it. With my peace. With my dignity. With my selfishness.

But today, I stand by the casket of the boy who lay down in front of a train. I talk to his brother and ask how he’s doing. I offer my condolences, my support, my house if he needs a place to sleep, or vent, or just heal. I am compelled by the whisper of God to make a difference.

Change. Impact.

These are two words that create life in me. And a call to greater things.

Photo Credit: Enoch Leung