What’s better: The idea of changing the world, or actually doing it?

Dan Teefey is the Senior Pastor at Riverside Covenant Church in West Lafayette, IN. He recently returned from a mission trip to Ecuador. 

In Eugene Cho’s forthcoming book, Overrated, he asks a powerful question:“Are we more in love with the idea of changing the world than actually changing the world?”

The book is not out yet, so I don’t know Cho’s full answer, but I can guess that his journey has been similar to mine.

Dan with teachers and students at a school in Ecuador.

Dan with teachers and students at a school in Ecuador.

Caring about the poor is cool.  Verbalizing my passion for the poor makes me a good guy. Citing statistics about global poverty makes me an informed citizen of the world.  Posting a map of all the places I have been with the poor gives me street cred.  Proposing ideas to curb poverty brings me the praise and admiration of others.

So it is easy for me to talk about poverty, but dangerous too.

My words can give me the sense that I am doing something when I am really only thinking and talking about doing something.  The ideas and opinions themselves cost me nothing.  They rarely require any sacrifice or change. This summer I led a group from our church to Ecuador, one of the poorest countries in Latin America.  Our mission was to develop a long-term partnership with a local church, to add a second story on to their education building and to teach several classes at a nearby school.

Dan's team with the people of Buen Pastor de Cangaua Iglesia del Pacto Evangélico.

Dan’s team with the people of Buen Pastor de Cangaua Iglesia del Pacto Evangélico.

I went to Ecuador with a desire to impact a part of the world, but it was our new Ecuadorian friends that showed me how.  To change the world, I must change myself.

They showed me that good conversation with some Coca Cola was more productive than getting through a task list.  They showed me that the preparation of a meal together was more important than how large the meal was.  They showed me that the most important resource for good teaching is caring teachers.  They showed me that the experience of a plumb line always trumps the technology of a level.  They showed me that while I might be resource rich, I am often relationally poor.

The poor of Ecuador certainly need our help, but I desperately need their help too.

I need to desire less.  I need to love the people next to me more and desire my cell phone less.  I need to be more creative with solutions to problems and desire buying news things less.  I need to be satisfied with the food that I have and desire the luxury of a perfect meal less.

Loving more and desiring less is costly.  It requires sacrifice of my own leisure, preferences and pleasure for the sake of others.  It requires that I not simply give from my excess, but that I truly share.

It requires that I stop building up my own anti-poverty persona and walk forward to be the change I want to see in the world.

Dan receiving a hand-made cap made by a teacher in Ecuador.

Dan receiving a hand-made cap from a teacher in Ecuador.

After our time 13,000 feet into the mountains of Ecuador, our team returned to the capital of Quito.  The night before our flight left we shared dinner in a mall that would rival the best of malls in the States.  Surrounded by floors of things to buy, screens to gawk at, unlimited food to eat and high speed internet, I found myself sitting on the floor in the middle of the mall confronted with the reality of how hard change really is.

The world was calling me to be distracted.  It was calling me to be satisfied with the work I had already done.  It was calling me to forget my commitments to change.  It was calling me to post and tweet my good deeds.  It was calling me back to patterns of desiring more and more for myself.

In that moment Cho’s question became my accountability question:“Am I more in love with the idea of changing the world than actually changing the world?”

I want to change the world and will begin with myself.