6 Steps to Begin Changing the World

Chris Marlow in Iquitos, Peru, with some of the kids supported by Help One Now. (Photo by Em Gray Photography. Image courtesy of Help One Now.)
Chris Marlow in Iquitos, Peru, with some of the kids supported by Help One Now. (Photo by Em Gray Photography. Image courtesy of Help One Now.)

What if you could become a powerful force for good in the world without moving overseas, burdening your overwhelmed family or giving up the comforts of modern life?

Chris Marlow, founder of the global advocacy organization Help One Now, once felt paralyzed in the face of global problems. They seemed too numerous, too complicated, too big. After all, how much can one person really do? In 2007, Chris met a starving young orphan living in an abandoned gas station in Zimbabwe. This wake-up call and a closer study of Scripture soon showed Chris that maybe Christians are overcomplicating how to act justly in a broken world. Maybe all God is calling us to do is set up a lemonade stand for a good cause.

In his book, Doing Good is Simple, Chris offers a practical guide to helping change the world wherever you are.

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Have you ever wanted to change something but never could? Maybe you tried to lose weight, eat better, quit smoking, go back to school or save money, but as you planned your steps, you got mired in the details and never moved. If you’ve been there, you too have experienced the paralysis of analysis. In a moment of overwhelming resistance, you have a choice: lose heart and quit, or simplify the process.

I was tempted to stop caring and embrace apathy. But I knew the kids I met deserved my best efforts to figure it out. Plus, I wondered, Why would Scripture speak so clearly if normal people weren’t equipped to do good?

I knew that if I wanted to impact these kids in Zimbabwe, I desperately needed to simplify the complicated and give people a clear and powerful way to help. Jesus used a handful of untrained fishermen to change the world. Those men did not have Ph.D.s in theology or credentials to impress the powers that be. No doubt Jesus is still using everyday, normal people who take simple yet significant steps to do good.

I decided to press forward and focus on overcoming the hurdles, and, in the process, I discovered six key things to help direct my energy:

1. Do Something Rather Than Nothing

I was having dinner with my friend Alan, who has written several books on missiology. Alan noted that Christians historically have been a people of action. I wrestled with that thought because I want to make sure this current generation of Christians upheld that mantle. Yet I fear that if we are not careful we will be known more for our social media rants and our comfortable church-service experiences. We sing and preach about justice, compassion and mercy, yet our lives are disconnected from these outcomes in the real world. We must have the conviction to take an action; we must do something.

2. Start Small

You don’t have to start with a big check or a year-long commitment. You don’t have to try and save the world; that is not your burden. But you do have to start. Take a small step in the direction of action and justice-seeking. At Help One Now, we have multiple ways to get involved, such as the Ten Dollar Tribe. My author friends Lisa-Jo Baker and Crystal Paine took a trip to South Africa, where they spent time with kids who were vulnerable or orphaned. They wanted to help give these kids a future, so they encouraged their readers to get involved.

Over the course of two days, they inspired more than 150 people to join the Ten Dollar Tribe-South Africa. Each month, we use those funds to make a difference. Tribe members give just $10 a month – or two lattes – and real lives are changed. We did this so people would have a small, simple way to help, to take action, to start somewhere, and collectively make a big impact.

3. Follow Your Passions

What motivates you? What keeps you up at night? What do you love to do? Try to connect your passions in life with doing good. If you love education, get involved with an educational nonprofit. If you love job creation or health care, find simple ways to get involved with causes that are trying to solve those problems. If you love fashion, get involved with artisan groups. You can define and shape how you get involved and take action.

4. Use Your Gifts

Simply writing checks will no longer suffice. Many people want to do more, to get their hands dirty; they want to be involved and feel connected. Why? Because we are gifted. When we connect our gifts with focused outcomes, we see amazing progress.

I run a nonprofit. It takes money to accomplish the mission – I make no bones about that. But it also takes human capital. We have a CFO who we could never afford to pay at this stage in our organization, but this man, who is semi-retired and in his 50s, uses his gifts to help us be financially disciplined. We’re able to make much better choices, which then create a much greater impact.

We also have folks who use their gifts in the countries we serve. They train teachers, help solve water problems or teach theology and business. These action-oriented women and men are on the frontlines doing work that matters. And they love it! It brings life to them as they help bring life to others.

5. Build Relationships

I’m a big fan of commitment. Popping into a country, doing a service project, and popping out will not make the impact necessary to see lasting change. Again, doing good is so much more than a seven-day trip or the occasional check. It’s hard to make a real impact if you’re not connected to real people. I can’t tell you how many times I have listened to stories from people who went on a mission trip. They talk about what they did as opposed to who they met.

“We painted an orphanage … we led a sports camp … we did a VBS.” Yet they often don’t actually connect with the people they’re serving. They don’t know their stories; they did not take time to listen and learn. When we spend time with people, especially those who live in extreme poverty, and we listen to their stories, it creates dignity and connectedness – something they usually lack.

I was in the Dominican Republic with my friend Korie and her family. They’ve been caring for a group of 14 orphans for 10 years. Their interactions with the kids were amazing. This was not a service project (though they did serve); this was a time to reconnect with the kids whom they have been committed – kids they know and love. The conversations were about the next 10 years and how they could help these kids become amazing adults. They knew their stories, they knew their hopes and dreams, and they cared for these kids as if they were their own.

We all want to know and be known. That’s why doing good is so powerful when the focus is first and foremost the people, not the project.

6. Stick With It

The older you grow, the more you know. I’ve realized that those who are truly changing the world, on both a small and large scale, do hard work for a long time. These people chose the path filled with commitment; they have courage to stay the course and not be fickle; and they desire to dig deep and see real progress.

Because of constant change in my life or due to things beyond my control, I always struggled to follow through on key commitments. I wanted to be faithful, yet that required more of me than I was willing to offer. When work would get hard, I would quit and move on. When conflict would arise, I would avoid it and bail out. When failure took place, instead of helping, I would go on to the next thing.

Then I realized that conflict is a constant; I had to deal with it. Hard work is a gift from God; it’s hard to stick with it, but when you do, you get to see true progress and real results.

One of our larger donors told me that if we are not failing, we are not trying hard enough. His permission to be human empowered me as a young nonprofit leader to take risks, because I knew he would stick with me. His and his family’s commitment and support have helped me focus on building an organization that lasts and makes an impact far beyond both of our lives.

Folks who make a true difference are not concerned about the “new hip thing.” They find people they love, respect and trust, and those folks stay on course (which is absolutely vital if you want to make an impact). It takes hard work, focus and discipline, but when you partner with key causes and key people and work together for years, you will see what few ever get to see – real progress!

Doing Good is Simple

Chris Marlow is the founder of Help One Now, an organization dedicated to helping the poor, caring for orphans, rescuing slaves and more. Chris is the author of Doing Good is Simple.

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