In our final Network Focus publication of 2020, we asked our network to submit their stories of ‘how have you experienced care through Initiatives of Change’, and we were overwhelmed with messages that reverberated with the values that we uphold. These values of honesty, unselfishness, love, and purity are the pillars we base our approach to change off of, but also what we aim to model in our lives.
This contribution, and testament to ‘living the values’, is a window into what so many across the world have experienced as a part of their involvement in IofC.
When I think of the ways in which the people of Initiatives of Change (IofC ) have cared for me, I think of hospitality, support in hard times, and, just sometimes, a suggestion which has helped shape my path ahead.
Immediately after leaving university in the 1970s, I spent a couple of years in South Africa, then in the grips of apartheid. In Cape Town I lived with a British IofC family, whose home was a meeting place for people of all races. I don’t think I was the easiest person to have around: brash, insecure, still trying to work out my place in the world. Looking back, I’m grateful for their grace and generosity, and for the amazing people I met through them.
Two of these were Peter and Shirley Gordon, who lived in the nearby town of Somerset West and belonged to the Cape’s mixed race community. Their forebears had been among the town’s first landowners, 140 years earlier, but the government was demanding that they move out of their home in an area designated for whites. They fought a long – and ultimately successful – battle to stay where they were.
Peter and Shirley broke the conventions, if not the laws, of the time, by inviting me to stay with them more than once: a rare privilege for a white person. I remember visiting Shirley’s uncle on the apple farm where he worked; being part of a group of young people who Peter took up a mountain, and urged to sit in silence, listening; taking part in a concert in their church. Most of all I remember being welcomed into a huge, lively extended family, who had no reason to treat me with such kindness.
Wherever I have travelled over the years, I have met the same generous, unconditional hospitality. And when things have been tough I have seen the amazing ability of the network to rally round. When a family member nearly died in their forties, people all over the world dropped what they were doing at the same time every day to pray for his recovery.
And then there are the people who said the right thing at the right moment: my host in Cape Town who prompted me into what became a career in editing IofC publications; another older friend whose words tipped the balance at a time when my life was in upheaval and I was trying to decide where to live.
A couple of weeks ago I was asked to speak at the funeral of someone who had worked with IofC for 70 years. I quoted a person who had met her in the 1950s and described her as ‘someone who was happy to be your friend, without feeling that she had to impose her views of what you should be doing’.
That’s both a great definition of what caring for people really means and a colossal challenge.
Mary Lean is a writer, editor and spiritual director, living in Oxford. She co-edited Initiative of Change's international magazine, For A Change, from 1987 to 2006. She is author of 'Bread, Bricks and Belief: communities in charge of their future', which examines the role of spiritual change as a catalyst for community development.
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.