The heading captured my curiosity so I grabbed the brochure from a display rack, stepping on to the escalator in the Singapore metro last month. As I moved steadily upwards towards road level in silent formation with fellow subway-riders, I read the copy under the heading: ‘WHO IS YOUR HERO?’ The brochure was an invitation for Singaporeans to write a short story about someone who had done something ‘heroic’ – albeit on an everyday-life level – and who ought to be honoured for their efforts. Stories would be published in a paper and special awards presented. It was a public relations effort to boost public morale in this bustling, pluralistic city-state.
As I walked back from the subway station towards the conference centre where the University of the Nations workshop, ‘Synergy’, was underway, I pondered the power of positive models on the human spirit. Our western culture had become so permeated with anti-hero-Beavis-and-Butthead-type cynicism that talk of ‘heroes’ sounded naive and simplistic: as if in this age of lost hope there was a reason to be positive about anything. ‘Idols’, yes, especially of the drugs/sex/rock’n’roll variety; but ‘heroes’ perhaps were quaint and old-fashioned.
Yet this simple effort to cultivate a grass-roots awareness of the heroes in our midst resonated with me. How much stories of those who had made loving choices, self-sacrificial choices, heroic choices, have inspired each of us to rise above our own self-interest and seek the welfare of the whole, and to evaluate our own lives and actions! Stories of people like Churchill and Bonhoeffer, Corrie ten Boom and Brother Andrew lift us to new levels because they refused to accept the status quo as inevitable, saw better alternatives, and took concrete and sacrificial action to effect these futures of hope.
A couple of years ago, I read about a Danish girl who decided to do something about the porno magazines brazenly sold in gas-stations, and mobilised a national petition that changed the laws. Last May, I wrote a Weekly Word about a young Albanian, Erion Veliaj, who started a national campaign against corruption, human trafficking and the tradition of vengeance killings in his land. In my book, these young people are real heroes.
I suspect that all across Europe today there are many more quiet heroes, people rebelling against the current disorder of things, opting for God’s hopeful future in their everyday circumstances. Imagine the inspirational power of such stories – if only we could gather them.
Last year at the HOPE.21 congress in Budapest, we presented Hope Awards to several individuals and projects, outstanding and inspirational examples of hope-agents and change-makers in Europe today. Sir Fred Catherwood, formerly vice-president of the European Parliament, for seeking to bring Biblical influence into European business and politics; Elizabeth Mittelstad, editor of Lydia Magazine, for her efforts in networking women across Europe; the Pavilion of Hope project at the World Exposition in Hannover; and the fledgling Albanian Evangelical Alliance for their truly heroic assistance to refugees during the Kosovo crisis.
As an umbrella movement, Hope for Europe aims to continue to identify and honour individuals and projects inspiring hope in Europe today. At our upcoming annual Hope for Europe Round Table (Budapest, October 15-19), we’ll be considering nominations for the 2003 Hope Awards. By sharing stories about everyday heroes, people spreading hope and inspiring others to partner towards God’s future, we want others to catch a vision of transformed communities, transformed cities, even transformed nations… towards a transformed Europe.
Naive and simplistic? Maybe. But don’t underestimate the power of hopeful stories for rekindling the human spirit.
So who is your hero? Do you know of someone who is an ‘agent of hope’? Write up their story, send it to me and we could share it in a future Weekly Word.
Till next week,