Learning From Stories of Injustice and Hope
Written by Brian Grasso
I serve as the Executive Director of Simple Charity, a nonprofit that inspires Christian college students to grow in solidarity with people experiencing poverty and injustice. While doing the initial fundraising for Simple Charity’s launch, a few advisors recommended listening to the stories of people who have experienced poverty before launching out to build a nonprofit that works to alleviate poverty.
I thought this was great advice, so I reached out to twenty nonprofits to ask if we could interview one person who has benefited from their programs. With permission from these interviewees, Simple Charity published their stories in their own voices. Then, a friend suggested that these stories could make a great podcast. I recruited two Duke students to serve as hosts, and Simple Charity’s Two Coins podcast was born.
Two Coins is a podcast with highly-produced, immersive stories of people who have overcome poverty and injustice. I believe that solidarity with the poor begins with humility, with a posture of listening and learning. Here are some of the things that I have learned through the stories in Two Coins.
I have what I have because of grace, not just my own hard work.
John Njoroge grew up in rural Kenya in a household that at times was “so poor that we didn’t even have salt.” He shared his story in the Two Coins podcast about how he was taken in by a missionary family, excelled in secondary school, went to America for college, and eventually earned a PhD in philosophy. Now, Dr. John Njoroge speaks throughout the African continent on the credibility of the Christian faith.
Stories like Dr. Njoroge’s remind me that while talent is equally distributed throughout the world, opportunity is not. Successful people are prone to believe the myth that the world is generally a fair place and that those who make it to middle-class stability earned their comfortable lifestyle solely through their own hard work. But if we are going to live in solidarity with the poor like Jesus did, we have to learn to be “poor in spirit” like he taught us to be, and this means acknowledging that all that we have is a gift from the Lord.
When we listen to the stories of people who have experienced poverty and injustice, we realize that many of them work just as hard as us and simply haven’t been given the same opportunities in life. This should humble us and help us to replace a spirit of entitlement with a spirit of gratitude.
The people doing the best work to combat injustice are people who have experienced it.
Vennila Mani works at a burn victim hospital in Bangalore, India, and is one of Dr. Prema Dhanraj’s best employees. She is able to empathize with patients because she herself was a victim of a horrendous burn accident when she was a little girl. At the time, there was no facility in the city that specialized in burns, so her recovery was slow, painful, and terrifying.
Vennila’s work as a nurse at Agni Raksha hospital represents a principle about mercy work that runs throughout the stories in Two Coins: Those who have experienced an injustice are the best equipped to help others experiencing the same injustice. Consider Claire Hababu who was a victim of human trafficking and now works with Love Justice International to prevent it. She can spot the warning signs because she herself was a victim. Or consider how John Njoroge, whose story I shared earlier, now runs a children’s home that serves 31 vulnerable kids. He says, “I see myself in these kids.”
What does this principle mean for people who want to respond to injustice but haven’t experienced it themselves? We should look for nonprofits that empower people like Vennila, Claire, and John to serve their own communities and then give, pray, and serve to support them however we can. We don’t have to be the ones on the frontlines. Oftentimes, that’s not the most effective place for us anyways.
When we give to charities that empower and employ people who have experienced poverty and injustice, we are allowing community leaders to be agents of transformation.
God can heal, restore, redeem, transform, and empower all of us, regardless of what we’ve been through.
The stories in Two Coins are intense. In one episode, a woman named Kika shares the story of being the victim of a devasting conflict-related rape in a village in the Democratic Republic of Congo. After this horrifying experience, Kika was transferred to the only hospital in the region that could care for her, a missionary hospital called Heal Africa. Today, years later, Kika is a nurse at that same hospital helping poor and vulnerable children to heal from similar trauma.
She says that she wants to share her story publicly in order to give people hope that God can heal anyone. She said,
“When I underwent this, I lost any hope of being healed one day and of becoming a normal person. So, I share my story to bring back the hope for other women who underwent the same situation as me--to bring them hope to get healed one day. Because God is operating miracles for people through other people and organizations like Heal Africa. So I share my story to give hope to those women who've lost hope.”
Stories like Kika’s throughout Two Coins are reminders that God is a miracle-working God who is capable not just of healing us of our pain, but of transforming us and using us to bring healing to others.