–– First of two parts––
The world is in turmoil, and sometimes it seems our lives face more challenges than we can handle. The Champion Newspaper has asked spiritual and community leaders throughout DeKalb County for their views on what the world and DeKalb County need to be a better place, what we can do as individuals to achieve a better world and what they are praying and hoping for in 2019.
Sharing their thoughts are: Charles Bennafield, pastor of Flat Rock Community Church in Stonecrest; Jeani Chang, president of Atlanta Women Taiwanese Association and an epidemiologist at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Lucy Ke, a metro Atlanta trainer and course developer with an emphasis on cross-cultural customer service, workplace civility and civic engagement, and John Semmes, interim pastor of Shallowford Presbyterian Church in Atlanta.
What’s your perspective on the state of the world and our locale community at this time?
Bennafield: We are currently in a time when things appear to be confusing. I honestly believe however that we are at a time when we have the greatest opportunity to prove that love conquers hate. When others go low or hit us below the belt, rather than rising up in anger we must go deeper in prayer and seek godly wisdom as to how to deal with our enemies. Looking for the good rather than the bad, finding places where we agree and can work together along with allowing love to truly flow in our hearts will help make our world a better place. We truly are only as strong as our weakest link. Let’s be stronger together.
Chang: We are living in an inequitable, disturbed and confused world. The majority of us do not understand why bad things happen to our community and why discrimination still exists among certain groups of people? We may never have the answers. “World Peace” seems so arbitrary and naïve these days to many of us. How about trying “Family Peace” or “Community Peace” first? It is important for each of us to be mindful of people in our community and to look at things from all angles and perspectives. Understanding and respecting all components of one’s community is the first step to a better community. I am very fortunate to live in a diverse community filled with rich ethnic culture, people and food. I will encourage all to embrace, appreciate, learn about, and explore diversity in your community.
Ke: I think we’re in a crucible. Liberal and progressive values are being tested: democracy is declining in countries like Poland and Hungary. Strongman regimes destabilize Asia-Pac and South America. Putin provides arms and financial assistance wherever he can, adding to global turmoil. There are over 60 million displaced people worldwide. In the DeKalb community, life can seem deceptively safe and unchanged. Our greatest enemies are passivity and complacency. We’ve welcomed refugees, immigrants and political asylum for a long time, and we’ve benefited as a result. It’s easy to look the other way when one is not personally threatened, but think about the devastation that’ll occur when, for example, ICE raids target Vietnamese Americans along the Buford Highway Corridor—business owners, students, families. Crucibles can yield powerfully good things too, but people of conscience have to choose and act accordingly. We should not become a community that tolerates and normalizes racist bullying.
Semmes: There is a definite degree of tension in the world’s air right now. At home, concerns over the economy are always at hand. Further, we are too ideologically estranged now to engage our neighbor in serious, productive conversations about politics, religion or current affairs like immigration, gun control or global warming. Internationally, the news brings word of tariff wars, the Brexit dilemma, severe economic inequalities in France and the prospect of more Russian aggression against its neighbors, not to mention lingering crises like those in Afghanistan and Israel-Palestine. Yet every day, hope abounds through the actions of extraordinary individuals doing extraordinary things for people they often don’t even know. Against a backdrop of daunting challenges, the human spirit remains indomitable. Therefore, I believe all is not gloom and doom.
What does the world and the county need to be a better place?
Bennafield: Identify the 20 percent that are on fire and believe that we can make a difference and have impact to help influence the 60 percent who are presently undecided but swayed by momentum to get onboard with identifying ways to impact poverty, education, health, human (and sex) trafficking and addictions in the world, country and right here in Dekalb County. The world and country (and our county) need leaders with servant hearts who are not out for selfish gain, who are not trying to get rich through their public service but are trying to create a place where everyone has equal access to the opportunity to advance and make a good life for their families.
Chang: Peace, love, compassion and appreciation. If we cannot even find peace in our everyday community, how can we have world peace? World peace is not limited to homogeneity in race, ethnicity, religion, politics, and individual’s opinions and behaviors, but acceptance and respect of all. Each one of us acknowledges that we are created and born equal to others. But the inequality some encounter can lead to disparities in all aspects of their lives. How about what we don’t need in the world and country to make it a better place? We don’t need crime, violence, hate, discrimination, that are all instigated by fear, greed and ignorance. It is important to be mindful of people and look at things from all angles.
Ke: The world needs to revisit the practical benefits of compassion, of secular humanitarianism. Locally, we need a greater emphasis on civic education for adults and children—information on how our government works at every level; developing proactive civic habits (beyond just voting); operationalizing visions for community enhancements; experiencing firsthand the value of volunteerism; understanding one’s voting rights; learning the facts behind our immigration processes; informal out-of-classroom experiences to understand “the other” (this used to be called “cultural sensitivity” training). Democratic institutions will not work unless we do, and we can’t afford to be passive citizens. Simple but significant gratitude too, like appreciating what a tremendous resource we have in our public libraries—not just books and periodicals, but informational resources, the info-literacy of a reference librarian, and the staff that organizes adult and children’s programming. I’m developing workshops to deliver basic financial literacy to people in lower-income communities, the ones most targeted by predatory lenders, scammers, and credit card companies. It’s been a question I’ve had since the 2008 bust—“Why isn’t this more widely offered?”—until one day it occurred to me, “Hey, maybe you can do it.”
Semmes: A more intentional application of the Golden Rule would be a good place to start. Its premise is simple: treat others the way you want to be treated. Its practice is more demanding: humans are sinful and broken beings. But the universal effects of such an application, I think, would be staggering.
In the Jan. 10 issue of The Champion, we ask these leaders what we can do as individuals to achieve a better world and what they are praying and hoping for in 2019.