Stephan Bauman is president and CEO of World Relief, a leading international relief and development organization. He is also a poet, ordained minister, and strategist who considers his African friends his most important teachers. Stephan and his wife, Belinda, live near Washington, D.C. with their sons, Joshua and Caleb. His new book, Possible: A Blueprint for Changing How We Change the World was just released.
KW: Stephan, what’s your story? How did you become President of one of the larger Christian relief and development organizations?
SB: I am not a likely Nonprofit CEO. I grew up in Wisconsin without much interest in justice work until my wife, Belinda, suggested we volunteer in Africa. I resisted for three years until I finally agreed to go for 6 months. I was surprised to learn that a primary need was not medical personnel, experts or technicians as I expected, but actually leaders and strategists like me. We resigned our jobs in the US and stayed for six years. The rest is history.
KW: What are some of the biggest things you’ve learned about changing the world after your years of experience living overseas and working in relief and development?
SB: Belinda and I learned the hard way. Africa changed us more than we changed it. But along the way, we gained some valuable insight, much of it from our African friends. How we do things is as important than what we do, and how we see those who suffer makes all the difference. Very rarely is someone truly helpless. More often than not they are the most important change agent for their situation and their community.
KW: How do you encourage people who feel too overwhelmed by the thought of changing the world?
SB: Too often people exclude themselves from the idea of changing the world. “I am just an artist,” someone might say. “I am just a mom,” or “I am only an engineer,” say others. But Jesus didn’t call the well-known and well-connected but, instead, ”…all who have faith in me” to “do the works I have been doing…” (John 14:12). Overcoming injustice today requires far more than the aid worker, minister, politician or professional. Today’s movements—whether to end hunger, abolish trafficking, or stamp out extreme poverty—are fueled by storytellers, artists, entrepreneurs, students and bloggers. We’ve entered a new age of activism, and it’s inspiring, impactful, and invigorating.
But doing justice is only as good as the people who do it. The question I am asked most often when speaking about hunger, war, trafficking, disease, or poverty is what can I do? I’ve never been asked, who must I become? Doing good well is important, but who we are is equally, if not more, important. We have the opportunity to choose to live lives of radical surrender and sacrificial love, making heroes of others, not ourselves, and honoring God along the way. This is the hard work of justice, but also the most enduring and life-changing.
KW: Can you summarize the principles of your blueprint for becoming a world-changer?
SB: In brief, we need to undergo three shifts. First, we need to recover our calling. Too many people still believe calling is only for a select few yet God calls everyone. Second, we need to reframe the problem. Some of us may approach poverty or injustice as impossibilities while others tackle symptoms instead of causes. It’s important to understand the root causes in order overcome injustice. And, third, we need to understand our role in remaking the world. Extraordinary progress has been made by surprising people, that is, not just the professional. “There are no ordinary people,” says CS Lewis. Everyone can bring change.
KW: Your book has a very hopeful title, Possible, is there one story that summarizes the hope you feel about the work we’re called to as Christians working for justice?
SB: Belinda and I first met singer/songwriter Josh Garrels the year before last. When we mentioned the Democratic Republic of Congo. His response: “Where’s Congo?” Less than two months later Josh gave away all his albums through Noise Trade, a music sharing site, to help the plight of women in Congo. Over 160,000 albums were downloaded, the largest in Noise Trade history, and more than $70,000 was donated to charity. In his own words:
When confronted with such a massive crisis that is being ignored globally, I was left with the overwhelming impression of those in the midst of the suffering…being relatively “voiceless.” And this begged the question: if I’ve quite literally been given a “voice” to sing, speak, write, and have some measure of influence in my own media-driven culture, why would I remain silent?
KW: Many people wouldn’t know that you are a poet—what have you found to be intersections of art, creativity and justice? Is there a favorite poem of yours you could introduce and share?
SB: One of my favorites is called “Do We Dare?” which was performed by Micah Bournes on his recent album. You can listen to it at www.possiblebook.com.