Why I Amplify Their Stories


Nicole T Walters -Amplify Their Stories4

I feel the tension every time I open my computer and am bombarded with need on every side. My news feed is filled with pictures of families fleeing from rising waters and stories of refugees flooding into the no man’s land between countries. There are a thousand different appeals for funds, for volunteers, for someone—anyone—to see the need and care.

As I dive into nonprofit work, I feel like I am swallowed in the sea of hurt before I even begin. I recently had the opportunity to engage with others working around the world in places where people are in great distress. We had time to talk together about our work and it was encouraging to be with others who understand what it’s like to be surrounded by difficult circumstances while clinging to the hope that change can happen. We also had the opportunity to share with the members of the large church about what life is like for those in our respective countries .

I argue I am a writer, not a speaker. I prefer telling a story in the relative obscurity of a coffee shop, safe behind my computer screen than to a live crowd with a lack of editing time. But as I’ve spoken more frequently about the new role I am taking on and the stories of the dire conditions in the country where we are moving, I’ve found it easier to get lost in the narrative as I tell it, to let my passion for the urgency take over. I see the eyes of the children who work instead of going to school, their hands becoming calloused as they roll cigarettes and lay brick. I feel the ache of the woman who has lost two children and been cast aside, shamed and penniless though barely out of her teens. I hurt because I have seen the faces behind the tragedies. To me, they aren’t just statistics of child labor and child marriage, or lives without hope. To me, they are children whose hands I have held in similar circumstances. They are the people I will call neighbor and friend.

But to those listening, these stories are tales of another faceless need. They are just another woe in a sea of sad sagas woven by all of us who are doing what we can to help. Enlarging the cause of others, motivating people to see what we see, can feel like a competition sometimes: My country is in more need of funds than yours. This project is the most important.

The glassy eyes of students gazed back at me as I told the same story for the fifth time during the conference. I talked about a young girl whose life was changed by a project our organization runs. She was able to learn a skill to provide for her family and through the love of those running the project she understood her value as a woman, as a child of God. As my heart was emboldened by the life-changing narrative the kids just looked bored, ready to get back to their distractions. What did I expect? Would I have cared as a teenager about a woman living 8,500 miles away? Would she have even seemed real to me?

But then I caught that one woman out of the corner of my eye. She was wiping the tears away with the back of her hand as she tried to collect herself enough to ask a question. There was the sweet lady I just met whose voice caught with emotion as she prayed for our family and for the people whose stories she heard that week. I knew then that this South Asian girl who bravely shared her story of shame and redemption has been heard.

That morning the kids in the room didn’t even know where to place her country on the map of Asia but that day they entered her world, if even for a moment. Some forgot about her by the lunchtime and I can’t blame them. I can’t care about everything with this much intensity or I would go insane. I can’t do it all; none of us can.

But maybe a couple people will remember the voice I amplified that day when I told someone else’s story. Maybe they will hear her voice when they pray, knowing that there is someone out there today that needs to be remembered. Maybe they will think of her and will smile at that girl who is an outsider in their school, who doesn’t look like them and who may be feeling a deeper hurt than they can know. Perhaps they will get involved in a cause that moves them with such a passion they can’t help but tell everyone about it. It probably won’t be my cause. That’s okay. That’s why I am here and why I keep doing what I do.

I will press on to sweep away apathy in my own life, a constant battle against the selfishness that is easier for me. I’ll keep giving my voice to magnify the stories of those I get the privilege of hearing, of those who will never be able to tell the global church about their hurts and their joys. I will keep listening, praying against the callousness that so quickly takes over my heart or the tendency to focus on one need but shut out all the others. Maybe I’ll get to hear the story that ignites a fire in your heart one day…so keep on telling it.