Knowing, Loving & Changing the World: An Ordinary Girl’s Advice on How to Make a Difference

The Kitchen Table


Jena Lee Nardella is one of the founders of Blood:Water, a nonprofit that started in 2004 to address two major crises in Africa: HIV/AIDS, and clean water. I read her book One Thousand Wells in the weeks leading up to my first trip to Africa with All We Are, and the timing couldn’t have been more fitting.

The entire book is so dear to me, and it has really impacted my view of international development and charity in general. But this quote by Dr. Steve Garber, one of Blood:Water’s board members, is something I come back to again and again, especially when I’m feeling discouraged about the state of the world:

“The greatest challenge is to attach yourself to the cares of the world and still keep going. To know the world and love it still.”

Dr. Steven Garber

Knowing the world—seeing it for all it is, and for all we wish it could be but isn’t—is hard. It’s hard to see the deep brokenness of the world and not be weighed down by what seems like utter hopelessness. Disparity, injustice, corruption, affliction. The world is overflowing with problems—and when we step out to try to make a difference, it’s easy to get discouraged because it feels like we’re barely making a dent.

If that’s a place you find yourself, I want to encourage you. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 5+ years of global nonprofit involvement, it’s that small, strategic, grassroots efforts can be far more impactful than huge, sweeping efforts for change. Some of the most incredible, life-changing work happens by learning from one small community, and helping to empower change at the local level.

Kalagala Falls in Uganda

How to Love the World

I don’t by any means claim to be an expert in global development and nonprofit work. I’m just a regular person who longs to see the world heal—and I’ve learned some things by putting myself in positions to try to make it a better place. So, if you’re looking for ways to love the world and help change it for the better, but maybe you’re not quite sure where to start, here are a few tips for getting started:

  • Align yourself with groups that are already doing the work you care about. Sometimes starting an organization from scratch is necessary, but there are thousands of nonprofits already out there, and chances are there are several that are doing work that resonates with your values. Support them! Find out how you can get involved. You might think that established nonprofits have it all together and don’t really need more hands in the pot. However, in my experience, the opposite is usually true.There is constantly more work to be done and more help needed to accomplish things.
  • Vet the organization before blindly donating or volunteering. About 35% of Americans surveyed in a Chronicle poll have little to no confidence in charities. Honestly, I can’t blame them. Many charities have failed to be transparent about their finances, and far too often global development work has centered around imposing western standards and ideals without regard for local culture or concern for project sustainability. When you’re considering working with a nonprofit, I strongly recommend learning about their commitment to sustainability and whether they are investing in the local economy. For financial transparency, you can research nonprofits on GuideStar to see how well they disclose their finances to the public.
  • Find the intersection of your gifts and passions, and the world’s needs. In One Thousand Wells, Nardella quotes theologian Frederick Buechner, who says, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” That’s it. You don’t have to change everything about yourself to help change the world. You don’t have to become a missionary or a doctor or a scientist. All you have to do is willingly offer up the gifts you already possess. It might be art or storytelling, or the gifts of sincere hospitality or administration. Whatever your gifts are, I fully believe every person has the capacity to help affect change in the world.

When Hope Snowballs

Having hope for the world is hard work, especially once you really get to know it. That’s why I really believe these three go hand in hand: knowing, loving, and changing. We can’t do one without the others. We can’t change the world without knowing it—that’s how we create bigger messes than were there before. And we can’t change the world without loving it, either. Impactful change starts from a place of love—not from fear, or from prejudice, or anywhere else. We have to know and love this beautiful, broken world if we want to make any meaningful change that lasts.

Keep pressing on in hope. Don’t be discouraged by small movements in the right direction, because that is how hope snowballs. That’s how the world changes—one tiny movement in hope at a time.

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