What’s the best way to deal with suffering in the world? According to Ann Voskamp, author of the best-selling book One Thousand Gifts, get close to it. And don’t be surprised if you somehow convert your fan base into passionate activists.
It started with a blog post. Just after ISIS seized the key Iraqi city of Ramadi in May 2015, Voskamp published a poignant story about her intimate experience in Iraq visiting with women displaced by ISIS. Laced with vibrant, close-up images of Iraqi women and children alongside her familiar emotional and poetic voice, Voskamp’s blog post went viral.
She wrote, “I sit with 4 Yezidi mothers in a shipping container where they sleep. They need someone to have enough courage to not turn away. That is us. We aren’t where we are to just peripherally care about the people on the margins as some superfluous gesture or token nicety.”
She wrote intimately of her time in Iraq with the Yezidi people—time spent praying with those who needed prayer, weeping with those who wept, asking questions and, most importantly, listening humbly on her trip with Preemptive Love Coalition.
“I think she had quietly been writing and processing the pain behind the scenes when the city of Ramadi fell,” Preemptive Love founder Jeremy Courtney says. “She took one of those pieces that she had been working on and she pushed ‘publish’ when the international [coverage] was at its height. And it hit her readers at just the right time.”
In just three days, Voskamp’s blog post raised over $500,000 for the nonprofit dedicated to humanitarian work in Iraq.
“Don’t turn away, Church,” she challenged. “Blessed are those who mourn and weep with those who weep and in the face of evil, how will we make our hands and feet into Cross-Shaped love?”
Much of the money raised—now a sum well over $1 million dollars—has micro-financed loans for uneducated women, empowering them to run their own businesses so they can provide for their now-broken families. Other portions provided educational opportunities for their children, developed emergency response plans for those fleeing the city of Ramadi, provided agricultural investments and developed the Sisterhood Collection products (a fund raising effort).
When it comes to pinning down the number of donors and exact amount donated as a direct result of Voskamp’s post, Courtney doesn’t know where to begin quantifying it.
“In some ways, it’s impossible because so many of Ann’s readers have become our donors,” Courtney says. “We would’ve never known them without Ann, and now they’re so fully on board that they’ve given far and above the numbers that we were able to report to Ann on week one after her post went viral.
“I’d say the reach of it is hundreds of thousands of people plus, easily.”
One simple act harnessed the generosity of thousands, profoundly affecting the landscape of a nation torn by war and hate. For some, catalyzing a change of that scale seems like a once-in-a-lifetime feat reserved for an elite breed of Christians. But Voskamp would argue it’s just the everyday work of genuinely following Jesus—and really, the only appropriate response to grace.
Platforms and Altars
With more than 150,000 Twitter followers and nearly 400,000 on Facebook, Voskamp has a unique avenue for converting fans into activists. But she says her work has never been about the platform; instead, she has focused on honing her energies on what God has placed right in front of her, right now.
“It’s about writing for an audience of one,” she says. “I don’t know if Christians are really called to build platforms as much as we’re called to come and die at altars.”
She continutes: “If you have been moved by grace, grace starts movements,” Voskamp says. “Grace makes you an activist.”
According to Voskamp, we must notice and respond to the suffering right where we are. “Everyone wants to change the world, but no one wants to change the next load of laundry,” she says. “We are called to start exactly where we are. You are where you are for such a time as now.”
Changing the political and cultural landscape in the world begins with a willingness to look suffering in the face, right in our own backyard. It might be counter-intuitive, but Voskamp says to walk through suffering is the only way to actually transcend it. “Suffering is a meaningful way to process our lives, not something we need to escape,” she says.
When we refuse to hide from the brokenness around us, we actually can respond to the needs we see with God’s love. “We transcend the suffering by moving into the suffering toward compassion,” she says.
If we are brave enough to face the suffering we see, we may also find our purpose along the way. “If I press into suffering, I will step into the most deeply meaningful way to live my life,” Voskamp says. “Where does my passion meet compassion? That’s where I will find purpose.”
In the end, it’s facing and giving from our brokenness that makes way to the abundant life Jesus offers us in John 10:10. “When we live a cross-shaped life, we encounter intimacy with Christ and the brokenness in the world. With all the abundant brokenness, He creates the wholeness we are profoundly aching for,” she says. “What will you do with your one broken heart? What will you do with suffering in the world? That’s the broken way.”