Today I received a heartfelt message of changemaking from a friend,

I wanted to share that I was sad to not join you Friday night for the Christmas party. We had committed to two other families to hit the streets of Kelowna with our Santa elves….We prepared backpacks filled with warm stuff, toiletries, food, gift cards and a personalized Christmas card. We enjoyed our time with them…shaking their hand, giving a hug, listening to them as we dialogued was the best gift of all. What an experience for all of us…!

At Christmas, more than any other time of year, our faith is alive and we express it through giving!  We want to change our world.  We want a better place for our children.  We pause to consider it

As parents and teachers, let’s hold space for the question, “How can we nurture our children on the Learn Forward journey of changemaking?”

I wonder if we could learn from young adults who are literally becoming changemakers on a world-scale?

I asked my friend, Christina Klassen, world-wide changemaker who has lived and served from Kenya to Lebanon and is currently studying Social and Transcultural Psychiatry at McGill, how she would answer the question about the “Making of a Changemaker” from her own experience.  Here are her own words…

The Making of a Change Maker

Christina Klassen

December 2017

When I was eight, driving in the car with my dad, we listened to “world” music. A vague, sometimes controversial moniker for a genre that seems to encompass any and all songs sung in a language other than English, but nonetheless one that taught me to soak in the beauty of words I couldn’t understand. Throughout my childhood, my mom promoted an attitude of unfailing kindness, always challenging my siblings and me to think about how we were treating those who didn’t quite fit in and teaching us to empathize, to attempt to put ourselves in the shoes of both those we knew and those we had never met. I went to French immersion for a few years before homeschooling for six more, and eventually returned to a Christian school for my last four years of high school. By the time I graduated, I thought that with love for people and for other cultures and languages, I was set up well to go and change the world.

University shattered any illusions I had surrounding my ability to waltz into a foreign community and bring positive change just because I “cared”. I felt paralyzed for a while, wondering about what it meant to actually love others or to be a force for positive change in our flawed and often chaotic world. Based on what I’d been hearing in my university community, I began to feel as though maybe the best thing to do was to hole up and stay in Canada, and not just in Canada, but in my own circles, my own social spaces where I “fit” comfortably and wouldn’t offend anyone with potentially ignorant, even if well-intended, actions. The problem with that plan was that I had been taught to care, and I did care, about people both like and unlike me in terms of cultural, linguistic, educational, social, and economic background. So, eventually I decided to take a chance and step outside of my own little world to learn about what humanitarian work looked like on the ground in cross-cultural and transnational contexts.

Some of the experiences that have had the most transformative power in affecting how I view change making have taken place in Kenya, France, Jordan, right here in Montréal, Canada, and, most recently, in Beirut, Lebanon. Each of these places has drawn me for different reasons, but common to all has been my desire to learn.

Christina living in Jbeil, Lebanon (aka Byblos)

For me, the idea of effecting change has, with time, grown to focus increasingly on individuals. I’ve given up on the idea of changing the world, and instead, would be thrilled to be part of bringing about positive change in one individual’s or one community’s life. Even writing on the scale of a community feels lofty to me. Why is that? Because change is usually hard – it comes slowly, with drawn-out discussions, and, sometimes, battles. I haven’t been in any one of these places for more than ten months, and growth happens over years and years. So what does change making mean in light of all of this?

Christina’s last day with all of her Syrian music students in Beirut

A lot of that depends on who you are, where you come from, and with whom you are engaging. I am grateful to know change makers from all walks of life – couples from Syria who happen to be refugees working with Syrian refugee and Lebanese youth in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley, German nurses who have devoted years of their lives to working with the Gabra people in the north of Kenya, ex-convicts who have turned their lives around to work with vulnerable youth in Montreal’s tougher neighbourhoods. I know Lebanese leaders fighting the sectarianism and accompanying discrimination that often plague their society, youth workers from Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt who come to Lebanon for training and then return to their communities to serve teenagers, Koreans, U.S. Americans, Canadians, and countless others, who give up comfortable living conditions to humbly serve in challenging circumstances. There are Kenyan women from nomadic tribes who take the chance to receive an education and return to serve other young women, parents who do everything they can to give their children opportunities they never had, and now, I have Syrian friends the world over who are building their lives in new communities and giving back to the countries and people that have welcomed them.

I feel unbelievably privileged to know so many remarkable individuals, and I honestly feel a little out of my league even in writing a blog post when I can think of dozens of people who I know personally who seem more qualified to write about change making. However, one thing I do know is that each individual, myself included, has a dynamic circle of influence that they are uniquely positioned to reach. I come from a privileged, supportive, and comfortable background, and have had the opportunity to engage and work with people cross-culturally in low-resource settings. In these contexts, to me, being a change maker has often meant the following: 

  1. It means listening. It means admitting that some of the time, perhaps most of the time, you won’t have the answers. It means seeking to understand and accompany people, often in situations and with backgrounds that are vastly different than your own, which can be emotionally draining (but worthwhile!).
  2. It means learning about power dynamics, often surrendering the upper hand and not leading the charge, but rather coming alongside others in a supporting role. In our society, we make a big deal out of raising young leaders. This is wonderful because we need people who are able to rally others around causes that matter, to cry out against injustices in communities here and abroad.
  3.  We also need leaders who are also learners, who are compassionate, kind, and humble. We need to raise children, to teach ourselves, how to be ok with being wrong and how to stand up for what’s right. We need to embrace chances to leave our comfort zones and take on challenges with courage and hope – I have learned the most in situations where I’ve felt out of my depth and been tempted to run away, to turn around and go home. Often, being a change maker means looking to see how we can partner with people who are already on the ground making change, and, when necessary, starting up our own initiatives in partnership with local community leaders.
  4. It means loving persistently and defiantly, even when we risk feeling hurt, underappreciated, or unrecognized. It means championing others and sometimes disappearing into behind-the-scenes work. And, at the end of the day, it means coming home and sharing what we’ve learned and telling stories that place people other than ourselves as protagonists.

I’d like to leave off with a quote that has encouraged me immensely in the times when I’ve felt ineffective or like what I do may not be “enough”:

“There are some needs only you can see, some hands only you can hold and some people only you can reach.” (Timothy Keller)

To me, being a change maker means looking around me – wherever I find myself currently or see myself in the future – and asking myself, Why might I be in this position, and who are the people I have the opportunity to impact within my unique circle?

Thanks for reading.



P.S.  I hope you’ll join us next week for another profile of a changemaker.

For the sake of the children,