Environment #4–Transforming an Environment

Environments, even bad ones, can be transformed by people with ideals and drive.  Many of you have probably heard the story of Corrie Ten Boom.  Corrie and her sister Betsie were incarcerated in a prison camp during World War II because the family was caught hiding Jewish refugees.  In the camp barracks, conditions were dirty, crowded and cold.  The women were ill fed and forced to work long hours.  Most became angry and quarrelsome.  Corrie and Betsie had managed to smuggle their Bible and a bottle of vitamins into the camp when they arrived.  They started a Bible Study which attracted more and more prisoners.  They shared their vitamins with the sick and weak –miraculously that bottle of drops never ran out!   Betsie, particularly, prayed constantly.  She even gave thanks for the crowded conditions which helped them reach more women with the good news of Christ’s love, and for their suffering, because it gave them a greater appreciation of the hardships Jesus endured for our sakes.  The terrible conditions didn’t change, but the attitude of the women did.  They became gentle and helpful with one another.  The conflicts gradually ended.

Most of us will never find ourselves in prison, but we can still take the following steps to change our environments for the better.

  1. Know the environment. You must know the people, circumstances and nature of your surroundings in order to influence them.
  2. Study the spirit of the environment. What is the ideal or motivating force?  How do the traditions, organization, and structure of the group play in?
  3. Study the individuals.  In every environment you will find several types of people.  There are followers.  They are satisfied with imitating others.  There are the impulsive.  These folks are wish-washy and lacking real conviction.  Finally there are leaders.  These are the people who can be agents of change.

The leaders are the people you need to be most concerned about.  These people will use their abilities to achieve what they believe is worthwhile  Once you determine who the leaders are, get to know them in order to understand their ideal.  Is it power, accumulating possessions, or something else?  Can you influence them and lead them closer to Christ?

More about transformation coming up on my next post ……


Environment #3 How Environments Influence People

The workplace is one of the many environments most of us have experienced.  My husband, Terry, for example, worked for many years as a stockbroker.  His first job as a broker was with what is called in the industry, a wire house.  In this situation, a large number of brokers work in the same office and each one develops his own client base.  Those with the most influence are the “high producers” and their primary motivation is making money.  Terry found that the atmosphere was one of competition, secretiveness and distrust.  It was hard to be open and friendly because the person sitting next to you might steal your ideas or your client.  Later, Terry worked for a bank.  He was the only broker for three branches.  The employees at each branch were required to give Terry a certain number of referrals each month in order to meet company goals.  When Terry did well, it made the branch managers look good, too.  Of course, it was to Terry’s advantage to get along well with fellow employees in the branches, because the more they liked and trusted him, the more helpful they were and the more referrals he got.  This environment fostered cooperation and teamwork.  Both were motivated by sales, and both could be stressful places to work– but each created its own distinctive environment.

This example illustrates how our environment impacts us as individuals, and how easy it can be to conform to the spirit we find there.  But as Christian leaders our gal is to influence our environment, rather than allow the environment to influence us.  When our daughter, Kate, was in elementary school, we had a meeting with her teacher.  Miss Vance read to her students every day, and she told us that one day Kate brought a Bible story book for the reading hour.  Of course, in public schools, teachers are not permitted to read the Bible to their students, and Miss Vance explained this to Kate.  She also told her she could read anything she liked during the free reading time students were allowed each day.  The next day Kate brought her Bible, and within a few days two other students were reading Bibles during this period.  Miss Vance said we hear so much about negative peer pressure, it was nice to see this example of a child positively influencing her peers.  Kate did not passively conform to her environment which discouraged reading the Bible–instead she acted in a way that created change in those around her.

To be continued …..

Environment #2 — What is the Environment?

So what exactly do we mean by Environment?  It’s a word that’s become commonplace in daily language and usually refers to our surroundings.  In Via de Cristo, when we say environment, we mean people–the family, work and social situations we find ourselves in every day.  These groups influence the attitudes and ideals of those within them.  Each group has a certain spirit, and each one can be different.

People live out their lives as parts of groups, and they act and react differently depending upon the group of people they are with.  If you are a parent, you have probably had the experience of speaking with a family friend or teacher who described your child as unfailingly courteous, helpful and obedient.  Puzzled, you wonders, “Can this really be the same sulky, headstrong young person who lives at my house?”  Within our family, the love, tolerance and acceptance levels are high, and we tend to express our emotions, positive and negative, more freely there.  The family environment is different, and so we are different with our family.

In every group we are part of, certain attitudes are accepted and certain types of behavior encouraged.  Ideals emerge which are a combination of the vision and motivation of the people involved.  This spirit, which exists when people get together is the environment.

To be continued ….

Environment #1

This month I’ll be posting parts of a Lutheran Via de Cristo talk I gave about Environments.  This is the first installment.

It’s has been said, and rightly so, that the Christian life is not a destination, but a journey.  You might choose to think of it as a train trip.  Our first talk spoke about the importance of having an ideal.  It’s just crucial–think about it–you might be at the train station, but you can’t get on the right train if you don’t know where you’re headed.  As Christians, we want to head toward the life of grace, a conscious and growing life in Christ.  This means a lifelong process of reforming and transforming our lives as our will is conformed to His.  Talks about piety, study and action gave us some idea of how to do this through personal spiritual discipline.  Our last talk ,Leaders, presented a picture of the truly dynamic Christian as a leader.  This talk goes a step further because Jesus called us to follow Him, not only for our own salvation, but for the salvation of the world.  This is the true mission of the church.  It’s not enough to get on the right train and sit quietly reading our Bible until the journey ends.  It’s not enough to interact in a friendly and helpful manner with our fellow passengers. We must get off at every stop and invite others to come along with us.

There’s a very good book you might want to read sometime, called “Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In this book, Bonhoeffer says that Christianity means community and the fellowship of Christian brothers and sisters is a gift of grace, pure grace.  Then he goes on to tell us that the Christian’s calling is not in the seclusion of a cloistered life, but in the midst of the world, even among enemies!  In the book of Matthew, Jesus instructed his disciples, saying:

“….you are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house ….Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

We can’t stay isolated in our churches and in groups of fellow Christians. We must go out — to our families, our workplaces, our communities –and radiate God’s love into our personal environments.