Storey to Students: 'Don't Wait'

by Steve Charles

November 19, 2013

Two weeks ago in Capetown, South Africa, Dr. Peter Storey was meeting with the Elders, a group of international peacemakers and leaders that includes his friend Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former President Jimmy Carter, former United Nations Secretary Kofi Annan, and former Ireland President Mary Robinson.

Monday night he was speaking at Wabash, and the Methodist minister and global justice advocate reflected on what those Elders have in common.

“What binds them together? They have learned to imagine better,” Storey said. He spent the next hour in Baxter Hall offering the Wabash community—particularly students—a way of better imagining what the world could be, and urging all to make a difference.

Storey told of working with Archbishop Tutu in the struggle against apartheid and of being chaplain for Nelson Mandela when he was imprisoned on Robben Island, but he was more concerned with the future of Wabash students than dwelling on his own past.

“This is not an academic lecture,” the former president of the Methodist Church of South Africa and the South Africa Council of Churches warned. “I’m a preacher. And I hope you have serious desire to make change in the world.

“Life is about having a purpose, and if you’re not concerned about what is happening in the world today, you should be. We need people who will make a difference, or we’re going to go under.”

Storey recalled the day Tutu returned from an impoverished township in South Africa after visiting the children there. Tutu had asked a little girl what she did when she had no food, and she had replied, ‘We ask our neighbors.’ And if the neighbors have no food? ‘We drink water to fill our stomachs,’ the little girl had said.

“When he returned from that township that day, Tutu vowed to take on the oppressive government that caused this,” Storey recalled.

He recalled clashes in the streets between soldiers and protesters in the street during the apartheid era; many white South Africans in well-to-do suburbs claimed to be unaware of the struggle for freedom. Citing an old proverb Desmond Tutu often quoted, Storey said, “The one person you can’t wake up is the person who is pretending to be asleep,” Storey said.

He also recalled the day 100 young men—including two of Storey’s sons—gathered on the lawn of a large house in one of those suburbs and refused to serve in the military and enforce the laws of apartheid.

Storey smiled as he quoted American activist for the disabled Henry Viscardi Jr.: “Blessed are those who dream dreams and are willing to pay the price to make them come true.”

The minister described growing up during World War II, when his “childish mind was seared with the brutality of what humans could do to each other.

“I needed a compelling image to counter that, and for me, that was Jesus.”

He said that after World War II, many Nazi ideals were resurrected in racist white South Africa: “To fight it we needed a clear and compelling vision of what South Africa could be and people who held fast to that vision.”

He rejoiced in the fact that young people today can make a difference. He mentioned 16-year-old Jack Andraka’s work in developing a new and inexpensive method that indicates the presence of pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer during early stages, when there is a better survival rate with current treatments.

“Kids don’t have to wait to change the world,” he said. “Start now. Don’t wait. Make a difference. Don’t waste your life on this earth. And don’t be afraid.”

Storey said that fear is “one reason many of us don’t make a difference.

“As the Bible says, ‘Perfect love casts out fear.’ But perfect fear casts out love.

“The answer to fear is not necessarily bravery,’ he added. “The answer to fear is to be so possessed by a more powerful source that there is no space for fear to get in.

“I am not a courageous person, but I was able to do courageous things because of what I might call ‘divine stupidity'.” I didn’t dwell on the consequences, but on what was right.”

Storey encouraged his audience to change the world, whatever their faith might be, but he acknowledged his Christian faith had given him his guiding vision.

“I’m utterly convinced that if you take Jesus seriously, you have to get involved with the poor, because that’s where Jesus is. I had to be helped by black folk in South Africa to see the world for what it really is. 

“So work among the poor, but don’t go there expecting to do all the changing. They may change you— you may be the one transformed.”

When asked how students can “make a difference” now, with all their studies and other commitments, Storey replied: “It doesn’t have to take much time. It’s not the scale of what you do, but that you do something to change the world.”

“Dr. Storey’s ‘don’t wait’ refrain was well-received by students—including students of all ages,” said Associate Professor of Religion Derek Nelson ’99, Director of the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program, which co-sponsored Storey’s visit along with the Wabash Religion Department. “It’s always easy to find reasons to delay, especially when your whole life is ahead of you. But the burning issues of our time won’t wait for us.

“Storey mixed urgency with wisdom, which makes for an empowering message.”


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