By Dr. Karyn L. Wiseman
How the story of the Nigerian girls came to the world’s attention.
Can you imagine sitting in a public space and all of a sudden everyone around you starts to speak in a different language? And yet somehow you still understand them? Can you imagine the cacophony of sounds this event would cause? Can you envision the power it would take to make this astonishing moment happen?
Is it a miracle? Possession? Paranormal activity? It likely would freak you out.
This moment actually happens more often than we think. A glimpse of this cacophony of sounds can be found in our everyday lives. We hear loud voices coming through network and cable news shows, on Twitter and Facebook, and through other social media outlets. We hear rising decibels of chatter around social justice issues—from the right and from the left—about issues as diverse as abortion, same-sex marriage, income inequality, biblical obedience, or defining traditional values. We hear the noise. At times, it is almost deafening. The voices seem to fly past each other so fast that neither side seems to be listening to the other at all.
But then there are moments when we all come together to speak for one common purpose.
This really should have happened on April 14, 2014, with the disappearance of 276 girls from a Nigerian school. They were taken by Boko Haram, a militant terrorist group that is determined to undercut Western education. The girls who were taken were leaders in their communities, working diligently to improve their lives and the lives of others as they completed their educations.
However, the outcry didn’t happen on April 14. With all the cacophony of sounds and voices around other issues, we missed this moment to raise a common voice.
It was almost two weeks later that a combined vocal outcry finally occurred. On April 24, the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls began trending on Twitter, and in just a week, it had been shared over 1.5 million times. At of the writing of this post, it has now been used on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and just about every other social media platform worldwide millions of times.
The mothers of the girls started the campaign with signs displayed at a rally in the capital of Nigeria calling for attention to the disappearance. Soon celebrities, politicians, and everyday folks were posting photos of themselves holding signs which read, “Bring Back Our Girls” in solidarity with the mothers. The #BringBackOurGirls hashtag took off like wildfire. Even Michelle Obama posted a photo with the hashtag on her Twitter feed. There was universal outcry for the safe return of these school girls.
Nations seemingly began to respond in new ways to the noise. The winds were blowing in a powerful way. But that didn’t seem to last very long.
Twitter and Facebook “blow up” almost daily about any number of topics – politics most often. At the same time, there are a number of posts that cross my feed asking for folks to sign petitions or “like” a post to show one’s approval of a particular political position. This type of “slacktivism” is critiqued on a regular basis. However the #BringBackOurGirls campaign has sparked the international community to now send troops into Nigeria and has launched additional campaigns to bring attention to the issue of child slavery, kidnappings and abductions, and the role of hate groups internationally. Unlike other “slacktivism” campaigns, this one unites just about everyone behind one cause—freeing these girls.
And it reminds me of a moment in Acts 2:1-21, which is the story of Pentecost, the 50th day after Passover in the Jewish tradition. According to the Acts’ text, on that day, the power of the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and on the followers of Jesus. This power came with the sound of a violent rushing wind and with tongues like flames.
Pentecost is often celebrated as the birthday of the Church and some churches even celebrate with birthday cake. I have seen wind chimes and moving clothes used to show the power of the wind—an ancient image used to relay the power of the Holy Spirit—in this story. Many churches also invite their members to dress in red to commemorate the color of the liturgical day and to symbolize the color of the flames of the Holy Spirit.
Pentecost is a time to remember the Holy Spirit coming down in tongues of fire to ignite the people into a moment of stark power and absolute connection. All at once, the people present began to speak in a variety of languages (reminiscent of the Tower of Babel story in the Hebrew text). There were many people of varying nations in Jerusalem. There was a baffling array of sounds and voices. However, everyone, according to this text, was amazed because they heard the voices in their own tongue (unlike the hindrance of communication in the Tower of Babel story). They were all speaking about one thing—they were proclaiming the powerful deeds of God. It was a multimedia moment of epic proportions—sights, sounds, and sensations—happening all at once.
The moment of Pentecost was an enormous multisensory event. It was the equivalent of a something going viral on social media—but on an even grander scale.
The coming of the Holy Spirit was one of epic proportions and can—and in my tradition really “should”—continue to spark action today. As a person of faith, I am compelled, by the blowing winds of God’s desire for humanity to care for one another and to act—both online and in person—to make the world a better place.
And I believe—through the power of the Holy Spirit—that we are given the ability to impact the world in profound and important ways. Won’t you join me?
Bible Study Questions
1. When you see opportunities to engage in activism online, what motivates you to get involved? The topic? The “buzz” around the issue? Whether or not it impacts you personally?
2. When did you become aware of the Nigerian girls’ kidnapping? Was it through news sources or social media? How have you followed the situation?
3. How has the story impacted your faith and understanding of your connections with others in the world through social media or through common faith understandings?
For Further Reading
Borschel, Audrey. Preaching Prophetically When the News Disturbs: Interpreting the Media. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2009.
Chothia, Farouk. “Who are Nigeria’s Boko Harma Islamists?” http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13809501
Friesen, Dwight J. The Kingdom Connected: What the Church Can Learn from Facebook, the Internet, and Other Networks. Baker Books, 2009.
Dr. Karyn L. Wiseman is the Associate Professor of Homiletics at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. She is an Elder in The United Methodist Church and has eighteen years of experience pastoring churches. Her degree is in Liturgical Studies, with major study in Preaching and the Emerging Church. She is especially interested in engaging the 21st century church for vital ministry, equipping established communities to take on new models for church, and employing postmodern ideas to reengage younger generations in preaching and worship. Dr. Wiseman has a book coming out in Fall of 2013 on preaching from Pilgrim Press.
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