Posted by: jcwillyams | January 18, 2010

The Bystander Effect

“Petru Barladeanu was accidentally shot by Italian mafia in a crowded street in the center of Napoli close to the Spanish Quarter, on the 26th of May, 2009. The event took place at a moment when the street was full of people who witnessed the assault at early hours of the evening. Taking refuge at the entrance of a station, Petru Barladeanu fell and died half an hour later in the presence of his panicked wife who called for help. As shown in the CCTV video of the event the victim was surrounded by ordinary people who looked at the victim without giving any help whatsoever and then fled the scene. The victim eventually died and the perpetrators as well as those who refused to assist the victim have not been convicted.”

Feel the paper between your fingers. This paper links you to 150 others. It links you to the old and to the young. It links you to Christians and Atheists. It links you to married couples and divorced singles. This paper links you to people across the US. Each of these people lives a life different from yours. You might not like someone else who holds this paper. Some of the people who hold this paper make double your salary in a month. Some of the people who hold this paper are unemployed. Some of the holders are liberals. Some are conservatives. Some are republicans; others are democrats. Some of the people who hold this paper are full of blinding pride. Some of the people who hold this paper lust after countless impurities. Some find their fulfillment in drinking. Some of the holders are workaholics. Some holders have had an abortion. Some of the holders are pregnant and not married. Some steal regularly. Some of the holders think they are perfect. Some holders are depressed. Some holders find their identity in their children. Some live without a purpose. Some holders want to know who I’m talking about. Some holder’s think I’m talking about them…some holders think I’m not talking about them. Some aren’t actually holding a paper, but a mouse instead. Some holders have already put this paper in the trash. Some have already closed their browser. 150 people, each different, but bound together in a group. 150 people linked to a cause. 150 people, I wonder how many will hear?

The Bystander Effect – you have undoubtedly heard this term. Our awareness is awakened with the unreported stabbing of Kitty Genovese witnessed by 38 individuals in New York, the story above, and episodes of Law & Order and Real TV. We are shocked and horrified as we watch people suffer horribly through the eyes of so many passersby’s. It makes us doubt that goodness even exists in this world. It tears us to the core.

Why? Why do you expect someone to do something? Why in the face of injustice do we expect righteousness? What is righteousness? If we are beings who have evolved through survival of the fittest, why do we care as it continues to take its course? If people are born out of cosmic coincidence…where do we get a concept of right and wrong? If we are people, rather, if we are evolved apes, why should we expect justice to even exist? Why do we feel the pains of emotion when we are the one who is left to suffer? Why do we almost tangibly feel that if we can only hope hard enough, we will be delivered? What makes us long for deliverance? What keeps us from giving up?

My friend Ryan, a graduate of Jeff Street’s Fresh Start program has a chilling history. Abuse haunted his past. It traumatized his ability to build healthy relationships. It gave him an inability to trust those around him, even as they reached out to him. Yet even as he pushed people away, he pushed himself to the center. He willingly took the pedestal, longing for the attention he was granted in his abuse. Drugs and partying were quick to follow. He became lost in a scene of devastation. It’s a state that many will never leave, but as Ryan would say, “I found Our Heavenly Father.”
In the acceptance of a heavenly father he was able to move past the transgressions of his earthly father. He was able to heal his inner injuries. He was able to live for a purpose higher then drugs. He found his identity in something more meaningful than parties.
His past caught up with him. He was sentenced to a year in jail. It was not easy. Abuse, taunting, and isolation violently recreated images of his past, but he had a new foundation that could not be destroyed. Leaning upon Jesus Christ he led bible studies and ministered to his fellow inmates. Despite this, he did not emerge unscathed. Still young in his faith he was bitter toward God – bitterness led to doubt, and doubt led to regression.
His Older brother, not willing to allow Ryan to return to a lifestyle of waste, checked him into Jefferson Street. Ryan came…grumpy, untrusting, and mad at the world. He was bitter and sarcastic. He had lost sight of what was important. The change from that time to now is startling.
Ryan has once again found his faith in God. He has emerged with a faith not so young and naive, but of deeper understanding and maturity. He has found his rest in God, and a deeper transformation is occurring in his heart.
That transformation may not be complete, but it’s amazing to witness the process. It’s inspiring to watch selfishness dissolve into selflessness. It’s encouraging to see self adoration turn to Christ adoration. It’s amazing to see a focus on earthly relationships refocus into godly relationships. Ryan has reconciled with his father; he now regularly attends service at Sojourn Community Church, and participates in their local outreach program. A boy, who came pouting, has emerged a godly man.
I was blessed to hail in 2010 with Ryan and couldn’t help but be proud of him as he humorously interacted with my friends. His resolution is Luke 9:62, “Though we don’t have plows,” he joked, “a mop will work.”

The Bystander Effect can occur on many levels. It might be abuse. It might be emotional trauma. It might be addictions. You are a bystander to something. You have witnessed a wrong and done nothing to confront it. You have seen the elderly neighbor struggle and passed responsibility to her children. You have seen the co-worker lost in melancholy and passed responsibility to your boss. You have heard the request for volunteers at work or at church and passed responsibility to the many others. You are busy, he’s not doing it, I’m doing way more then she is – these are the excuses of a bystander. These excuses so loudly reverberate in our minds that they mute the cries for help as our neighbor is repeatedly stabbed to death.

I must confess supporters, I have felt this effect. There are 150 of you. 12.6% of the 150 have offered tangible support (letters, cards, donations, phone calls, e-mails, etc.). 6.6% of the 150 have offered financial assistance. Of that 6.6% 1 person has donated more than everyone else combined. So far, my most extreme donation has been < $1 in change from a delightful and caring 10 year old. It is not a small amount that concerns me; it is the lack of any amount. I need your visible support. I need to know that as I pray to not be a bystander to the “hurting” that comes into Jeff Street, you are praying right beside me. I know the prayers have been happening.
I have seen their effect, and I have suffered in their withdrawal. Please do not be sparing. Overload me with communication. I want to hear your prayer requests. I want to give you more of mine. I want to share in your life stories as I describe my own adventures. I, dear supporters, do not want to simply be a bystander to you.

I challenge you this year my friends and family. I challenge you to not be a bystander. Start with me! Send me an e-mail, write me a letter, mail me a picture, donate $10, put a note to pray for the mission on your bathroom mirror, send me a story…. Do not shirk me onto the crowd, I want you! Do not abandon me; do not answer my request only to satisfy a temporary conviction. Be consistent; fulfill the need for prayer, communication, time and money until the mission has ended. We all have our own journeys and I welcome you to mine. Inspire me daily.

You are linked to 150 others through this paper. None of our journeys are perfect. We each have the ability, however; to cling to perfection. I can confidently and undoubtedly assure you that we are not the effect of a “cosmic coincidence.” Our emotions and inner desire for righteousness are case enough for this. There is a creator who has a perfect standard. He has revealed his will to us through his word; he has manifested his word in the perfect life of Jesus Christ. We have all been bystanders, but Christ has carried that burden for us. When we take Him into our hearts we begin to feel, hear, and empathize with those around us. It becomes harder to be a bystander when you feel the tug of the Lord calling you to act on his behalf. The purpose of a Christian is not to judge; it is to convey the love of Jesus Christ to one another, and in effect, the world.

May Christ’s Love enter fully into our lives; may it transform us, may it comfort us, may it grow and overflow into the world around us. Amen.

Love, JC Williams

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