Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Emily's Book Review: Be the Change by Zach Hunter

When Zach Hunter was studying slavery at the age of twelve, he came home from school and told his mom, “Man, if I had lived back then, I would have fought for equality, and against slavery.”  That’s when Hunter’s mom told him that slavery still exists in many forms around the world, and that’s when his  life changed forever.  As a twelve year-old, he began a campaign called Loose Change for Loose Chains to motivate students to get involved in ending slavery around the world and became a modern-day abolitionist, speaking to hundreds of thousands of people each year.  According to Real Simple magazine, there is over 10.5 million dollars in loose change lying around American households.  Loose Chains for Loose Chains inspires students in schools and youth groups to collect that change and donate it to organizations such as International Justice Mission, a group that rescues people from human trafficking and other forms of oppression.  Hunter has since written several books inspiring other young people to make a change for the 27 million people around the world trapped in slavery.  At age 14, he began writing Be the Change, and this year, he released an updated copy of the book. 

I first became aware of how much of problem slavery still is when I attended Passion 2012 this past January.  Passion is a yearly Christian conference for people ages 18 to 25, and while I was excited to hear artists such as Chris Tomlin, Christy Nockels, and the David Crowder Band and see speakers such as Beth Moore and Francis Chan, I had no idea how much of an impact the “charitable” aspect of Passion would have on me. Each day, the organizers of the event showed a video telling the story of four real-life, modern-day slaves.  One woman had gone to another country on the promise of a job in a restaurant and had been forced into prostitution.  One man had been born into slavery because his father owed a debt he could not pay off and was forced to work in rice fields each day for a wage so low that he would spend his life trying to pay it off.  Each day, we were encouraged to donate to various charities dedicated to fighting slavery, and when we did, we were encouraged to write on slave made items such as jeans, rice bags, soccer balls, shoes, and Christmas ornaments. These were used to create a giant statue of a hand raised high for justice.  Over three million dollars was raised in the course of the four-day conference.           

When I saw Be the Change on the shelves a few weeks ago, I hoped it would address the issues I had learned about at Passion and tell me what I could do about them.  Since leaving the conference, I’ve often wondered how I should be living my life differently, knowing that there are 27 million slaves in the world, more than at any point in history.  What should I do, knowing that even in Atlanta, human trafficking exists?  Should I stop buying clothes from the mall, since I really had no way of knowing whether or not they were slave made?  Should I donate more to the organizations I’d heard of at Passion?  I was excited that we had a book on our shelves that would answer my questions and raise awareness about slavery in a way that was specifically addressed to teens.          

Be the Change is far more than a book about ending slavery, though.  It’s a book about dreaming big, using one’s passion for good, living in community, and sacrificing for others.  Hunter has the book divided up into chapters such as “Influence,” “Courage,” “Leadership,” “Compassion,” and “Sacrifice.”  Each of these chapters then features a profile of either a slave or someone who worked to end slavery and then gives ideas for how teens can live out the character trait from that chapter’s title.  His examples are similar to the stories I heard at Passion.  Hunter also uses Biblical examples of those who stood firm against injustice, such as Esther, who risked death to save her cousin, or the “three vegans” King Nebuchadnezzar tried to burn alive when they wouldn’t renounce their beliefs.  Each chapter ends with discussion questions for readers to answer or think about and suggestions about how to “be the change.”           

I do wish Hunter had given more specific examples of what teens could do to end slavery.  Most of his ideas for action are tacked on to the end of the discussion questions and are written in short blurbs. Since I was reading the book on my own and not with a group, it was tempting for me to skip over the questions to begin with, and I also wish Hunter had just been more specific.  He mentions that teens should buy fair trade items, but he doesn’t explain what this means.  He says teens shouldn’t buy goods that they suspect may be slave made, but he doesn’t tell them how to find out which items are slave made and which items aren’t.  I do think Hunter does a great job raising awareness about the issue of modern-day slavery because there are many teens who may not know that it still exists at all, and I think the book is helpful in encouraging teens to use their influence and passion for good in other ways as well.

I would recommend this book to almost anyone.  Slavery is a problem that people of any age need to know about.  I don’t think it would likely be as enjoyable to non-Christians, since Hunter does use plenty of scripture and Biblical references throughout, but I think anyone could appreciate that Hunter is a teen who actually lives out his faith and whose relationship with God actually causes him to do something for others.  I can see teens in a youth group or discipleship group getting the most out of Be the Change, as it would be great to answer the discussion questions and figure out ways to fight slavery with a group of friends.  I think having an older leader present to research and organize teen efforts could be helpful, though there are plenty of resources available for resourceful teens to do this on their own.  The book is also inspiring simply because Hunter is teen himself and has done much to end slavery already. 

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