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Summer 2006 | Volume 29, Number 3 | From the Editor

History Lessons: Can One Person Make a Difference?

“What will it take,” she asked, “for you to answer the call in an unsteady, uncertain, unstable world … to take seriously the mission of SPU to engage the culture and change the world?”

To answer that call means confronting such profoundly difficult issues as racism and poverty, said Williams-Skinner. Her address made very personal the message historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough delivered during his visit to Seattle Pacific less than two months earlier. “You are a part of history,” he said, “and someday you will be judged by what you do.”

Just as McCullough noted that history provides models to “inspire” us and give us “backbone,” Williams-Skinner pointed new graduates toward Christians in ancient and modern times whose lives had literally changed the world: Abraham, Moses, Esther, John Wesley, William Wilberforce, C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Rosa Parks, John Perkins, Martin Luther King, and others. These men and women, she told them, had the same fears and limitations we do, yet they “answered the call of God to be available.”

A former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, Williams-Skinner has devoted her life to coaching, training, and equipping leaders committed to reconciliation and care for the poor. She knows how easy it is to believe that one person can’t possibly make a difference, but she wouldn’t let graduates — or the rest of us — off the hook: “I can hear you say, ‘What can one person do?’ I thought you’d never ask, because that’s all it really takes. … It only took one Abraham who believed God enough for a covenant to be formed that we benefit from; it only took one Moses to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt and toward the Promised Land … .”

This issue of Response includes a variety of stories from America’s past, including Abraham Lincoln’s struggle for justice and reconciliation, the Victorian days of gas lighting, and the history of SPU’s Camp Casey. Leading the issue is an in-depth interview with McCullough, who describes history as a source of pleasure, strength, and understanding — particularly in this “very uncertain, dangerous time.”

In such a time, Williams-Skinner’s urging of graduates to “go to the barrios, the ghettos, and the white poor areas of our world” is more important than ever. How people of faith respond to the challenges and complexities of this moment in history will have implications far beyond what we will know or understand in our lifetimes.

Note: To listen to Barbara Williams-Skinner’s Commencement address, click here.

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