Overwhelmed and Desensitized by the News Lately?

A way forward through the cross

Michael du Toit & Usha Reifsnider 11 May 2022

Every day our phones and televisions are exploding with crises in our communities, countries, and world. As believers, how can we process all this information? As our window on the world grows, how do we make sure our hearts can keep up?

Usha Reifsnider, co-regional director of Lausanne Europe, speaks with Michael du Toit, director of content strategy, about information overload, the war in Ukraine, and how Usha has seen the body of Christ working ‘in a way I’ve never seen before’.

Watch the full conversation or read the edited transcript below.

Edited Transcript:

We get so much information all the time. The news is overwhelmed with the Ukraine situation and all that’s happening in Europe. News keeps pouring in. We see so much. How do we process all this information?

One of my thoughts is a little bit perhaps off the wall, in that I believe every invention that God releases to humanity is a way for us to find ways to use it to reconcile mankind to God. So all this information we have, I believe that God wants us to use it.

If we know all this, then surely God knows so much more. He looks at humanity and all the chaos, and we see such a tiny fraction of it. When he saw this chaos, he did something. His heart went to humanity. And so before we get overwhelmed and have sleepless nights and make friends and lose friends and make a stand for this and then we find someone pulls the rug out from under our feet, I think we need to go back to the heart of God. And as followers of Christ, as those who have made a decision to follow Christ, when we look at all this information that’s out there, we have to think of those individuals in Ukraine, in Ethiopia, in the Middle East, in Palestine, in India, and all over the world, and remember that Jesus also died for them. And that God sees their pain. And so we can’t process this, I don’t think, without taking a moment to process the vastness of the hugeness of God. On the one hand he’s personal, on the other hand he’s huge. None of this, good news or bad, none of this is a surprise to God.

Scripture teaches us that when one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers with it. How do you think we go about taking steps toward making that our more default posture when we’re seeing information come out? How do we go about changing our natural posture of overwhelm, apathy, and discomfort to seeing these people as people, image bearers of God?

Yes, we are all image bearer of God, aren’t we? I don’t want to give a pattern, but it really does have to begin with prayer. Prayer is like a confession of faith. You have to do something with it. So just to say a prayer and think that’s enough, that might be just enough to appease your conscience. I can’t be your conscience, your judge, and say, well, you should be giving this and doing that. I think this is where not only our calling, but our relationship with God, our day-to-day relationship with God, really does make a difference.

There are those who have been called to live with less, I consider myself to be one of them. And there are those who consider themselves able to send finances, there are those who’ve got homes, resources, intellectual ability. And so along with your prayer, I think you need a sincere desire to say, ‘God, show me what to do’—and sometimes He will show you that through people. So I think the sense of being overwhelmed needs to be held, contained in prayer. It needs to be contained in something. As part of our faith life, as part of our active faith life, it has to be held in something. Because God has a purpose for us being able to access this information.

But it’s interesting also that we come from a culture where your generation still feels you need to ask our generation what you need to do. God is speaking to your generation too. He’s calling me to do things but he has a special calling on you and your generation where you are. And so yes, I’m happy to give ideas, but there’s also a wealth of information inside of you. You don’t have to wait to get permission. Yes, link to people who are older and wiser, but I also believe you have ideas in you that are just waiting to burst forth.

I’m not trying to get into some sort of prophetic or that sort of a mode, I’m just saying that there are gifts that God has given us, and there are gifts for every generation and every tongue, tribe, and nation. We don’t necessarily have to look to Europe or America or Africa, we don’t have to look to any people group to say tell me what you exactly want me to do.

If I’ve seen nothing else in this Ukraine crisis, I’ve seen the body of Christ working together in a way I’ve never seen before. I’ve been in ministry for 34 years. I’ve never seen the body of Christ pull together in Europe—I mean, if you’ve been in any of the prayer calls, you’ll see Russian pastors praying for Ukrainians. I saw a wonderful young man who has a youth ministry in Poland, and he just opened his doors. He had 200 refugees. He’s just a lovely young man, and his eyes were big and he said, ‘200 people arrived. And I want to help them.’ And I thought how wonderful! We were all able to pray and say, ‘You know what? There’s finances here, buses here, what can we do to help you, how can we hold you up?’ We didn’t have to wait to get permission from here there and everywhere, we did what we knew to be right. We knew how to be a body. And I think that’s so important right now.

You’ve spoken before about how our window on the world has grown but our heart for the world hasn’t grown at the same pace. Along with having so much overwhelming information, we’ve also been desensitized to the realities of violence. We see these things on phones and television all the time so it’s almost a little bit too commonplace. How do we grow our heart for the world?

I think of when God was looking down on earth and he saw the chaos that it was in. He didn’t get desensitized, did he? He was sensitive enough to send Jesus. So today when I look at how I can be desensitized—I can just put my screen down and be done—I don’t have to watch BBC, CNN. I can watch a YouTube video of cats if I want to instead. I can remove myself from the situation so easily. Because sometimes it feels like having knowledge is having enough. But once you have knowledge, you have a responsibility of what you do with that knowledge. We have a responsibility. What we speak, what we see, the way we act, the choices we make—we have a responsibility as followers of Christ. So I look to the beatitudes because that was Jesus’ response. When he saw the chaos in the world, Jesus had a response.

‘“Blessed are the poor in Spirit,” he says, “for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Who’s going to comfort them, Michael? Who’s going to comfort them? “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are those who are merciful for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the sons of God.” I want to be called a son of God. I want to be a daughter of God. Where can we be peacemakers, Michael? Where can you and I be peacemakers? Where can we find just one to connect with because we can’t deal with it all? Where can I be a peacemaker today? There’s got to be a point of contact with who we say we are, what we say we believe, and then what we do with it. It is so much easier for me to put on a sitcom than a sermon. It’s so much easier for me to pick up a novel than the word of God. Because the word of God forces me to change.

So how do we stop ourselves from being desensitized? By going to the most sensitive thing I know of—the sacrifice of Jesus. That’s the world he calls me to, to take up my cross and follow him. I can’t desensitize that.

I think that’s really helpful as we figure out a good way to respond. A response can include listening. It can include mourning together, praying together, having space to process these thoughts together. Do you have any insights on what Lausanne Europe has been doing in this moment? Any further thoughts for the weeks ahead?

We are going to publicize this shortly, but we’re going to have prayer meetings on or around the 24th of every month, because the 24th is the date that the Ukraine crisis started. We also have a list of organizations on the Lausanne Europe website that people can connect to.

I think rather than wanting to come see for yourselves, we have access to technology. Let’s send the finances. I know that for a couple thousand dollars you can go and see and raise money. But if you just sent the couple thousand dollars instead—we have people on the ground. We have Ukrainian people on the ground. So let’s support the church that’s there. Ukraine has had a revival. The Roma people have been doing things in Ukraine and it’s interesting because a lot of times the way the Roma do stuff is under the radar. And they’re very creative in their ways of helping people, because they’ve had to be themselves. They’ve now had to live on less, and they’re doing things like going to the borders and doing people’s laundries for them.

Over the months I’m sure we will hear of many creative, practical moments of how to respond in these moments. And that prompts the thought in our hearts and minds of what can I do? The answer is probably, ‘You probably know, or figure it out.’

That’s the great thing about Lausanne. This is said often and by many, that Lausanne’s fruit grows best on other people’s trees. It’s time for that fruit to start feeding the people. It’s time for the fruit to start spreading and nourishing people. And inside each fruit is the potential for more fruit, isn’t there?

We are heading into a difficult period where the bride of Christ has the opportunity to stand up as the light of the world and shine. But that is a calling that we need to not only passively sit by and wait for something to happen. We need to do something.