He amassed a fortune manufacturing explosives. Alfred B. Nobel was an engineer and industrialist in Stockholm, Sweden, whose construction work led him to create a new way of blasting rock. Experimenting with nitroglycerine, Nobel invented the Nobel patent detonator or blasting cap in 1863, which led to the discovery of a malleable paste called dynamite. The Nobel Company built the first factory to manufacture nitroglycerin and dynamite in Germany and the United States.
Alfred Nobel’s life completely changed, however, when his brother died and a newspaper mistakenly published a long obituary of Alfred, believing that he had died instead of his brother, Ludvig. How many people have the opportunity to read their own obituary?
When the newspaper described Nobel as someone who made it possible to kill more people more quickly than anyone else in human history, Nobel took pause. What kind of legacy did he want to leave? Convinced that he did not want to be remembered this way, Nobel decided not to wait any longer to change his life. He made a decision to use his fortune to honor those who benefit rather than destroy humanity.
When Alfred Nobel died in 1896 he left a nine million dollar endowment and created what is today the world’s most prestigious set of awards in literature, peace, economics, medicine, and the sciences. The most famous award is the Nobel Peace Prize, which was given a few weeks ago to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. This small, little-known agency has overseen the destruction of eighty percent of the world’s declared chemical weapons and has recently received more attention since the August 21 Syrian chemical weapons attack came to light.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave this world? If you died today, what would your obituary say about you? How are you spending your time and energy with the one life you have? One of the Nobel Peace Prize nominees receiving significant attention this month was Malala Yousafzai, a sixteen-year-old Pakistani teenager who is the youngest person ever to be nominated for the award.
When Malala was just eleven years old, she started writing a blog about life under the Taliban, which was published by the BBC. Encouraged by her father, who has been an advocate for women’s rights, Malala spoke out publicly about the importance of education for girls in Pakistan, especially since the Taliban began preventing girls from going to school and routinely beating women and slaughtering innocent people.
After Malala’s identity was discovered by the Taliban, she was shot in the head when the Taliban stormed her school bus on October 9, 2012. Malala was flown to Birmingham, England, where she miraculously survived, received intense rehabilitation, and made a full recovery. Malala continues to speak out, emphasizing that education is power for children and women, which is why the terrorists are afraid of education.
Malala has become an overnight celebrity in the West. On July 12, her sixteenth birthday, Malala addressed a thousand young people at the United Nations and said, “Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One teacher, one book, one pen, can change the world.”
In early October Malala received the European Union’s top award for Human Rights, and on October 9, she appeared on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show where she told her story.
When Stewart asked Malala what gave her the courage to continue speaking out publicly against the Taliban she replied, “I said, why should I wait for someone else? Why should I be looking to the government or to the army that they would help? Why don’t I raise my voice? Why don’t we speak of girls’ rights? I wrote diary, spoke to every media channel and used every platform to raise my voice. I need to tell the world what is happening in Pakistan and that we need to fight against terrorism.”
Why should I wait for someone else? How might our world change if we didn’t wait to speak out against injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves? How might we bring shalom to our world if we didn’t wait to live a transformed life until our obituary was in the paper? How might our little corner of the world be more grace-filled, compassionate, and just if we didn’t wait to share the love of Christ with everyone we meet by our words and actions?
Malala is one of the most inspiring teenagers in our world today, and her celebrity has given her a platform that few others have to voice her single-minded passion for the education of girls. Her book, I am Malala; The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, is #4 on The New York Times Best Seller list for nonfiction.
At the same time, some claim that Malala is being used as a pawn by the West, that the issues in Pakistan are complex, and that the United States has contributed to these problems. Others remind us that no other Pakistani girls have received the same privileged treatment that Malala received after she was shot and that conditions for girls in Pakistan have not yet improved.
All Saints Day is this Thursday. It’s a time when we remember our loved ones who have gone before us and vow to carry on their legacy of mercy and justice while we are still alive. Unlike Alfred Nobel, who never realized the negative impact of his lucrative career until he read his own obituary, you and I have the opportunity now to be transformed into the likeness of the everyday saints of this world who have made it a better place.
Why should you wait for someone else to speak up? When Jon Stewart asked the question, “When did you realize that the Taliban had made you a target?” Malala replied in this way. “When in 2012, we were – I was with my father and someone came and she told us that have you seen on Google if you search your name that the Taliban has threatened you, and I just could not believe it. I said no, it’s not true, and even after threat we saw it, I was not worried about myself that much. I was worried about my father, because we thought that the Taliban are not that much cruel that they would kill a child, cause I was fourteen at that time.
“But then later on I used to – like I started thinking about that and I used to think that the Talib would come and he would just kill me. But then I said: If he comes what would you do, Malala? Then I would reply myself that Malala just take a shoe and hit him. But then I said – then I said: If you hit a Talib with your shoe then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others that much with cruelty and that much harshly. You must fight others but through peace, and through dialogue and through education.
“Then I said: I’ll tell him how important education is and that I even want education for your children as well. And I will tell him that’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.”
We are God’s everyday saints in this world when we do not wait for someone else to speak up. It doesn’t matter who we are, where we came from, what our childhood was like, or how much influence we have. Malala is a Muslim, she’s a girl, she’s only 16, and she is from Pakistan. Who would have thought? How many other Malala’s are yearning to make their voice heard? How are we silencing others? How are stereotypes preventing us from allowing saints to bloom in our midst?
Saints don’t wait for someone else to speak up. Saints empower others saints by mentoring, modeling, nurturing, and encouraging. We are God’s saints when we pick up our books and pens to change the world. We are God’s mouthpiece when we use every platform available to us to share God’s grace, hope, and shalom. We are God’s chosen ones when we transform the world through peace, dialogue, and education, not cruelty or violence.
Why should you wait for someone else?