Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Tipping Points

"In sociology, a tipping point is a point in time when a group—or a large number of group members— rapidly and dramatically changes its behavior by widely adopting a previously rare practice.  The phrase was first used in sociology by Morton Grodzins when he adopted the phrase from physics where it referred to the adding a small amount of weight to a balanced object until the additional weight caused the object to suddenly and completely topple, or tip.” (

How many times do we have to meet/interact with a person before s/he becomes an acquaintance?  A friend? 

How long do you have to study a language before “suddenly” a conversation becomes comprehensible?

How much violence and death was needed before FOMAC (army of countries in the region) and French troops arrived in CAR?

How many displaced people before the world begins to pay attention?

How serious does the situation need to get before the press in the US regularly covers what is happening in the Central African Republic?

Here are two quotes from a recent article by Madeline Albright, Chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group.( She served as the 64th Secretary of State from 1997 to 2001, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.)

Today, an estimated 500,000 people in CAR – equal to more than ten percent of the population – have been displaced by violence. Virtually none of the fighting has been between armed groups; instead it has consisted of thugs attacking civilians in anger and other thugs attacking civilians in revenge. This is not civil war; it is anarchy.”

There are no guarantees that the international community can prevent the crisis in CAR from worsening. Much depends on the country’s leadership which is fragile, divided and – some believe – implicated in the violence.

Many reports about CAR emphasize that it’s Christians vs. Muslims.  Well, I agree with Madeline Albright.  That is not the real focus which is greed and diverse people grabbing for power. 

The international community has gotten involved.  Good.  The local people’s needs are intense and great.  But, again, as Albright says, they can’t do it alone.  The Seleka are protesting the presence of the French.  (Could it be because they don’t want to give up their arms and the power to extort and rob??  Could it be because of the earlier French colonizers?)  They continue to kill mostly Christians and destroy villages.  The Anti-Balaka fight the Seleka, but kill mostly innocent Muslims in their path.  Women and children are being killed.  (Just to show the might of the attackers??  Surely, these innocents aren’t preventing their grab for money and power.)

And, in the process, fighters loot houses – houses of both Christians and Muslims – whoever has stuff worth stealing. 

We need a new tipping point: the point where more people work for peace and refuse to engage in vengeance, violence, looting, and killing.  It can come.  Here are some stories different Central African visitors have told me.

The Anti-Balaka were shooting in the air and menacing a town.  When the Seleka leader in a nearby town heard about the “attack,” he sent soldiers with orders to kill many and burn houses.  But, as the fighters came to the edge of town, local people cheered and welcomed them.  The colonel said he could not kill villagers and destroy houses in a town that obviously was not working against Seleka.  So he didn’t.

In a village, the Anti-Balaka went to destroy a mosque.  Neighbors come out and prevented the action saying it was a church that they had helped build.  Its destruction was not acceptable.

Muslims in a village were fleeing in fear of “Christian” attackers.  As they passed through fields outside of town, they were fed by local Christian women who had fled in fear of the “Muslims.”

Imams and Pastors/Bishops are working together in various towns to promote peace and reconciliation.  They all emphasize that killing is against both religions.  They point to the long history of cooperation and living together as good neighbors in the CAR.

Christians and Muslims hold prayer vigils together.

Christian hospitals treat Christians and Muslims alike.

Unfortunately, fear rules for many people in CAR.  They are currently struggling to survive.  I have to believe that the FOMAC and French troops can help calm the situation, especially in Bangui.  I must believe that the humanitarian aid that is slowly coming can bring stability into the lives of many displaced people. 

And, more importantly, I believe that the small actions for peace (such as those mentioned above) which are currently too rare will increase until most people’s actions work for peace.  A much more positive tipping point. 

Pray and work for peace – wherever you are.  May 2014 bring the positive tipping points we all need. 

Want to support my work?
At the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Pittsburgh in August 2013, the missionary sponsorship program received a new name: ELCA Global Church Sponsorship. 
HERE’S HOW TO GIVE to support my work through them:
By check: Make payable to “ELCA Global Church Sponsorship” with “Susan Smith MSG0619” in the memo line. Give through your synod office or mail your check to: ELCA Global Church Sponsorship, PO Box 71764, Chicago, IL  60694-1764.
By credit or debit card: See  or call 800-638-3522 and specify “Susan Smith MSG0619”.
By automatic monthly bank withdrawal, or to establish a covenant of prayer, communication and support: Contact 800-638-3522, ext. 2657, or


  1. Hello, I have been visiting your blog. ¡Congratulations for your work, good luck with your blog! I invite you to visit my blog about literature, philosophy, sociology and films:

  2. Hello Susan, I am a missionary kid from Baboua, I went to school in GB 1984-1992. I spent this Christmas and New Year's in Cameroon. I talked to a pastor traveling from Yaounde to Baboua just before Christmas. He gave me your number, but I haven't been able to reach you. I'll keep trying, it'll be a number from Germany. Happy New Year and have fun with your Gbaya lessons! ��