Hey friends, Emily here.

There are few conversations I’ve had the privilege of having that spanned more topics, heart, and depth as this week’s conversation on our podcast Changing the Conversation. We were fortunate enough to spend the morning with our Country Director from South Africa, Allan Knowles. And we talked about everything from sports to politics, from failure to peace, and of course, coffee.  

Allan helped paint a picture of life in South Africa. While it’s nothing like much of the rest of the continent, South Africa too is marred by a painful struggle for independence and the challenges of living under the evil system of apartheid. There are parts of this remarkable country that beat with the same heart as its African neighbors and even our own country’s story: a passionate love of sports, children growing up amidst a changing political landscape, and how stereotyping our neighbor can drive a country apart.

I was struck at how often I resonated with things Allan was talking about and I hope you are too. It’s what I love about this podcast, it’s why we chose to create it. We are all unique. My story and background is not yours. But underneath so many parts of our circumstances and experiences are systems, questions, emotions, and hopes that we all commonly share. Amidst the many distinctions between the United States and the countries we work in across Africa, there is something profound about being human. Something we share in our DNA that invites us to know ourselves better by hearing the stories of our friends.

Being deeply vulnerable and courageous, Allan shared his story. One where he was raised in a developing South Africa – a country torn apart by apartheid and fear. It was into a world divided that Allan grew up in a 3-bedroom home with 9 children and 2 parents. It was a world that didn’t include interaction with another race or color until one day when a train stopped on the platform and Allan began to ask questions.

In an instant, he was made aware that certain train cars were for certain colors of skin. As a young boy, his context for this reality filtered heavily through his parents. A passive mother, an angry father. So as Allan matured, so did his anger. Anger at the government, anger at the system, anger at a God who allowed this reality to exist. During his conversion years later, he was challenged to consider a loving father – very different from his own example growing up. Only then, when confronted with Biblical truth, did Allan’s worldview begin to change. And from that transformation, God set an entire life path for Allan. One where he leveraged every part of his challenging past to mentor a next generation of leaders whose “lives would be statements of hope.”

What I love about hearing Allan’s story is that out of vastly different experiences and upbringings, we often all experience similar emotions. As human beings, we can each learn how to create resilience from our story, and like Allan, find a way to reconcile our past and use that story to leave a legacy for the generation behind us.

I hope you enjoy listening to this episode of Changing the Conversation as much as I did in sharing a podcast booth with Emily Hickey and Allan Knowles.