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Inspired to Serve: Today’s Faith Activists


The faith activists in Inspired to Serve take their religious and social beliefs to the people they serve and defend, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with them in their own communities, while enlisting the support of mainstream citizens and trying to raise the social consciousness of others.

Sister Ann Kendrick helps migrant workers find medical care and fights for their rights during labor battles. To fund and maintain his anti-poverty programs, the Rev. Dr. Israel Suarez calls on business leaders, holds food drives, hauls furniture and preaches on the radio. Doug and Judy Hall, who confronted inner-city strife in 1960s Boston, continue building urban programs to offer jobs, education and support for neighborhood residents. Dr. M. Basheer Ahmed establishes a community-based clinic to serve low-income Muslim immigrants.

“What they have in common is an unbending belief in the power, potential and rewards of service to others,” writes Massé, a longtime freelance author and professor of journalism at Ball State University, who compiled this anthology of narratives over a six-year period. He describes the connections between social activism and religious belief and explains how, for some individuals, the two are so intertwined that the activists themselves cannot articulate where one starts and the other leaves off.

“[The book] is guided by the premise that those who are drawn to community service and social activism are more likely to be people of faith and conscience,” he writes. That faith may be within religious tenets or a spirituality that conforms to no specific religion. Many developed that conscience as children of the 1960s whose futures were shaped by protests to combat social and labor inequities and racism. But something, a “God moment” as Denver-based Rabbi Steve Foster explains it, spurred these activists to make a leap of faith, and they were transformed in the process. These experiences “softened their hearts and strengthened their resolve to improve the world around them,” Massé writes.

The profiled activists represent a mix of faiths, social issues and regional interests. Massé includes descriptive, dramatic narratives, media accounts and background material from interviews with the subjects’ friends, colleagues and family members. The profiled activists emerge as charismatic leaders and human beings who aren’t perfect but who are undaunted in their quest to serve others.

“That is perhaps the best lesson they have to offer anyone who wants to ‘take arms against a sea of troubles’ in his or her community,” Massé writes. “Your attitude will largely determine how successful you are at leaving the world a better place.”
(Indiana University Press, 2004)

Book Review Excerpt:

“These profiles, completed between 1997 and 2003, reveal selfless individuals whose efforts often go unheralded. For Massé’s people of faith, social activism was not exhausted in the ’60s and ’70s, but is alive and well in American society today. The book’s subjects represent many faith traditions, including Buddhist, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and evangelical, mainline, and Pentecostal Protestants. They are white, African-American, Hispanic, and Asian. These tireless activists combat racism, homelessness, government-sanctioned torture, civil rights abuses, and corporate exploitation of migrant workers. An inspirational read, the book will appeal to social action advocates and students of contemporary religious reform. In addition, it will challenge the assumption that faith-based activism has faded from today’s American religious landscape. … Massé’s effort is an inspiring work on faith-driven activism.”

(Religious Studies Review, July 2007)

Book Review Excerpt:

“In Inspired to Serve, Mark Massé shines a rare spotlight on thirteen faith activists to illuminate lives deeply devoted to community service, rooted in advancing social justice. Massé’s detailed, personal snapshot portraits of faith activists provide an intimate and inspiring window into the daily work of people transforming their communities into more livable, just places for the poor, marginalized, and oppressed.

“Massé employs ethnographic methods (and what he calls ‘immersion journalism’) to collect richly descriptive field notes of the daily chores and challenges of his profiled activists. The book gives readers the sense that they are shadowing the activists through their days while providing insights into their dispositions, successes, obstacles, and motivations shaping experiences, goals and opposition. These lively portraits achieve Massé’s goals to ‘personalize contemporary societal issues, to illuminate the subject of social activism, and to contribute to an enhanced understanding of its impact on the human condition.’ Their stories illustrate how individuals have tackled complex social problems as well as the costs and commitments required. They reveal the power, courage, sacrifice, and altruism that is motivated by faith values and that drives these activists to work for systemic social change.

“Massé’s strengths as a journalist will make this book valuable to those who want information about movers and shakers who embody the better angels of our nature. The lives of those he profiles challenge modern-day cynicism that individuals are powerless against the daunting web of complex problems and injustices within our communities. They illustrate the wisdom of Margaret Mead’s famous admonition: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.’ ”

(H-Net Reviews, August 2006)