Friday, February 5, 2010

Compassion Isn't Just a Feeling: An Interview with Tiffanie Riley

Welcome to the final interview (for now!) in our Love That Moves series. This week I'm excited to introduce you to three fabulous blog readers who inspire me all to pieces. I hope these interviews encourage you to keep fighting for the cause closest to your heart. I'm also giving away a copy of Paperdoll this week. All you have to do is leave a comment (about whatever you want) on any of this week's posts.

"I believe compassion isn't just a feeling, it is an action. Compassion is love in action. And the children of Uganda and even people all over the world need to know that there is a love that saves them from fear and bondage." - Tiffanie Riley

I believe in the power of story. I like non-fiction that shifts the light and makes me look at something, someone, or some common experience in an entirely new way. I like novels that break my heart, make me laugh, or make me fall in love with great characters. I read, and I write, because I love the way good stories settle in my heart. I believe words are beautiful, dangerous things and I'm thankful I wake up with so many of them tangled up in my mind. But I've always said (rather dorkily, I'll admit) that my favorite stories aren't in books or newspapers. My favorite stories are people; the ones I love and the new people I meet. My favorite story is falling in love. My favorite story is a rainy day, an inside joke, a scratchy rock song, and a dandelion pushing through a crack in the sidewalk. My favorite story is what's happening behind a smile, behind a smudgy tear, behind an awkward laugh. A good story means fighting for something I believe in and living for today. And being hopeful for whatever tomorrow brings with it.

Maybe it's just my wacky brand of opti-pessimism, but I've always believed that if I'm willing to walk into the world with my heart wide open, I'll get to live a story better than anything I'll ever read. That quirky obsession, that unexplainable draw to story, was the first thing that snagged my attention when I heard about Jason Russell, Bobby Bailey, and Laren Poole. Before I knew what Invisible Children was about, all I'd heard was that three young men from California bought a movie camera from Ebay and then went to Africa "looking for a story."

As you probably know ... they found one. In the hands of Hollywood, a trip like that (a guy trip nonetheless!) would be peppered with indie music, hot girls, and moments of unkempt self-reflection. But that trip was no vacation. Jason, Bobby, and Laren turned the camera away from themselves and focused instead on the thousands of child soldiers caught in the crosshairs of Africa's longest running war. The journey didn't end for them once the credits came up either. They've continued to raise money, awareness, and educational funding for the children of Uganda. What started as a mission to find a story has become their life and, little by little, hope is sweeping over a very broken part of the world.

Peace and prosperity in Uganda might seem to daunting a cause for some people to champion. But it wasn't too daunting for three friends from California. And it isn't too daunting for Tiffanie Riley, a blog reader I'm so excited for you to meet.

First, let me tell you a little bit about Tiffanie. She's a college student studying nursing. She hopes to utilize her degree in Africa, or another third world country, by treating the thousands of people there who are dying from preventable diseases. She also hopes to start an organization that will alleviate medical costs for people in these countries. (She says the current means of attaining treatment are "severely unjust and must be changed." Love it :) Tiffanie loves dancing (she teaches ballet, hip-hop, and pom at the YMCA), reading, writing, and art. Tiffanie is also super close to her sister Steffanie, another fabulous blog reader. They both have great blogs, too. Tiffanie blogs over at and Steffanie blogs over at (Also, I swiped that pic of Tiffanie from her Facebook. That handsome guy beside her is her boyfriend, Austin. Hopefully he won't mind that I didn't crop him out ... I promise this isn't just a girly blog, Austin! There are like two guys who read it too :)

Welcome to the blog, Tiffanie! Thanks so much for letting me interview you about your experience with Invisible Children. The first time I read about the event you coordinated, it gave me goose bumps. I don't know that I'd ever considered how literacy outreach could look globally until I read about what you were doing. We talk about books quite often here on the blog, so I knew other readers would love hearing about it too. First of all, could you tell us a little bit more about Invisible Children?

Invisible Children is an organization that originated out of a spontaneous trip taken by three young filmmakers to Northern Africa. They went and found way more than they bargained for. They saw tens of thousands of children sleeping in buildings far away from their homes because they feared the LRA (The Lord's Resistance Army). The leader, Joseph Kony, abducts and brutalizes children, often making them soldiers or using them for sex slavery. The filmmakers came back to the US and started Invisible Children, an organization that is dedicated to ending the war in Uganda and rebuilding the lives that have been torn there. They have many programs that they offer to support, such as, The Visible Child Scholarship Program, TRI, Mentorship programs, and MEND. They are committed to changing lives and impacting this war-torn region. I got involved a little under a year ago when our school hosted an Invisible Children screening. My passion was ignited when I saw all of those children, from 5 to 12, holding guns and staring at the camera with empty and sometimes fearful eyes. I couldn't just let this pass me by. These children have gripped my heart ever since and God has given me so many opportunities to support the children I love so much!

That movement blows my mind. I can definitely sympathize with people who have a heavy heart over this issue, but aren't sure exactly where to jump in and help. You found a very practical way to align your passions with this organization. Tell me about it.
Invisible Children does an annual book drive to raise money/ books for the
secondary schools that have been built in Uganda. Usually book drives will be done through schools and such, but my school wouldn't allow it for some reason. So I organized one on my own! I have been having people bring me boxes of books to work, church etc...and I bring them home and scan the ISBN to see if they will be good to send in. My friends and family have been super helpful with donations! Although I didn't raise a couple hundred books, I know this will make a difference!

I love that you organized a book drive anyway! :) You will make a huge difference. This blog is a community of book lovers who might want to organize a book drive in their schools and communities too. Can you give us advice for how we might do something similar?
My advice to anyone wanting to get involved or spread the word of Invisible Children would be this: You MUST follow through with what you want to do. I hear so many people saying that they would love to do stuff for the children in Uganda and then a big "but" comes after it. Invisible Children offers so many different ways to get involved and get the word out about them. You can sponsor a mentor or give three dollars a week to TRI. You can have a bake sale, a benefit concert, a move night, a book drive....anything you can think of! Use your passions to save lives and change lives!
Those are some awesome ideas. And a good reminder that donating money is definitely not the only way to make a difference. Donating your time, or your skills, can make an even bigger impact sometimes. Is there anything else you want to add?
It's so easy for us to feel bad for these kids and their situations. We don't have to face their fears everyday and we are pretty much able to live our lives happily and fully, but we are called to be people of compassion. I believe compassion isn't just a feeling, it is an action.
Compassion is love in action. And the children of Uganda and even people all over the world need to know that there is a love that saves them from fear and bondage. As the Body of Christ we are called to learn to love and to give love to people everywhere. Let God burden your heart with a cause. Let Him shape your heart to beat for people you may not even meet. Let Him wreck you with it and then, get out there with your beautiful passions and make a difference!

You can learn more about Invisible Children here or join the Facebook community here.

I think Tiffanie, Ashley, and Emily are living out really beautiful stories. I'm so grateful they shared just a little piece of that story on here. And I'm glad they let me interview them for this week's blog entries. And thank you for sharing your experiences in the comments! My word, you people rock my mismatched socks off. :)

Before signing off, I wanted to post one more clip. Tiffanie mentioned MEND, a fairly new project Invisible Children has started up. I'm nuts over it. Here's the idea behind MEND. Prepare to be hooked:

I would love to hear your thoughts on Tiffanie's interview! If you have a question about how to plan a book drive for Invisible Children, I know she would love to answer it. I have a question for you too: As I was thinking about all the amazing books the kids in Uganda will be exposed to, I started thinking of books that made a big impact on me when I was little. Is there a book that had a profound impact on you when you were a kid? What about now? Is there a particular book that's helped you through a lonely or difficult time in your life? I'm excited to hear your answers. Thanks for reading this week's posts. And thanks again to Tiffanie, Ashley, and Emily for giving such fantastic interviews. :) Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!


  1. Wow.

    I can't tell you how much reading these posts has affected me. Has convicted me.

    Tiffanie, Ashley, Emily: You guys are some incredibly amazing girls. Thank you for giving your all. For living totally sold out for Jesus. For making a difference in others' lives and ACTING instead of simply crying over a moving story and forgetting it two days later. Thank you for being examples to me, for showing me what a Servant's Heart in Action looks like.

    I leave for a week-long mission trip to Belize a week from today. And while I'm excited about going (and maybe a bit scared too...), I've totally had the wrong mindset. I've been moved by the situations of the people there, yes; but I've made the mistake of focusing on myself, not God, and the People there, and what HE wants me to do. I need to go with the True Heart of a Servant.

    Natalie, thank you so much for sharing these stories with us. I needed them.

    Here are two things I wanted to share...


    That's the link to an incredible article I found today, written by Switchfoot's Jon Foreman. I think it goes along with what you've been posting about.

    Also, this precious, precious blog I found yesterday:
    Katie is a 21-year old girl from Brentwood, Tennessee who now lives in Uganda, and has adopted 14 girls!

    Natalie, thank you for the inspiration. Especially since you did it for your birthday time; I think that was awesome. :)

    God bless you guys!

  2. Natalie--Am I a lucky guy or what?!? =] Thank you so much for posting this...Tiffanie and I are both so inspired by what you do and love hearing another voice shouting for change in our generation! God bless! -Austin T.

  3. Kimmy-

    Thanks so much for what you wrote. I'm praying you have an incredible time on the mission and that God uses you in big ways. Remember, we don't ever need to fear what's in store when God is in control. =]

    And thank you so much Natalie for posting this. The response has been amazing. You've inspired me so much! :)

  4. I have the joy of seeing these two kids (Tiffanie and my son Austin) on a daily basis. I am inspired and challenged by their lives and how they preach without words. When I think about what was important to me and what I was doing at age 18 or 19, it is far from how they live. I am as proud as a parent can be and thrilled that I get a front row seat to what God is doing in Tiffanie and Austin's lives.

    Thanks for this beautiful post.

  5. What an inspiring story! I love the idea about a book drive, so that kids all around the world can read the books I love and remember reading for the first time! Which, by the way, would definitely be a tie between The Little Princess and the Felicity series from American Girl!
    And I checked out the blog the Kimmy mentioned in her comment, and I was AMAZED by her story! Thanks Kimmy for sharing!

  6. Tiffanie, thank YOU for being so authentic about your experiences! You gave an awesome interview. All I did was cut and paste! :)

    RT, I can't wait to read about your experience in Belize! I hope you document what you're experiencing. I know it will be a wonderful trip for you (the post you did about your grandfather was absolutely fantastic!). I'm so glad you enjoyed these posts. The blog you linked blew me away too. It's so sweet to see examples of so much good happening in the world!

    Austin, so cool to see your comment on here! :) I'm so excited about the work both of you are throwing your hearts into. You're both such awesome people.

    Ms. Taylor, thank you so much for your comment! I love proud parent comments! :) I can only imagine how much your encouragement matters in both their lives. So glad you stopped by!

    hclane, thanks for your comment! I'm so with you on The Little Princess. That book has a magical quality to it - it's like you're there experiencing it while you read it. I think the American Girl books are wonderful too (I've always liked historicals :). Glad you liked the post!