In 1988, the nation of Chile faced a decision. Because of international pressure, a referendum would be held to decide whether Augosto Pinochet would remain in power for another 8 years.  The choice was simple: vote “Yes” and Pinochet stays. Vote “No” and democratic elections would follow.

For those responsible for the “No” campaign, the approach was critical. How do you convince a populace that there can be a better future than the one they are currently facing? This dilemma is the subject of a recent Academy award nominated movie, “No“. Watch the trailer below:

The movie is a fictionalized account of the actual historical events. Throughout the film the lead character, played by Gael Garcia Bernal, uses his advertising background to try to help the political coalition convince the country to vote NO. The story is a powerful example of the roles any prophet must play to see change happen.

Walter Brueggeman showed in his fantastic book, The Prophetic Imagination, that the change agent must play two specific roles. First, he or she must grieve the current reality. Things are not right in the world and unless there is acknowledgement and grief over this fact, there can be no hope of a better future. 

“Real criticism begins in the capacity to grieve because that is the most visceral announcement that things are not right.” – Brueggemann, p. 11

In broader American society with it’s endless desire for optimism, this is often the most difficult stage. Those in power don’t like to hear that things are not perfect in the empire, for it means change must come.

But for Chileans in the 1980’s, grief over the current reality was not a problem. If anything, the people were swimming in grief. Pinochet had taken power after a coup where the previous democratically elected president, Salvador Allende, was killed. The regime that followed was brutal and thousands of people were “disappeared”, killed or never heard from again.

Chileans needed to have hope that a different future was even possible. This is the second role of a prophet: imagination. The prophet must help the people begin to believe that a better future can exist. On this hope, they can endure the present and fight for the future.

This was the genius of the NO campaign in Chile. Rather than focus solely on the atrocities of the regime, they also pointed to a vision of a desired future. The movie depicted the conflict within the campaign well as different parties wanted to emphasize only the prophetic or only the imagination. They were able to defeat Pinochet because they combined both into a prophetic imagination that brought a desired future to the present.

What about your ministry context? Where do you need to help lead your community into grief over the current reality? Where do you need to help them imagine a desired future? If you tend to emphasize one of the roles more than the other, which is it and why?

Go and watch NO today. You’ll be a better leader because you did.

**Watch the actual original commercial that aired in Chile in 1988: “Chile, la alegria ya viene” (Chile, happiness is already coming):

photo copyright: jolpress.com