17th November 2014 | Tom Rowley | 2 comments

Bird by bird, person by person

In Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott recounts her dad’s instructions to her then 10-year-old brother panicking over a school report on bird taxonomy he had to write, which—after three months of procrastination—was due the next day. “Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

Pavel and Dave with a White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus)

I write this just after returning from the Czech Republic, where I sat one damp and delightful Saturday morning in a bird blind with Peter Harris, Pavel Světlík and Dave Bookless. Pastors and mad birders all (Harris reportedly having come into the world with binoculars around his neck), these men have collectively netted, measured, weighed, sexed, aged and ringed more than a hundred thousand birds across Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. And each bird, I’m sure, met the same care and sense of awe given the Dippers Cinclus cinclus, Kingfishers Alcedo atthis and Nuthatches Sitta europaea on that Czech Saturday. Jesus’ direction to “consider the birds of the air” was never more fully obeyed.

Those familiar with A Rocha know that Peter, Pavel and Dave—with their better halves Miranda, Radka and Anne; countless volunteers; and a handful of dedicated staff—also built A Rocha International, Czech and UK, respectively. What struck me that day in the blind was how they did it.

Bird by bird.

And person by person.

In the nearly 20 years I’ve known them, I’ve seen these same men time and again take equal care with each human they encounter. Whether major donor, student volunteer, curious passerby or even antagonist, all get a listening ear and well-thought response driven by a deep respect and concern.

And that’s how A Rocha has grown. Nothing flashy. Nothing fast. One bird; one person; one more volunteer, partner, donor or project. Small steps of love repeated day after day, year after year, and now in 20 countries [1]. A recipe that grates against our modern appetite for fast results—even in Christian circles. As Eugene Peterson writes, ‘One aspect of the world that I have been able to identify as harmful to Christians is the assumption that anything worthwhile can be acquired at once. We assume that if something can be done at all, it can be done quickly and efficiently.’ [2]

It can’t. It’s done bird by bird, person by person.


[1] A Rocha works with other species as well. In the USA we’ve been working to restore streams and fish stocks as well as birds and kids and songwriters and more. (Not that kids or songwriters are different species, but….)

[2] A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society p. 15-16.

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Categories: Reflections
About Tom Rowley

Tom Rowley has been involved with A Rocha USA from its beginnings in 2000 − first as a board member, now as executive director. Prior to coming on staff with A Rocha, Tom had a varied career including stints as a columnist and freelance writer, fellow with the Rural Policy Research Institute, project manager for the TVA Rural Studies Program at the University of Kentucky, editor at Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy, and acting deputy director and social science analyst with the Economic Research Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Tom, Maria and their sons Jake and Michael currently live in central Oregon where they revel in learning about and playing in the forests, mountains, rivers and deserts of the region.

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2 responses to “Bird by bird, person by person”

  1. ruthvalerio says:

    This is such a lovely post, Tom!

  2. Tom Rowley says:

    Thank you, Ruth. The work you’re doing with ARUK (https://arocha.org.uk/) is such an encouragement and integral piece of all this.