Emily Parker spoke with author Stephan Bauman about his new book 'Break Open the Sky', learning what really brings happiness from those we would usually dismiss, and how to choose love over fear.

Stephan Bauman with Cyprien Nkiriyumwami from Rwanda
Stephan Bauman with Cyprien Nkiriyumwami from Rwanda

Emily: Tell us about yourself, where you're from and what you do.

Stephan: I'm from the middle part of our country, not too far from Chicago. I grew up in a sort of 'Smalltownville' and married my best friend. We were high school sweethearts actually.

Fast forward to college, it was Belinda my wife who said, "Why don't we go and volunteer somewhere and do something that just serves people?" And I said, "How about at a local church?" and she said "Well, I was thinking Africa." And I said "Oh!"

So after two or three years of me saying no, I finally said yes, and we went abroad to West Africa with a hospital ship called Mercy Ships. We volunteered for what was meant to be six months and we stayed for six years.

Emily: Oh wow! That was longer than you expected.

Stephan: Yeah, we shifted from my career in business, Belinda was a teacher, and we just learned a lot in those six years and life has never really been the same since.

We came back, had some kids, and then went back to East Africa for a couple of years. All that to say there's a lot of that background in the book, in terms of lessons learned. We learned things the hard way, both Belinda and I, sort of trial and error, and we're just sharing out of our hearts what we've learned around the world; especially when it comes to faith and how so often faith is influenced by fear rather than better things.

Emily: What led you to write 'Break Open the Sky'?

Stephan: I was travelling in the East coast up in Boston and I met a student at a sort of seminary. This is like a graduate school for people who want to study more about faith, and one of the well-known ones.

She came up to me after a talk. I was speaking about refugees and immigration and some of the things that are really important to me and Belinda; somewhat controversial in our culture and I guess in many countries around the world. She said, "Stephan, I'm in this community of faith here and they're awesome people, but I don't understand why people are so afraid of the very people that we're meant to be kind to and to welcome and love."

She was talking about refugees and immigrants and her community, so that was a conversation that really stuck with me and I began to think of that question, "Why are people so afraid when it comes to other cultures and peoples?"

In our country now there's a lot of fear, and isn't faith meant to come against fear? If we're really pursuing something that's genuine and authentic and wanting to serve one another and serve and find and discover God, shouldn't we be less afraid? And so that was the starting point for the book a couple of years ago.

Emily: One of the things you talk about in the book is the World Happiness Report. You mention the fact that there's a lot of Western nations that are in the top 50, but also there are a few surprises in there like Nicaragua and Uzbekistan. Why do you think that these countries are included in this report?

Stephan: It's fascinating to look at that report, and there are more of these 'happiness indices' now than there used to be.