Last night I had the privilege of hearing Emily Cummins speak at the Chelmer Valley High School awards evening. I must live in a bubble, because I had never heard of her, certainly not that she won the Barclay’s Woman of the Year prize for 2009. And she’s only 22.
Her speech was an extraordinary inspiration. She has been inventing gadgets since her youth, including a toothpaste dispenser for a grandfather with arthritis. But she is most famous for designing a fridge that does not need fossil fuels. It works on recycled dirty water. It began as an A-Level project, but she became so passionate about it that she delayed going to university for a year to take a gap year in southern Africa. She has given away her design in townships. She makes no money from it. Her satisfaction is in seeing people helped by her invention: children who can at last have fresh milk; adults whose medicines can finally be stored in refrigeration. She is negotiating with pharmaceutical companies about a commercial version of the fridge to help with the transportation of medicines.
She spoke about how she never had real confidence in herself, but how she has learned to have confidence in what she can do. Having presented prizes to some extremely talented students at the school, including one who achieved thirteen A* grades at GCSE and another who had five A grades at A-Level, she told everyone that she would never have attained those standards. She wasn’t good across the board, but she had one particular talent, and nurtured it. She told the students they could make a difference, too, if they were passionate about using their talents for others.
I don’t suppose for one minute she is a Christian. I imagine she might have spoken slightly differently about the self-confidence issue if she were. But I thought she was a tremendous example and challenge to the Church as well as the wider world. As I said, she has not sought to rake in the cash for herself. Her focus has been on the needs of others. I imagined missions organisations deploying her fridge. I imagined the pastoral task of challenging all our people to make a difference in the world with their gifts and talents. In particular, I imagined people starting to do that at a young age, and not being lied to in the church that they are too young to do something significant.
And I began to ask if I have made a difference in people’s lives by using my gifts. Have you? We can. By the power of God surely there should be millions of Emily Cummins in the world, if our faith in Christ is real and radical.