Cristina Barba, Founder and President of The Culture Project International, which seeks to restore culture through the experience of virtue. Christina, who has had a lifelong passion for proclaiming the dignity of human life, was awarded the 2016 Defender of Life Award by Students for Life of America, and she joins us today to discuss this exciting mission work that is taking place across our nation and in our own backyards.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thank you for joining us for Family Policy Matters. I expect just about everyone listening to this program, whether through radio, the Internet or podcast, would agree that our culture is in need of a serious resurgence of virtue and an infusion of decency and dignity. We see the evidence of this need all around us, whether in the media, political campaigns, the entertainment industry, video games in our schools and universities, and yes, even in our homes. It’s really all around us. A growing number of young people, however, are taking the initiative to change not just their own lives, but also to encourage their peers and the culture at large, to engage in meaningful ways to confront these cultural deficiencies head on and to bring back a sense of decency and virtue to our culture.
Our guest today is Cristina Barba, Founder and President of The Culture Project International, which seeks to restore culture through the experience of virtue. The Culture Project started in 2014 with 30 friends who found today’s culture lacking, and they set out to revitalize their generation through community, through prayer, formation and work. Cristina, who has had a lifelong passion for proclaiming the dignity of human life, was awarded the 2016 Defender of Life Award by Students for Life of America, and she joins us today to discuss this exciting mission work that is taking place across our nation and in our own backyards. Cristina, welcome to Family Policy Matters. It’s great to have you with us on the show.
CRISTINA BARBA: Hi John. Thank you so much. It’s a great joy to be on the show today.
JOHN RUSTIN: Cristina, what is the mission of the culture project and what was the impetus for you to begin this work?
CRISTINA BARBA: John, I think most of us out there today really realize that our culture is not heading in a direction that a lot of us are happy with, and we’re not in a place that we’re already happy with today. I love what you said about needing a resurgence of decency and dignity, because I think that’s really an issue today. So The Culture Project started with a group of friends that had really tried—and lived—in our culture and found it wanting. We basically had enough, you know? But instead of just complaining about what we saw around us, in terms of sexuality, dignity, respect, dating, family, marriage, all of these issues…. We thought, instead of just complaining about what’s going on, let’s do something. Let’s be a change. And you know, we have these lofty goals, and the mission of The Culture Project is a grand one. We are setting out to restore culture to right order through promoting the dignity of the human person, to promoting healthy dating relationships, healthy marriages, to promoting sexual integrity. We actually believe that through little tiny everyday steps and decisions for virtue, one person at a time, we can actually make a huge impact. So we’re a group of young adults—missionaries—that live in community, pray together, and then go out and invite other young people into the joy that we have in our life that we’re living. So we speak about sexual integrity and human dignity all across the country. We’ve been around for four and a half years and I’ve spoken to and encountered over 150,000 young people. We have shared with them virtue, dignity, respect, and it is unbelievable the way they respond to it. So we have this grandiose mission and goal to restructure our culture. I’ve heard plenty of people saying: How are you going to restore the culture? And I’m thinking: Well, it begins with you and me, buddy. You know, me making a decision to live virtue and then not being afraid to share that lifestyle with other people, and to share with people the joy that I have and, in a way, that I’m living.
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s great. And it is a big, big vision and a big, big mission, but it comes down, as you said, to just those daily decisions that we make. Now, Cristina, I know that you argue that nearly all of the pain and emptiness and suffering that young people experience today, and there’s a lot of that, is rooted in a common place. Talk about that a little bit for us.
CRISTINA BARBA: Again, this goes back to the issues that we’re facing. They are huge and grave and it’s complicated, but it’s actually simple at the same time. So I really think that we have forgotten, as a society, of who we are, of our identity, of our dignity, that we are sons and daughters of the King. We have forgotten that we are made in the image and likeness of God, and that we were made out of love and for love. And I actually think it’s that lack of understanding of our inherent dignity and value and worth that actually is the root of the problem today. And I think it’s really perpetuated by this culture of isolationism that we’re living in, promoted by technology. But really when it comes down to it, virtue is this way of life that allows us to break through all of these things and to live our most free and full selves. The truth of the matter is, when we don’t know who we are anymore, it doesn’t make so much sense. You know, as with so many of these young people, they don’t even believe that love is possible anymore. But their hearts long for love, they ache for love, they ache for lasting relationships. But when they look around them, even if they come from a home with mom and dad together, which is so rare, but even if they do, they see around them how often their friends’ parents are splitting up. There’s this lack of security and, I really think in the home and in the family, that’s the first place that we actually learn who we are, you know, and we see love modeled and lived out. We know what it’s like to live for one another, and the way our parents love each other and then love us, is really like a little case of God’s love for us, but when you don’t have that, it’s hard to understand that reality. So I really believe that’s what it is: We don’t know who we are anymore. And it’s funny, you know, I used to—well, it’s not so funny, but not only have we forgotten what it means to be male or female, to be a woman or man, the most basic things, but I even argue, John, that we forget what it means to be human. Like that whole human experience is completely forgotten. And I think it’s seen in everyday life and going back to: There’s a total lack of decency of this common good. But I think it all goes back to the same thing. It all goes back to the same place.
JOHN RUSTIN: I know, Cristina, that as you go out and talk to young people across the country, you encounter a lot of different situations and challenges that they present. When you speak with young people, what are the major challenges that you encounter?
CRISTINA BARBA: One of the first things that I see, and I kind of alluded to this in my last comment, there is this longing and desire that not just young people, but all of us have, for more—and it’s really for God, and for love, and to have your life be meaningful. But I think a lot of these young people, they can’t even, like—there’s such a fear and an apprehension. A lot of them can’t even imagine that what they long for and what they dream of is even possible. And then some of them, they don’t even know what they’re longing for because the dream… they can’t even picture the dream because they didn’t have it modeled in their own life. So I think, really, in terms of top challenges we’re facing, one is really just breakdown of marriage and family, and there’s really not tons we can do about that.
Another big challenge is technology. I mean, gosh, we are in a world that has never been more interconnected than ever, but it’s more… everyone feels more alone and isolated and depressed than ever. There are some roots to that. You know, John, I’ve had parents that have come to us saying, thank you for speaking to our kids, but could you just talk to them about friendship because even the idea of what a real friend is like is completely muddled because they’ve grown up in this generation. I thank God, I remember life without social media and cell phones, but they don’t remember a world without it. And you know, a friend, even the term friendship—a Facebook friend is someone that follows you. There’s no sense of this reciprocal, mutual, interdependent relationship. Young people are struggling with these basic relationships, things that we’re given, we take for granted even when I was growing up. It’s so different today. So I think there’s a lot of noise and there isn’t a picture that they can picture themselves, a dream that they can picture for themselves of what they want. So our challenge is to try to break through the noise of what the world is selling them and offering them today: sex and drugs and alcohol, and short, fleeting entertainment and joy, and actually kind of try to quiet that and break through it with a true encounter, with trying to actually see the young men and women that we’re speaking to, you know, look them in the eye, care about them, love them, listen to them, and from that place, then share the truth. Because just the real encounter of someone that is caring and wanting their best is so rare for them. So we have to start at a very, very basic point and then we have to try to help them get in touch with those desires of their heart. Try to actually feel deep, deep in what is it they long for. Because, a lot of it, again, they don’t have a picture for and they don’t think it’s really possible anymore. So our missionaries, we go speaking in male-female pairs, and one of the most powerful things is just the witness of the team. You know, just a witness of these missionaries. The young people don’t know how to handle it and they love it. They don’t know why they’re drawn to us but they see that we’re having authentic friendship. They’re like: Wait, are you guys dating? Are you engaged? They can’t even fathom a man and a woman that are respecting each other, that are getting along, that care about each other. So it’s super, super basic, John. I mean, our work is basic because it’s like remedial stuff. It’s like pre-, pre-, pre-evangelization and discipleship, you know, it’s kind of what we’re doing.
JOHN RUSTIN: In our current culture, it seems like we really just can’t take the things for granted that we used to, and relationships, knowledge of issues of faith, and things of that matter. And speaking of issues of faith, Cristina, how does faith factor into the lives and the priorities and opinions and choices of those in today’s younger generation? I mean, you’ve talked about getting together with them and working to go deep. How does a faith factor into all of that?
CRISTINA BARBA: Sad to say, I think the reality is our faith life has gone down, as a whole, and we’ve become so secularized, and—surprise surprise!—we’re in the situation that we’re in today. So I think our walk with God goes hand in hand with the choices that we’re making and the way we’re living, and the happiness that we’re having and experiencing, or lack thereof. And so, you know, we treat every audience we speak to as a completely secular audience. I mean, we start our presentations using quotes from the culture, things from their songs, we will note TV shows that they’re watching, things on social media, and start on this common experience, and then slowly bring it to a deeper place where faith is really, it’s everything. And at the end of the day, it’s why all of us do what we do. It’s why The Culture Project does what it does, and to actually transmit that to the youth. And so our team, as a part of their faith life and their commitment to the community and to The Culture Project is prayer and praying together in daily prayer. And so it’s a regular part of what we’re living, and what we’re trying to practice on our own. And when we reach out to the young people, again, we start on the base, secular, generic level. But then we want to go deeper and then we want share with them the core of who we are, and share more of our faith and how do we live, or try at least to live. It’s by being rooted in faith in Jesus and all of that kind of stuff. So we do go there and bring it there, but we also find that takes some time and gentleness too, for them to be open to really receive it that way.
JOHN RUSTIN: You’ve got to have that relationship oftentimes, to engage. And it seems like you all are really investing in relationships and sharing and praying, which is so key. Cristina, that’s so encouraging! Thanks so much. Now where can our listeners go to learn more about your great work and the work of The Culture Project?
CRISTINA BARBA: Since the streets of today are digital, you can find us all over the Internet. We’re on all social media, Facebook—now that I’m older, the young people are not that anymore—but Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram, on all of those things. Also you can go to our website: thecultureproject.org and we’ve got blogs, we have videos, we have a YouTube channel. You can just write in “The Culture Project” in YouTube and you can get a whole bunch of our videos. We’ve got a lot of two, three, four minute videos just about real-life virtue, about the challenge, about the struggle. Some are really real. Some are encouraging. They’re just great videos. I encourage you to check them out on YouTube.
JOHN RUSTIN: I want to thank you so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters, and I want to encourage our listeners to visit your website:thecultureproject.org.
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