Alex Birnberg

Alex Birnberg

Wednesday, June 17, 2020


Born in Melbourne, Australia to the comfort and security of a wealthy country, I grew up nonetheless with the family’s stories of war, genocide and the tragedy of Europe’s 20th century. This mixture of safety and stories of survival imprinted deeply in me the need to give something meaningful to the world.

My journey took a pivotal turn when, in high school, I was subjected to four years of relentless bullying. It shut me down as a person. Unconscious of who I really was, I closed in on myself and limited my life to a safe career. However, the confines of this ‘normal’ life crushed me. I turned to the distractions of the material world to hide from my unhappiness.

Around that time my family encountered IofC. A friend suggested to my mum that I should join a short course being run by a couple who had come from the UK. This first course opened my eyes to a whole new world - the inner world, which I had never explored till then. Unfortunately, this first opening only made my situation more intolerable: I could now see more clearly the limited life I was living.

I was intrigued and started to go to IofC conferences, and then ended up in Caux for an internship. Still, it took the lure of a nine-month programme in India and Asia before I had courage to jump ship from the standard life path. Action for Life was a real adventure: that is, the outcome was totally unexpected.

I went looking for new direction. Through a full day of fasting and silent reflection alone on the Panchgani plateau I had my first encounter with an inner spiritual reality. I could no longer live a small, safe life. That encounter with reality, as scary and upsetting as it was, shifted my entire way of looking at life.

This began my journey with IofC as a full-time volunteer. I started out trying to put right my past: writing letters to my parents to try starting a new relationship with them, writing to the tax office to give a full account of my income, being honest with my friends and apologising to former girlfriends for my selfishness.

These burdens I started to put down, but still, the deepest transformation eluded me because I held back from that deepest truth which sat inside me. It was too scary to accept - too different from everything I had grown up with.

As a full-time volunteer, life was exciting, challenging and often confusing. Without a ‘boss’ or clear guidelines, it was hard to know what I was meant to be doing or how to deal with challenges that came my way. Jim Coulter, a full-time IofC volunteer his entire life, helped by becoming my mentor. Trying to follow guidance from inner listening, I kept wondering if I was really making a difference at all or just a series of interesting mistakes.

Finally, exhausted and disheartened, I went on a road trip to Western Australia with Nigel, a fellow volunteer. On that journey, with long stretches of reflecting time, I finally took the courage to dive deep and surrendered to the inner voice which was asking me to follow the path towards Christianity.

Now I work in a not-for-profit organization, trying to help young people realise their inner potential. Each day I see how limited our culture is in inspiring our next generation to fully embrace their humanity. We humans are made of two parts, the logical and the ‘illogical.’ In fear, we have pushed away that second side of ourselves.

I believe that IofC is a bridge builder, not just between groups that do not trust each other, but also, an internal bridge builder. It gave me the chance to build a bridge to that irrational side of myself, and yet, that side is as much ‘me’ as my conscious rationality.

We divide ourselves at our own peril. IofC has allowed me to take that chance on being fully human. Any group that can do that is important for this hurt, fractured world.

  • This story was first published in Beyond Walls, ed. Suresh Khatri, by the Friends of Moral Re-Armament (India) Trust, 2018.