On the final day of our 25 year celebration in Thailand last month, the Asia Coordinator of Servants, Kristin Jack, gave this keynote address. Afterwards, there was a deeply moving time of recommitment to our calling as followers of Jesus amongst the urban poor…
I SEND YOU OUT
Here we are at the last day of Forum. From here, some of us will be going back with fear and trepidation to some very difficult situations. But that’s OK, because Jesus promises to be with us, and to be there before us – in our neighbours, and in the stranger.
Jesus says to us, “I send you out”. Jesus says to us I send you out with the authority, my authority, to defy and push back the powers of darkness and evil. I send you out, to heal the sick and minister compassion. I send you out to preach and proclaim and manifest the Kingdom, the reign of God which has begun, and will one day become complete on this planet. I send you out with nothing to rely on but my love, my companionship, my community, my Spirit. I send you out to be with my people – the poor, the broken, the lost, the hungry, these the least of my brethren – to live with them, and to share your life with them. I send you out to Preach the Gospel, to proclaim and make flesh the Good News, the news that there is another Kingdom coming in which the poor will be fed, and the proud will be sent away empty handed.
Jesus says to us, I send you out as lambs among wolves, as well meaning, as naive, as vulnerable – I send you out, and you will be hard pressed, but not crushed; you will be perplexed, but not in despair; you will be persecuted, but not abandoned; you will be struck down, but not destroyed. And this is the experience of many of us in mission among the poor. I send you out as children into the midst of a world that will laugh at you, and mock you, and call you fools for having turned your back on the great western dream – the great American, or Kiwi, or Aussie, or Swiss dream that says that the point of life is getting as much wealth and pleasure as you can, and to hell with everyone else. But we have seen thru that dream, and we know that it is actually an illusion – a shallow, self centered, self seeking illusion that condemns some to die of obesity, and many, many more to die of hunger.
Jesus says to us, I send you out as children of God, as those who are sent to make peace in a world of conflict and violence. I send you out to share what little you have with the poor, in the midst of a world that spends over 1 trillion dollars a year on making and buying and selling guns and bombs and waging war – usually in the 2/3rds world, while only spending a fraction of that amount on trying to feed those who are dying without food – usually in the 2/3rds world. Last time I checked those figures, we were spending about $990 billion a year on arms, but that has now jumped out of the billions and into the trillions. It works out at $173 USD for every man, women and child on the planet. Compare this with the combined UN Agencies devoted to promoting aid, development, peace and justice – their combined budget is 2% of that figure, or $3.00 for every man, women and child on the planet (source www.globalissues.org). These are the priorities of the world that Jesus sends us out into.
I send you out, into a world where 1.1 billion people do not have access to clean drinking water, and where 30,000 children die each day simply because their parents are too poor to feed them well or to afford the most basic of health care.
Jesus says, I send you out, into a world of darkness where you are to shine like the noon day sun. I send you out into a world of corruption and sleaze, where you are to clean, and heal and burn like SALT in festering wounds. I send you out to be yeast – fermenting, catalyzing, empowering and raising up an army of compassion, an army that will lay down their lives so that others may live. Jesus says, I send you out to preach peace and reconciliation to those who are near and those who are far. I send you out to be an army empowered with love not hate, bearing arms that will embrace neighbours, strangers, and even enemies in an embrace of radical hospitality. For as Martin Luther King said “Love is the only force that can turn an enemy into a friend”.
Jesus sends us out, just as he sent out Francis Xavier to Asia all those centuries ago, to go and proclaim good news and embrace the poor. And Xavier, overwhelmed by the needs, wrote back to is back to his friends at the prestigious University of Paris, “tell the students to give up their small ambitions, and to come East, and to preach the gospel.”
And I wonder how many of us are still being held captive by our small ambitions – or by our small fears. As Mother Teresa once said: “God will use us on the condition that we believe more in his love than in our own weakness.” We need to give up these small ambitions and these small fears, we need to trade them for a great big vision, the great big dream that our Lord has for this planet. We need to gain a sense of perspective by seeing once more the vision Jesus has for establishing God’s Kingdom on this planet. His is a vision in which Good News transforms the lives of the poor, in which the oppressed find liberty, the blind find sight, and the indebted find hope and jubilee. A vision in which the nations will one day stream to the mountain of the Lord to learn his ways, and as a result will begin to beat their swords into plough-shares, and no longer train their young men for war any more (for that’s what the prophet said would happen in the last days – Isaiah 2:1-5).
How will this vision, this dream of God’s come about? Well, we have two choices. There are some Christians who say that the darkness and oppression and violence of this world can only grow worse and worse, it’s inevitable, and so it’s futile to try and push against it. We should simply bolt our church doors and windows and wait for Jesus to come back and rescue us.
But there are others – and I hope that there are plenty of us in this room – who don’t believe that this is the way of Jesus, the call of Jesus. There is another way of believing that says Jesus has called us to walk with him, and partner him in pushing back the darkness, in ministering healing and deliverance and salvation and transformation to those living in great darkness and under the shadow of death.
And how can we do this? How can we push back the darkness? How can we see transformation come to the poor and their communities, to our world? Who is adequate for such a task?
Of course, only thru Jesus. It will not be thru clever missiological strategies, or clever theological theories, nor thru clever community development models. No, it will only happen thru Jesus, he who was dead and is now alive, the risen Jesus who has taken on the worst of this worlds darkness and prevailed, who has taken on the worst of our sin and brokenness, and triumphed. It will only happen thru you and I pleading for and allowing the Spirit of the risen Christ to fill us and possess us and captivate us and send us out. It will only happen thru each of us making Jesus utterly our Lord, and his words our manifesto too, our battle strategy, our reason for living. It is only thru the Spirit of Jesus, and no other way, that we can be agents of transformation in this world and among the poor. It’s not us – it’s Jesus thru us. You know in Cambodia, in TASK we have this group of 30 men and women deeply committed to doing the work of God among the urban poor. And they in turn have raised up nearly 200 other community workers and volunteers who are serving in their neighbourhoods. And sometimes when I reflect on how this has all come about over the last 14 years, I can find no other explanation than that it’s been a miracle – the working of God.
Sometimes half the battle is just showing up, and then just staying there long enough that God can work in us and thru us.
Early this week, Craig repeated a quote from anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Don’t ever doubt that a small band of passionately committed people can change the world – indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” Two weekends ago, the world marked the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Great Britain, which was finally passed into law in 1807. Now over the previous two centuries prior to this, it is estimated that more than 11 million Africans had been captured, bound with irons or wooden yolks, marched to the coast, packed into sailing ships, and transported to Britain, the Americas, or the sugar-cane plantations of the Caribbean. And so by this hideous trade that went on for over 200 years, the continent of Africa was made devastatingly poor, and Europe, Britain and the USA were made fabulously rich.
Hundreds and hundreds of these ships were criss-crossing the Atlantic every year, packed to the gunnels with these slaves, who were not though of as human beings, but as ‘live cargo’, the same phrase that was used to describe shipments of horses and cattle. And if these people died in transit – as up to 1/3rd did on these overcrowded, sewerage filled, disease ridden boats – dying because of disease, malnutrition or heart break (as it was often recorded in the ships log) – it was regarded as no great loss, for the insurance company payout to the ship owner was quite generous – just as it was for other cargo lost in transit – such as horses, sheep or barrels of mutton fat.
Indeed there was one infamous case 1782 where disease swept through the slaves on one such ship, and the Captain, surveying how damaged his goods had become, realised that they would not now fetch a good price at market once they reached Britain. So as he surveyed them, he calculated that he would earn far more by disposing of those sickly men and women, and then claiming the insurance on them for lost cargo. And so he ordered his crew to bind them hand and foot, and hurl them into the sea. And that’s what they did – they threw 130 flesh and blood brothers and sisters, husbands and wives into the sea, bound, and sailed on as they drowned. And that Captain was an enlightened, loyal British subject – perhaps one of my and your forbears – certainly historically if not genetically.
That horrible story occurred in 1782. 5 years later, a meeting occurs in a Quaker bookstore and printing house in London. 12 men – all of them men of faith – 11 Quakers and 1 Anglican, are meeting together to discuss how they might end the British slave trade. Now you have to understand just how foolish these men were, and just how foolish this meeting is. At this point in history, these are possibly the only 12 men in all of Britain, in all of Europe, possibly all of the world, who even think that slavery should be stopped, let alone could be stopped. Everybody else in the world, at this point in history, regards slavery as entirely normal and entirely natural. Every culture and Empire up until this point in human history has had slaves. It was the normal way things worked. And to suggest that Britain should give up this trade was literally unthinkable. It’s economy, its commerce, its wealth, its military superiority, its position as a superpower all depended on this trade. And indeed, the Church of England were the biggest single owner of plantations to which these slaves were sent to work on in the Caribbean – so it was a religiously, culturally and economically sanctioned activity. To have suggested then that Britain should give up slave trading would be as preposterous as today suggesting that Britain, or France, or the USA gives up manufacturing and selling weapons and armaments to the rest of the world. Unthinkable!
But no. Never doubt that a small group of passionately committed people can change the world. It is the only thing that ever has. And the rest of this book chronicles how these 12 men – and the women who soon joined them with even greater courage and tenacity – created a movement that spread from person to person, group to group, city to city, so that within 25 years a whole nation had been turned 180 degrees, and the unthinkable happened, with the British parliament, in March 1807, passing almost unanimously a law declaring the slave trade both immoral and illegal.
It is beautiful that the British involvement in slavery was ended 200 years ago, although we all know that slavery in its many forms, both spiritual and physical still flourishes today, and many of us here work in the face of that ongoing reality of evil. But it is beautiful to know, that we, I believe, are part of this stream of history, this flow, of a small band of men and women who want to listen to what Jesus says, even when it contradicts everything our culture and economy tells us, who want to have Jesus’ heart for the poor and for the oppressed, and who want to share his dream for the transformation of this world. And this is our part to play. He invites us to join this stream of history, of changing history, by allowing him to use us in bringing good news to the poor, sight to the blind, liberty to the captives, and hope to the oppressed.
For this is how Jesus sends us out. Now, as Luke sings this next song, lets each of us take this opportunity to offer ourselves back up to God for his service, to offer selves back up to Jesus for his cause, his dream, his mission. As we sit in the silence that will follow, let’s listen for what Jesus is asking of each of us, and of us as a mission. Speak it out if you think that’s appropriate. It could be a word from the Lord for us. And I believe some of us will find ourselves saying those words that Jesus longs to hear:
“Here I am Lord, send me”.
(Kristin Jack, Pattaya, April 10th, 2007)