I received more than three emails on Friday at the office, but three really made an impression on me. And then a meeting, which consumed almost all of my afternoon. It was a day of weighty matters, and they blended together in my mind as I reflected on them over the weekend.
Email #1 was just a brief note, received by one of our staff members and passed on to several others whom she knew would be concerned. It was from a CERT candidate who lives and serves in Zimbabwe. By way of explanation for submitting some homework after the deadline, he simply opened with this statement: “The situation in our country has totally collapsed.” This brief statement just pierced my heart; what does “total collapse” look like for a country that has been out of food, water purification chemicals and other basic infrastructure for months? Where speaking for justice is an invitation for persecution? In a country where a bag full of paper money won’t even buy you a loaf of bread? What does ministry look like there? How does a church, seminary or other ministry even function?
And then email #2, from the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches. “Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Iraq,” it pleaded. “They are suffering from violence and extreme persecution. They are battling fear; we are concerned about a potential massacre.” This is a time when we can stand in Christian solidarity with members of our body who are suffering. To do so is our calling, our privilege and our responsibility. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Cor. 12:26).
Email #3: about ministry among one of the most difficult and violent people groups in Africa, the Karamojong of Uganda. The report is that members of two warring tribes have embraced the gospel mandate to reconciliation and have established a peace village where local pastors are committed to growing as servant leaders, where there is food in the midst of a drought, and where there is cooperation instead of the cattle raiding that has historically defined their relationship to one another. This is not without cost: one of the original “peace elders” was martyred, but God is using basic principles of biblical peacemaking to sow seeds that have been watered by this blood and even now are bearing fruit.
And then an afternoon meeting discussing our ministry’s challenging financial position. We are not alone: the whole world is suffering in the current economic climate. There are fear, uncertainty, and shortages, even in a country known for its excesses (see Ken Sande’s call for a peacemaker’s response to this climate). All are also true within the walls of Peacemaker Ministries, perhaps at a historic level for us. And so the lessons of the morning’s emails come home:
- From Email #1, God is committed to building his church, even in the leanest of times. In fact, this is where the church will shine – as others are clinging even more tightly to their possessions for the illusion of security (but what difference does $1,000 or $10,000 or even $100,000 in your bank account make when you are at 2 million percent inflation? At the end of the day, you all have nothing). There are churches in Zimbabwe who are, as Paul says of the Macedonian church, giving out of their poverty: feeding the homeless, the orphans, the elderly when, by almost any standard, they have nothing to give. How much more can we see ourselves as the objects of God’s care and be generous and confident in the midst of our scarcity.
- From Email #2, “Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet. 4:12). History shows that God’s people almost always come out of suffering stronger, purer, better suited for service in the Kingdom. I have a quote hanging above my computer at work that says, “God’s people are like bells: the harder they are hit, the better they sound.” My prayer for the PM staff during these lean times is that we would grow closer to the Lord and to one another, that our commitment to our mission and our ability to carry it out would increase as a result of the next few months (or years?) of trusting God for our ministry’s (and, therefore, our personal) daily bread.
- From Email #3, the ministry of biblical peacemaking is still as desperately needed as ever, and teaching how the Gospel impacts our relationships is a seed-planting activity from which God is still pleased to produce much fruit. We discussed at our meeting how, despite our uncertainty concerning the future of Peacemaker Ministries, we have no doubt that the ministry of biblical peacemaking has not run its course, that we are just beginning to see major inroads in both the domestic and international arenas (and, as Ken noted earlier, this economic crisis is yet another wonderful opportunity for peacemaking). The Gospel is indeed good news, and we are dedicated to carrying out the “ministry of reconciliation” that he has committed to us (2 Cor 5:19) for as long as the Lord sees fit.
Do all of these emails and meetings fit together? In a very real way, they do (here I turn to preaching to myself). They speak of God’s people from all corners of the world who are facing challenges, “sharing in Christ’s sufferings” (1 Pet. 4:13), and in one another’s sufferings. They speak of God’s people who are seeking to trust and obey rather than given into fear and unbelief. They speak of a people who, despite our weaknesses and the fact that we will give into unbelief, are held securely in the arms of a Heavenly Father who loves nothing more than to generously and abundantly meet the (true) needs of his children. In fact, our Heavenly Father is obligated to do only what works for our good because of the blood that Christ shed for us. Not only did Christ’s death and resurrection purchase our eternal salvation, but Christ also purchased God’s eternal benevolence toward those of us who are united to Christ by faith. THIS is good news, and God will give us all — Zimbabwean, Iraqi, Ugandan, American — the strength to bear up under whatever trials he sends our way, until the day of Christ Jesus. “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:16).