Lately I have been rather challenged (surprise, surprise) about this whole Christian living thing and how it is supposed to play out. In light of the radical change that Christ ushered in through the Holy Spirit after his death, Paul the apostle sets out to figure out this very question. Our teacher, Stephen, loves to describe his mission to be thus regarding Paul’s teachings and mission: ‘Who are the one new people of God, and what are their markers’? As in, what does this new community of people who follow and proclaim Jesus as the Christ look like?
I am fast realising that I do not have a flair for the evangelical. It’s not my forte to be social and make conversation at all… I squirm, I feel uncomfortable, I get anxious; it really can be quite a mess. This was drilled home again this week as we had a session with a local warrior for Jesus, a dynamic advocate for those who are stuck in cycles of survival sex work; she stands up and advocates for their dignity and humanity to be recognised and respected, especially in situations where oppression is built into systems meant to protect vulnerable people. As we walked to local brothels and prayed for the women in cycles of survival sex work I was contemplating just how hard it is to break these cycles and wondering who on earth could be the one to make an impact in places that are filled with such darkness, oppression, and where the devil chooses to make his strongholds? Surely the people of God are called into such places. The trouble for me is that I certainly don’t feel capable of any impact there whatsoever. I can’t create widespread systemic change, and I don’t think I can move into a brothel and start ministering to people; I don’t even know how I would approach someone who is struggling under the oppression of survival sex work. It’s really terrifying to feel so powerless to do anything.
I think now would be a great time for a disclaimer: When I talk of darkness and the enemy I am talking Satan and the oppressive measures that he uses to pull and keep people in pain and separation from God; there are many beautiful people who are trafficked for their bodies, wrongly victimised and scorned. Jesus came to proclaim freedom for these captives, and I long for their release into healing and love. One of the only ways that I have ever heard of success and impact in such a context as this is actually moving into the space, with the light and love of Christ within you, and dwelling behind enemy lines. Satan would love to keep the light of Christ out of places in which he loves to dwell. And usually it takes a dramatic, deliberate attack on the enemy to break his hold.
I think of the likes of the ‘slum sisters’ from the early days of Salvationism, who packed their bags and moved into the slums as a testimony to the saving power of Christ and to practically minister to those in poverty; I think of a Salvationist (whose name I can’t remember for the life of me), who went into the brothels in Melbourne in the Salvation Army’s pioneering days and played tunes to the women in the brothels, then spoke with them and worked to restore them to their families, freeing them from oppression; I think of George Scott Railton, the Booths’ right hand man, a man who took the Salvation message all across Europe and into the America, living off basically nothing in abject poverty for the sake of people and the glory of Christ. These primitive Salvationists are the pioneers of radical personal and social change. And now? Now we are too afraid, too comfortable, too naïve to leave our affluence for the sake of others. No doubt, it is a huge sacrifice and a calling of God, nonetheless it is one that I see very few people even willing to consider.
The worst part is that I feel totally inept. Moreover, I know that for me, to pack my bags and move into a place like that would break me right now. I have so little experience. My instinct is to avoid this enemy line at all costs, but my conscience convicts me of the dire need to be in fighting there. How many will perish whilst I sit in comfort and ease? I am just as afraid as everyone else, and just as blindly hopeful that someone else will take up the mantle and do this pivotal work whilst I study my theology in relative safety. I just don’t know how to do it. Honestly, I really struggle to justify living in such an comfortable, easy way, blind to the harsh reality and struggle of my neighbours through my ignorance, whether willful or not. It is not enough to simply be around the neighbourhood. It is not enough to be available for prayer or do outreach once a week. How can you truly change someone’s reality of daily abuse, threat, rape, violence, addiction, spiritual darkness, from your cozy, warm home with your bum planted firmly in front of your laptop?
And so, I circle back around to the awful tension of the conviction of calling to radical incarnation, but perceiving no way to participate in it. I thank God that there are fantastic people who are tireless in working to free those caught in cycles of human trafficking. I thank God that there are folks who have the ability to network, to foster deep relationships quickly, and to make disciples in the most difficult of places. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good”. In the end, it may just come down to the fact that I am not built, not gifted to do such radical, incarnational ministry, much as I would desire to be a part of it. Similarly, Paul writes in Ephesians 4:11-12 that ‘he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ’, that we grow and mature corporately as the church.
After all this the conclusion is that I can’t do everything. And that is good, because, well, I’m not supposed to. Who am I to think that the weight of the world rests on my shoulders? Last I checked, it is still Jesus who is the Saviour of the world; It is Jesus who has the plan for the redemption of the world, and has gifted us all in different ways. And that is why God has brought together such a diverse War College session this year: Paula is the evangelist of us all, fearless in going and speaking to people on the streets and has no shame of the gospel of Christ; I thrive in study of the word and academics; Dave is the logical processor, always thinking ahead and grounds us often, keeping us on track; Travis is a sleeper (figuratively of course), quietly listening but full of pearls of wisdom; David is the compassionate one, always on the look out for how we are faring and in tune with the emotional level of the group; Jacob is selfless, a true generous heart and always looking out for others; Meagan is the young one, which many may scorn, but she possesses a Christ-like holiness and purity that gives us all hope, especially as we see her service and compassion for others.
So, the one new people of God look like a lot of things, including evangelists, radical incarnationals, teachers and theologians, prophets and prayer warriors, and much more. May God therefore call and raise up more radical incarnationals!
Grace and Peace