I’ve spent the last week in Peru scouting a possible mission location for our church. Spending most of the week two miles above sea level in the Andes Mountains has provided for some amazing views and rare glimpses into the creative glory of God.
I was able to see church plants across the Cusco region (best known as the home of Machu Picchu) and have gotten a new insight into the incredible challenge in providing hope to a country with a remarkably complex religious history. (For example, evangelical churches do not display a cross anywhere as it was the symbol of the Spanish/catholic colonial rule and oppression of centuries long gone. A place where Christians avoid identification with the cross is new territory for me.)
We were based at Casa Del Aguila near the small village of Limatambo. The beautiful property sits on the banks of the Rio Blanco and is some of the most fertile and beautiful land I’ve ever seen. It has a dozen or more well-constructed buildings: a school, medical clinic, orphanage, and more, all precisely painted and kept. There were dozens of crops, fruit trees and grains and everything in between. Among all of the growth at the site were several fields that had been overtaken by wild growth after what the overseer told me was only a year of in attention. Fallow fields are an agricultural necessity, but abandoned fields are not treated kindly by nature. It was these fields, choked with weeds and fresh thorns, unproductive and unruly, that most profoundly caught my attention. It brought to mind a quote by AW Tozer:
“Every farmer knows the hunger of the wilderness. That hunger that no modern farm machinery, no improved agricultural methods can quite destroy. Now matter how well-prepared the soil, no matter how well-kept the fences, carefully painted the buildings, let the owner neglect for awhile his prized valued acres and they will revert againto the wilds and be swallowed by the jungle or the wasteland. The bias of nature is toward the wilderness never toward the fruitful field.”
Such is the human heart.
Capable of such incredible beauty, created for glorious joy, and so prone to reverting to its fallen, wild state…it requires no malice or evil design - simple inattention will do.
There is usually little charm associated with the crumbling, crime-ridden district of Brixton in Johannesburg, South Africa.
It is a typically inner-city area in a land where the suburban boom is alive and well. The high street is lined with gambling dens, liquor stores, and more nefarious areas that are known to be purveyors of far more sinister things. The apartments are densely packed and loosely kept. One does not venture into Brixton alone at night without some sense of oncoming dread.
And as evident as the glory of days gone by might be in cobblestone intersections and breathtaking skyline views, there is still one story to sum up Brixton.
As I was returning to South Africa in May, I met a South African woman in San Antonio who still had family in Johannesburg. Upon hearing of our laudable mission there, she promised her family would be happy to come assist if we needed them. I smiled wryly.
She returned a concerned and slightly guilty glance.
“No, I don’t suppose they would venture into Brixton. That’s a bit of a stretch for any sane person.”
While I reject the view that Brixton is some black hole or urban cesspool, it is plainly a place of danger, of poverty, and of significant darkness. It is, in so many ways, a symbolic place in modern South Africa, a charming area abandoned, criminalized, and now fighting for it’s own identity.
And in all that, it is still a place of great joy for Stefani and me. In our time as missionaries there, we saw lives changed and witnessed the glory of God in the face of incredible adversity. We learned to love it’s rough edges and dark corners. There were no amount of broken windows or police sirens to keep us from checking the post office box or enjoying a pizza in the run-down retail block.
I suppose if you spend enough time in a dark cloud, you can learn to see the silver linings anywhere.
What Brixton needs is a new source of hope and a reimagined future. What Brixton needs is a “shining light”. And that, of course, is precisely what the name Elaine means. Elaine is the French version of the Greek “Helen”.
Brixton Elaine. That would make a nice name.
It is, I understand, only a name. And yet it is always more than that. Darkness and light and redemption and promise. Triumph and beauty and the hope that the day is coming when all will be made new.
Brixton Elaine. A nice name indeed.
So it would go that as soon as the #Kony2012 Movement got some real momentum, a brave band of cynics and critical thinkers would spearhead the efforts to dampen the excitement of the supporters of #Kony2012.
“Making a Facebook post doesn’t make you an activist,” they say.
“Oooh, you watched a 30-minute film on YouTube - you really changed the world,” they sarcastically spew.
What brave souls to urinate on the growing embers stirring the hearts of the hopeful.
I have an idea. Let’s allow the concept to breathe a little first. How about imagining that change can be affected in all sorts of ways and that awareness might tip dominoes of action? How about allowing passion to spread against injustice everywhere, allowing for Kony to be a catalyst? How about shutting our mouths and taking our hands away from the keyboard long enough to allow some other human being a chance to find their voice in this crowded, consumeristic soup we live in?
We should applaud anything that gets people activated for a cause larger than their own consumption and pleasure. We should cheer on any movement that attempts to right wrongs and bring to justice a confirmed perpetrator of mass-kidnapping, rape, and murder. We should pray that the capture of Kony would embolden the activists further and they would continue to make famous (and bring to justice) the folks in the world who commit atrocities and yet walk free. We should sit back and admire the boldness of a group who dared to take their hearts’ deep yearnings known and expose them to the cynical, skeptical world.
When we’ve done all of that, we should kneel and pray for justice. We should ask God if the atrocities of Joseph Kony offend Him. We should ask what other great offenses of God we might be able to be a part of changing. And then we should get up off our knees and get to work.
If we can’t do any of that, do everyone else a favor: go be cynical elsewhere.