On the way home from work, late in the afternoon or early evening, you stop at the grocery store. You weren’t planning on standing in line for 30 minutes but you grin and bear it with all the other customers in line. Busying yourself on your smartphone, you update your Facebook status, “Standing in line at the store.” When it finally is your turn, there’s no one to help bag your groceries so you begin bagging – but you can’t get the bags open quickly and the groceries pile up. Half of what you’ve purchased isn’t bagged when the cashier announces your total that turns out to be more than you thought because you didn’t buy the brands that you assumed were on sale. You quickly swipe your debit card, but the reader doesn’t accept the card. You have no other choice, you pull out the credit card that you’ve been working hard to pay off and pay for your groceries. Then, your attention is once again turned to bagging and you frantically pack the rest of your things while the cashier works with the next customer. Of course it is raining as you head out to the car – and you still have to get home, make dinner, check the kids’ homework, fold the laundry, and by the way, your in-laws are coming over later on for dessert.
This scenario repeats itself millions of times over, daily, all over the world. Everyone is overworked, overtired, and can’t catch up. Life just moves too fast! Days off are spent catching up on paying bills, mowing the lawn, cleaning the house, and shuttling the kids to/from various activities. I am out of breath just thinking of what this coming weekend holds for me.
And then today, like all of you, I woke to the news of the terrible situation in Syria. On the news reports I hear of things that go beyond my understanding: chemical weapons, air strikes, international uproar, and my heart skips a beat. I stopped and looked at my 9-year-old daughter, thought of my grown children, my grandson, and their families in the US, our extended families, friends worldwide, and I wondered how long this world will be able to tolerate the state that it is in.
Romans 8:21b,22 NKJ “…creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.”
My daughter, outside playing with her friends, is oblivious to the realities of the news we are now hearing. My heart aches for other children who are just like her but trapped in dangerous areas all around the world. From conflicts found here in Africa to the Middle East, children are caught in between the missiles and gunfire that are of grown-up making. Tears sting the backs of my eyes as I remember when we lived through civil war in Burundi; children who managed to live through those horrors grew up to be the walking wounded. Conflicts that end, even if they end today, live on in the memories of the children who somehow survived.
I whisper under my breath, “Dear God, watch the children…” Knowing that His heart aches for them too, aches for all of mankind more than we can imagine.
No, I’m not wise enough to offer any solutions or explanations to anything that is going on in the world. Like you, I am at a loss for words. What boggles my mind is how the world at large has become desensitized to the pain of those who are unable to defend themselves: women, children, and the elderly. Almost daily (yes even here in Africa) we see images on our TV screens of the craziness that has gripped our world. While I don’t know what the actual solution to everything is, I do know is that this kind of pain will not be ended by ranting and raving on social media or debates on which party is right. The kind of pain experienced by those caught in the crossfire of conflict can’t be addressed with our limited earthly understanding.
In Burundi when the conflict moved to our part of town, we opened our home to our church members whose homes were in the line of fire. In one day, we had 16 people living with us plus our own family of 5. I’ve made attempts over the years to describe what those days felt like – but I have failed to give an accurate account. There are so many memories of that time, but there’s one that comes to me today that I hadn’t thought of for years. One of our church members went to his home when there was a lull in the fighting to check on his elderly father, who had refused to leave, and found his body buried under piles of broken furniture. A senseless death during a senseless time and I wonder what was his death and all the deaths of the wars in the Great Lakes region for? Our hearts ache for those who are left behind; we pray that the scars of these wars don’t give rise to more bloodshed in future generations.
How can we possibly hope to bring a positive change to this world that lies in ruin spiritually, physically, and emotionally?
With all of the destruction and death we were witness to in Burundi, we were also witness to a great revival of the church (when I say “church” I mean all churches). Denominational lines were forgotten when people needed help, the Methodists helped the Baptists, the Pentecostals sought out the Presbyterians, it was a time of organic and genuine unity. No one cared what label the other wore, we all knew we were on the same team and we were united. When guns are firing, you have a tendency to forget about things like having your hair done (I’m sure I was a sight for most of those years) or if the person who needs your help is of the same denominational flavor as you.
Church meetings weren’t the normal flavor of, “hurry up let’s get this done.” There were times that just getting to church safely was cause for celebration. Land mines were laid in the streets as well as along footpaths; sometimes survival was a moment-by-moment reason to pray. When we gathered to pray or for service, we cried out to God – and He came. His presence was tangible and His comfort immeasurable. For some strange reason, we would all find a smile on our faces when we left meetings on those days – God was with us and we knew everything was going to be all right no matter how it ended.
So, back to the question at hand, how can we, ordinary people, bring change to this world? The answer is simple: spiritual problems require spiritual answers and the only way we can bring change is first of all through prayer. Not the saying grace kind of prayer we say thoughtlessly as we go to eat dinner. Purposeful prayer that is united in purpose (see Matthew 18:19) and full of faith can do amazing things (see Mark 11:23,24).
The verse from 1 John 2:18a NKJ “Little children, it is the last hour…” has been quoted for generation upon generation. It’s been the last hour for so long we wonder – when will it end? How long can the last hour last? It is the last hour for anyone who has yet to know of or hear about the wonder of the love of the Father. I’ve read that 151,600 people die every day (www.ecology.com/birth-death-rates/) – how many haven’t heard or seen God’s people tell them or show them how much they are loved?
As our attention today turns toward our homes and our own families, may our prayers also be directed to those who no longer have homes to return to or children to hold. We’ve got a lot of work to do, many prayers to pray, and a world yet to be changed.