It happened in Nairobi
I landed in Nairobi, Kenya, 35 years ago this summer and I’ve never been the same!
I was a delegate to the World Methodist Conference connecting 80 Wesleyan / Methodist denominations in 138 countries.
The formative experience of that trip was the address of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who turned 90 this week. I hope you watch this short clip from South African television news.
During some of the darkest days of the fight against apartheid in South Africa, Tutu told the conference that God is calling us to participate in the transformation “The ugliness of this world … into laughter and joy, compassion and goodness, love and peace, justice and reconciliation … that the kingdoms of this world may become the kingdom of God and his Christ.”
With little evidence to support his vision of freedom and justice, the Nobel Peace Prize winner said:
“Hey, victory is guaranteed! As the death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ announces forever and ever that light has overcome darkness, that joy and laughter and peace and compassion and justice and care and sharing have more and more overcome their colleagues … and we see fulfillment a wonderful vision in the revelation of St. John the Divine. “
Don’t miss Tutu’s laughter! He continues to face evil, injustice, and oppression with exuberant joy that explodes from his deep confidence in ultimate goodness and love of God.
If you want to know what a true Christian looks like in today’s world, check out Desmond Tutu!
It happened in Johannesburg
A day later, Peter Storey, head of the Central Methodist Mission in Johannesburg, convened a Conference to celebrate the victory that had yet to be achieved. “Because Jesus breaks down the walls; for Jesus gives freedom that no one can take away; for His church will remain faithful to hope … Apartheid is doomed! ”
That event started a personal friendship with Peter that continues to encourage and challenge me.
Peter described a large, white candle surrounded by barbed wire that stood on the altar in the Central Methodist Mission. They lit a candle naming the names of people who had been arrested or were in prison. They prayed for freedom and again pledged to be advocates of God’s justice and peace in their country.
The candle symbolized the words of Indian theologian and poet Samuel Ryan.
The candle is a protest at midnight,
He is a nonconformist.
He says to the dark,
“Please make me different.”
It became the title of Peter’s autobiography, “I pray for a difference: A ministry in the middle of a tear gas canister.” You can watch a recent TV interview with Peter here.
My experiences in Nairobi led to my first visit to Johannesburg when I had the humble privilege of lighting that candle in worship. This has resulted in constant connections with faithful shepherds and lay people who continue to show a persistent commitment to a vision of God’s Kingdom becoming a reality on earth as it is already fulfilled in heaven.
Can it happen here?
Archbishop Tutu and Peter Storey are among Christ’s faithful followers such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, Pope Francis and a large society of unknown saints who dare to stand up for Christ in their time and in their own way. “Against principalities, against power, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual evil in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
According to the Bible, issues of economic inequality, personal and systemic racism and sexism, attempts to prevent people from voting, dishonesty of politicians who distort facts into fiction to preserve their own wealth and power, and the pure meanness of people more committed to their selfish passions than “general good ”are personal sins expressed through economic and political systems; make a mistake “Instead of being focused on the other, he is now focused on himself. Everything becomes a means to achieve one’s own selfishness. ” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
I will never be known as Tutu or brave as Storey, but for 35 years what happened to me in Nairobi and Johannesburg still challenges me to find my own way to be a nonconformist who speaks darkness, “Please make me different.”
May God bless you with discomfort over easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships so that you can live deep in your heart.
May God bless you with anger for injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with the tears you can shed for those suffering from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough folly to believe you can make a difference This world, so you can do what others claim you can’t do.
Let it be so.
Reverend Jim Harnish is a retired priest, a member of the Annual Conference in Florida. This post was republished with the permission of his blog.