Hatred and the Cross


They should take them all into the forest,” he told me. And making the gesture of matchsticklighting a match he spewed out the hateful words, “Then they should light up the forest.” I looked at him not believing what I was hearing. And then I noticed the cross around his neck. I could not hold back, “You wear a cross. Do you remember what the man on the cross said to his captors when they nailed him and left him to die alone in shame?” His turn to look at me unbelievingly. I answered my own question, “He said, ‘Father, forgive them.'” He tried to change the topic. Ah, the foolishness of this cross.

Light of the Cross

Do you find it strange that Paul the Apostle once wrote, “I am not going to boast in any other thing but the cross.” Paul, or Saul as he was named at birth, once hated Christianity, so much so that he went out as a representative of fundamental Judaism, to capture Christians and put them in jail, and much worse! Hatred had gotten the best of him. Then on a journey to Damascus in pursuit of those in this strange new sect, he himself encountered the love of God. From then and there the cross became his point of reference, his message, and his life. This Jewish ‘jihadist’ who once resorted to violence when his way of believing became threatened, now learned that the greatest message for humanity was love, the kind manifested on that ugly now beautiful cross.

I grew up learning that Jesus paid it all. His death was caused by my rebellion. In order for me to escape God’s wrath I needed to really apologise, tears would help, and of course I must turn from my wicked ways. Visiting preachers came to my church quoting a sermon called ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.’ Gulp! I was only twelve years old. There was a lot of hell fire preaching going around! These days I wonder if we have put too much emphasis on how the cross appeased an angry God. Is he a wrathful God angry with all of us who should know better? My guess is He was always and still is motivated more by love than anger.  I believe the death of Christ was necessary for our at-one-ment and at the same time I am drawn to the thought that the supreme message of the cross is that it displays His shocking love for humanity even at it’s worst?

I think back to a time in a taxi driven by a devout Muslim taxi driver. We talked about the violence happening in France and in the world and surprisingly we talked about Jesus. I wanted him to tell me about the cross, what he understood it to mean. I was trying to steer the conversation to a God that was more love than anger. “Do you remember what Jesus said while he hung there to die?” It felt right to bring up to him the fact that Jesus actually asked the Father to forgive his killers, the ones so blinded by hatred they didn’t know what they were doing. After saying this, a beggar came to where we were stopped at a red light and tried to wash his windows. It was the worst attempt of cleaning a window I had ever seen. More dirty after the washing! I said to the good Muslim driver, “Guess we need to forgive him, for he doesn’t know what he is doing!” We both laughed. After I got out of the taxi we shook hands warmly and I think we both wished the ride lasted a little longer.

Are there not times we humans don’t know what we are doing let alone are saying? While visiting my relatives in the Netherlands, an uncle of mine blurted out loud, “I hate them all because they hate us.” He wasn’t joking either. It reminds me of the disciples who wanted to call down fire from heaven upon those awful Samaritans, they had no clue to what they were asking Jesus to do. My uncle’s remark was not much different than Donald Trump’s  solution to the terrible terrorism that has touched every continent of the world, that is to simply kick them all out! It’s a tad better than Adolf Hitlers ‘Final Solution’ I suppose, isn’t it?

We no longer live in the dark ages, thank God, but I am aghast by the amount of  hateful ideology that exists in our day. We hate this and that. ThAnnefranke result is a beaten black-eyed world with the greatest refugee crisis known in the history of mankind. Apart from Germany, most European countries have said, “We can’t, we won’t let them in!” We are turning a blind eye much like during the beginning of Word War 2, when no one would take in the Jews. They were all spies after all, all bad, Nazis even! And so hundreds of Jewish families that applied for hope, like Anne Frank’s father did,  were denied a new life in spite of the fact they had connections, spoke English, and were, well, good people. How many more modern Anne Franks are trapped somewhere today with no escape?

One of my reasons for writing these words today is a result of my moving to Paris. My apartment was a five minute walk from La Belle Equipe, a corner bar and bistro where bullets sprayed killing twenty beautiful people.  It wasn’t the first time for us nor last time to see hatred’s manifestation up close. In our two short years we’ve seen protests turned violent, we experienced  the Charlie Hebdo attacks, we were in Nice the day before an angry truck driver crushed 85 people to death with a rented 19 tonne lorry and most recently the senseless murder of an elderly Catholic priest who had his throat slit before a small congregation.  I’ve seen hatred’s face here in France too often. A French friend told me that he was haunted by the image of young terrorists dancing with joy after murdering the priest. Aren’t we all haunted by hatred? In France it is a touchy topic here with a long complicated revolutionary and colonial history.

I read the papers daily and maybe like me you feel the helplessness of reading yet another headline of violence committed in the name of some ideology. As believers in the message of love, we should stand out as counter-culture to hatred and to those who propose building walls, or the refusing and sending away of the unwanted. Can I point you to yet another unspoken inference of the cross, it shows us God’s way to solve the problem of hate.  I like Brian Zahnd words, “The cross is shock therapy for a world addicted to solving its problems through violence.” Fear and hatred put Christ up there on the cross. Look!

crossblck

Georgia O’Keefe ‘Black Cross’ 1929

Love kept Him there. And strong love needs to keep us in the places we live, dark places and hateful spaces and offer up seemingly foolish words of life and love.

So back to the cross and the astonishing words of Jesus on that hateful tool of death; it speaks to me of finding a better way to reconciliation. It is not a quick or easy, admittedly. I am not Jesus, nor could I ever attain a love like His! I do pray sincerely, “Oh God, may hate never be the response of my heart.”  And I am trying to glean from His sacrifice and of His offer to all of second chances. “Its easy to love those who love you,” Jesus once taught, “Now try and bless those who hate you and you’ll reflect better the heart of the Father above.” Jesus lived just that. Even in a cruel death by violent hearts and hands. Ultimately this foolish cross stuff is our best hope for a better world !

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A World Ends!


by Patricia DeWitPatinSwiss

 

Every once in a while the world ends. Resistance is usually futile. Oh, people have tried to resist, mourning the good ol’ days, crying over the loss of the way it was, stubbornly remaining phone-less, car-less, facebook-less. But in the end, they couldn’t prevail against what had become a new normal.

 

On August 17th we celebrate 25 years as PAOC Global Workers. We may have seen the end of the world a few times, having to adapt to many new normals. Some of these were just in our own world; some were shared universally. Each has formed us. Looking back it’s easy to see them as road markers, yet at the time, they were huge steps of faith, where we found ourselves in unfamiliar places, leaning desperately on God, squinting to see His face, shushing all other voices in order to hear His voice.

 

So from… twenty-two years in Bangkok with our first military coup in 1992, numerous states of emergency, the Tsunami, 9-11, strict curfews, adopting a daughter, giving birth to a second daughter, the world wide web, the creation of social media, national floods in Thailand, to… a transition to Europe that started with brain surgery, a year in Germany, then a move to France, Charlie Hebdo, The November 13 terrorism, Bastille Day terror, there have been many times where we woke up to a new normal.

 

The thing about new normals is that they can create a powerful space for the Gospel to emerge. That’s the crux of Global Work; not so much to create new normals, but to recognize and not be afraid of the new, to navigate the hard parts and create space where others can follow and cross over on dry land, always prayerfully in response to God’s love and reflecting God’s Kingdom.

 

In 2008, something that looked a lot like civil war started to divide Thailand. As a church we found ourselves caught between the Redshirts and the Yellow-shirts. Each side believed they had a right to hate the other. These colours seeped into the church, and where we would have hoped for orange, we just found Christian Red-shirts against Christian Yellow-shirts, each so determined to ‘have things our way no matter what’, each praying ‘Oh God, let us win!’ So while killings and protests hit the news headlines, our Newsong Bangkok church family knew we couldn’t rejoice in those ‘victories’, and set out to navigate this new normal so that once it was all over, Red-shirts and Yellow-shirts could come home to community and communion.

 

When the world ends we are forced to trust. Or die from worry. Seriously. It shows us that God is God and I am not. I remember a day in June 1995, and we were living in Nong Khai. We had guests, but I was starting to get a headache and stayed home while everyone went out. The headache had become so bad, and no amount of Tylenol helped. There was a fever, and out of body hallucinations. Peter took me to the hospital and the doctors told me I was suffering from full-blown HIV, and to put on a mask, go home, that there was nothing they could do for me.

 

Trust.

 

We had to get to Bangkok. FAST. So once our friends arrived to stay with the boys, another friend drove us to the airport an hour away, then a quick flight, and then a zigzag taxi ride to the most advanced private hospital in the city at that time. I was extremely ill.

 

“They told us she has final stage HIV, but that can’t be true.” Said Peter upon meeting the doctor. Peter was correct. A battery of tests proved this. But they could not find the cause of this illness. Not until the next month when we returned to Toronto for our first ‘furlough’ and Doctor Gamble at the missionary health institute discovered that I had suffered from Japanese encephalitis.

 

Most of all, what I have learned is that the end of the world does not kill us. Go back and read that again. The end of one world and the ensuing new normal does require us to take on this vulnerable posture of laying down our lives, dying to our idea of what things ‘should be’ but then there is that glorious coming out of the restrictive deathtomb and walking through the garden in a resurrection body. The new normal! God is there.

 

In every new normal GOD IS THERE. We may not recognize him in that foreign place, and we become frightened, like that time we were 5 and lost sight of Mom at the Kmart. Just as Jesus’ friends didn’t recognize him in the garden, it’s hard to recognize God after the tsunami, after the suicide of a child, after the diagnosis, after the terrorism. It’s hard.

 

But

God

Is

There.

 

As we celebrate this milestone anniversary, I can’t help but express gratitude for dear friends along the way who have been by our side faithfully through all the times we came to the end of the world, and who prayed us through our new normals.

 

Thank-you friend

For crying with us without judgment

Bangkok2009For celebrating with us generously

For putting wise words into our hands, words that have nudged us into a better Gospel story, a better trust, a better recognising.

 

Thank-you God

For Your great always-ness

For Your solid rock-ness

For waiting for us at the end of the world

And for meeting us in the new normal. Amen.

A Quarter of a Century!


_MG_0413Today We Celebrate 25 Years of Global Ministry!

I still look back from time to time to that moment sitting on a picnic table in Montmagny, Quebec.  I knew well on that cold damp day that my life and my family would change forever. We had just received news of our overseas appointment. Thailand would soon be home. Though we had no idea what life in Asia was like, I was still making promises to God. My youthful fervour had me promising to God that I would give it my all and for as long as he wanted.

The day our  Old World ended was August 17th 1991 at 14:50hrs. Imagine what three tired little boys, a wife and her man might have looked like as they pushed their trolleys filled with 10 over-stuffed suitcases after over thirty hours of travel and finally entering a strange New World. Anticipation. Once we got out of the immigration lines of Bangkok’s old Don Muang Airport we were greeted by two Canadian families waiting to put fragrant Jasmin garlands around our necks and we were stuffed into two old vehicles for our first look at the snarled Bangkok traffic, eyes wide-open and sweating buckets.

That first week we all slept together at Ray and Betty’s, one room for all of us, the air-conditioning working at maximum. Nothing felt familiar, not taking a shower with lukewarm water as the ants marched one-by-one on the shower wall. Even going to Kentucky Fried Chicken witnessing Thais all dressed up and cutting their finger-licking chicken with their forks and knives! This was indeed a New World.

The next month was spent figuring out how to buy furniture, groceries, and a second-hand car. We had to adjust to torrential rains and humidity. Our laneway was continually full of swamp and rain water and we hired a man to pump out the water to prevent flooding our driveway. We had to learn how to relate to a Thai house-helper who quit after a few months, the first of many! Then there were the instant noodles my kids loved and I hated, and a son’s hatred of rice, which I loved! I remember the fear of driving manual on the wrong side of the road, but for them it was the right side. In our wooden home on stilts we learned to aim the fans for maximum human coverage. Each morning it was pitch black as we prepared to go to language school before 6am to beat the traffic jams. Honestly, we easily spent the first couple of years living in and out of culture shock.FamilyThailand earlyyears1991

Oddly enough those days don’t seem all that long ago, yet it is exactly 25 years ago to this very day. Not many people work with the same organisation for that long these days. I think many people within my organisation know a bit how we have lived in this exotic New World. Some upon meeting us ask how we decided upon Thailand, but I usually don’t get around telling the whole story, of how I became interested in cultures and languages and people groups. Or of the day I cried so hard for war-torn Cambodia that I thought my heart would burst. Maybe some day I will write about my Dutch-Reformed spiritual roots and how the Pentecostal message changed our Spiritual World. I’d love to tell how a teenaged boy was already drawn to an atypical life by reading books like ‘Peace Child’ and ‘Lords of the Earth’. Those stories of another continent (Indonesia) opened an Avatar-like world that I never knew existed. Something was kindled in me that would flame into service in cultures and contexts not my own.

Beginnings are usually the hardest anytime, they demand the most of us. Though Patricia and I looked forward to the challenge of proficiency in the Thai language it took hours, days, and months, and yes, even years learning to speak Thailand’s tonal language. Not easy, especially with a family. In my first Christmas message I spoke a tone wrong and inadvertently changed the angel’s message to the shepherds to, “Behold we bring you Good Rice.” That was indeed good news that day in our context! Though I loved how Thais would always encourage us and say, ‘Wow, your Thai pronunciation is so good!’ I knew better! It took courage every time to teach and preach in this strange-sounding language and I begged God to helped me more times than I can count.

Being a white family in the early nineties in Thailand also carried a novelty factor with the Thais, especially in villages outside of Bangkok. One time I was in a far flung village and a little boy saw me as he was riding his bike. He lost his balance and fell off. As I walked toward him, he got back on and sped away, fast! Another time in Nong Khai, where we planted our first Thai church, I borrowed a rickshaw. I put my three boys in the back and drove them through town. If only I had a camera to film the faces of those who caught this rare sight of a slender white man and his boys. They gave thumbs up as they called out to their friends to see this strange westerner pretending to do the most humble job on the social ladder.

Maybe it was this curiosity and willingness to try new things, go to new places that helped me to not return to ‘normal’ Canadian life. If you saw some of what I have eaten or where I have slept at times you might think us strange. We did it for the gospel. All of it. We have sweat enough water over the years to fill a pool and can tell you of the long weeks suffering from what the Thais called running stomach! After our first four years in Thailand we were skinnier than when we were married and that was already skinny! But I was happy, I was fulfilling the promise I made on that picnic bench, to give it our all even when it was extremely uncomfortable or embarrassing or lacking the immediate results that we felt God deserved.

About halfway through our 25 years I experienced a desire for God to do something new in me, to open new doors of influence. As I began to study the life of Joshua I took note of the correlation between ‘the courage of one’ and ‘the benefit of many’. If Joshua could not find the courage to act, to overcome his self-doubt and Moses’ long leadership shadow, the result would be many people losing out on opportunities to see or feel God in new ways. Stepping into the swirling waters of the Jordan without Moses’ miracle stick would be his biggest step of faith. Without Joshua’s courage many would lose out on a preferred destiny!

Thaiyouth prayHow impacting Joshua’s life would be on my own. Twenty-five years ago we took the  risk of working with Thai Youth,  a role I was uncomfortable with, yet it resulted in hundreds maybe thousands of youth encouraged to give their all to God’s way. We never thought we would host teams, develop a child sponsorship program, chair a board for a ministry among children born with HIV or bring leadership training to other countries. Yet we stepped out of our comfort zone and gave of ourselves. None of this would be part of our story without the courage to step out into the unknown. Even today I’ll meet someone who will say, “I was at that camp you spoke at and I gave my life to Christ!”

If it is true, and I think it is, that life shrinks or expands according to the measure of courage, then each courageous step into the unknown carries great promise. Today we find ourselves again needing courage to minister in a new way and in a new culture and context; Europe! We came to Paris knowing no one, just the two of us with a dream and no team. We did a lot of walking asking God thaPetersharest each step would be guided to bring His love wherever we found ourselves. We knew that this step of obedience risked much, that we could be misunderstood by many, and we were. It resulted in the stretching of our faith and finances. And yet we heard an inner voice saying, “Have courage, don’t be afraid… as I was with you in Thailand I am with you in Paris!”

When I look back, I see so much of God in my steps, 25 years of ordered steps, I cannot doubt that He has us here and now for such a time as this. I cannot say how long we’ll be in this Once Again New World. My promise to God, however,is the same I made on that cold and damp day in Quebec, I will give it my all as long as you provide the strength and the resources. And we are seeing lives, French lives, drawn closer to their creator, and we believe there is much more to come.