From pain to resurrection

Monday 11 July

Craig Stewart leads “The Warehouse” ministry in South Africa "serving churches in South Africa in their work of addressing poverty, injustice and division.  On Monday evening, he reflected on his own experiences and those of his nation in confronting the pain of the past and issued three powerful invitations.  Here VOX magazine editor Ruth Garvey-Williams brings a summary of what he had to say.

Reading from John 20: 24 - 28 and 1 Kings 17: 17 - 23

I’m very burdened about my country.  Twenty years ago, we were the poster child for transformation.  We were a place that had taken the wounds of our past and seen them healed but what has become clear in recent years is perhaps that we never healed those wounds.  We covered them like a coat of paint over the mould in the bathroom - it keeps coming back!  

As these wounds are exposed again, the future feels a whole lot less certain.  We thought we had scars but really we have wounds.  In this season, I’ve found myself captivated by the story of Thomas - the one we called “doubting” whose friend had been brutally killed by the authorities and whose friends were telling him, Jesus was alive.  He responds by saying, “I need to see the wounds and put my hand in his side.” If one of my old friends had been resurrected, I don’t think I’d have asked to see his wounds!

In order to understand the power of resurrection, I need to come to know the depth of the wound.  If I have a sore tooth, I pretend it will go away and take a painkiller.  I prefer to take the shortcut; to ignore or to avoid it.  But then it only gets worse. We don’t like to deal with pain.

The transformation in South Africa dealt with the law of apartheid but not the spirit of apartheid.  Ultimately, and in particular for white people, we chose to ignore or avoid the pain because it felt too much.  But for deep change to happen, we must confront the pain of those wounds.  

It is these places and these moments that are used by the enemy to sow lies.  We sing, “You are a good, good Father” but these wounds allow room for the lies.  Too often, these places of pain define who we are when no one is looking!

The moments of woundedness in our individual stories can become wounds in our communities that feed injustice and oppression.  If we are truly going to change, then we must go to these places of pain, trusting that we will find our Father there.  As we go then like the paralytic man, we will need friends to hold us as we encounter Him. 

And what is true for individuals is true for churches, organisations and communities.

It starts with recognition of the pain and taking responsibility for the pain.  Whether the pain was caused to us or done by us.  We need to acknowledge that something happened that God did not want.

We need to sit and experience Jesus in that moment - allowing Him into that place of pain.=

As we sit with Jesus, we can then allow the lies and the wrong choices, which have emerged in the place of pain to come to the surface.  And as they do, we can repent of them.

Finally, we need to embrace the truth of God in that moment.  What does He say about me, and about what happened?

Running away from pain

Over and again in the story of the church of South Africa, we have stepped away from the pain of racial injustice.  It becomes too frightening and we don’t have the courage to put our hands into the wounds and believe that resurrection is there.  What happens in those moments is that the old story of injustice and white domination becomes reinforced.  People leave and move on feeling disillusioned.

I believe God has three invitations for us tonight

The first invitation is the call to face the deep wounded places in our own lives and in our churches and communities - to go where no one else has dared to go.  We are invited to go to these places and invite Jesus into them.  Sometimes when we invite Jesus into those moments, our healing is short and miraculous.  Sometimes it is a long journey to healing and wholeness (no less miraculous but requiring work and time).

Our organisation The Warehouse faced this some years ago.  We realised that what we had been doing wasn’t producing the fruit that we yearned for.  We had to ask the question “Why?”  We had to recognise our own woundedness as a staff.  It was the most difficult journey I have ever taken and it took years.  Now we find ourselves on the other side, having found new levels of trust and the fruit that we are seeing is coming out of that pain.  It started with asking Jesus into the places of failure and woundedness.

The second invitation is to go into the places where we have caused pain to others.  We need to “own” our responsibility for causing pain to others and to acknowledge and repent of that. 

In the story of South Africa, as white people we need to understand and take responsibility for the pain that has been caused by our people.  Much of my privilege and my wealth has been built on the oppression of the black people.  I need to find ways of incarnating repentance.  Where appropriate, I personally seek to acknowledge this publically.  I’m not asking for forgiveness in those moments - I own the pain that has been caused. 

The kindness of God leads me to repentance.

I also need to do that as a male in the story of gender violence and gender discrimination around the world, and in all the places of privilege in my life; not as a guilt-ridden exercise but recognising that it is the kindness of God that leads me to repentance.

The third invitation is to enter more fully into the pain in the world.  So often the woundedness in the world, exists within us.  We dare not say to the world that we have the answer because we are still wounded.  There is an invitation for us to go to those places. 

When we want to address the pain in the world, it must start with our own lives and communities.  That doesn’t mean we have to have it all completely sorted but we must have the courage to face up to the problems at home first!  Too often those of us on the continent of Africa receive people coming to solve our pain who are simply trying to medicate their own pain.

Like Elijah who stretched himself over death, we need to face up to the places of pain and death and call out to God for His healing and restoration.

As we confront those places, and stretch ourselves out over them… as we weep and lament… as we feel the pain of centuries and to know the blood that cries out for the soil… we can experience the birth of hope and the power of the resurrection.