Sligo18: Screaming Injustice

The cost of compassion (or it's time to get angry!)

Friday 13 July

After serving for almost 20 years in Burundi - one of the world's poorest and most dangerous countries, Simon Guillebaud has a challenging message for the church in the west!  Here VOX editor Ruth Garvey-Williams brings you a summary of his seminar at #Sligo18.

What makes you mad? Does it make you angry knowing that children are kidnapped and turned into child soldiers or that young girls are being trafficked into the sex industry?  Evil prospers when the righteous do nothing.  The status quo is unequal.  As Christians we need to engage with the big issues.  It is our duty to be informed about matters of injustice.

It would cost less than €10 billion a year to provide clean water and sanitation for the whole world - that is what Europeans spend on ice cream each year!  These are matters of injustice. People have so little because a few have so much. 

With privilege comes responsibility so whether we are dealing with issues of poverty, sexism, racism, domestic violence...  It is time to stop pounding fists on the tables of coffee shops, while we drink our skinny lattes.   Let the cries of humanity resonate in your spirit.  Don’t just talk.  For God’s sake, do something.

Pity cries and goes away, but compassion stays.

For the last 20 years I’ve been working in Burundi and have just moved back.  It was the most dangerous country in the world when I went out there in 1998 and war broke out again more recently.  God wants us to get angry.  Anger can be a sin but it is also the heartbeat of God. 

Matthew 9: 35 - 38  - Jesus had compassion on the crowds.  But true compassion is costly!  What will it take for us to respond the the injustice that is all around us?

Our Tears

How does it make you feel when you hear a harrowing story of a woman trafficked into prostitution in Dublin or Belfast?  Maybe some of us have hardened our hearts because it is too grim to engage with.  Some of us have been de-sensitised from repeated exposure to such stories.  Some of you will be crying.  There is a proverb in Burundi, which means that a Burundian man’s tears fall in his stomach. It is considered unmanly to cry.  But whether your tears fall down your cheeks or in your tears are the first step of embracing the cost of compassion.

The dictionary defines compassion as the deep awareness of the suffering of others coupled with a desire to contribute to the alleviation of that suffering.  It literally means to suffer with someone!  Paul talks of wanting to know the fellowship of sharing in Christ’s suffering.

We met one little boy who had been found living on a rubbish dump. After his parents were murdered, he had been eating mud for a year and his stomach was filled with stones.  He was so malnourished that is growth was stunted.  This is the sick reality of war.  But the beauty of the redemptive story is that boy forgave the sickos who killed his parents and when he forgave, he started to grow again.  God has poured our His love into our hearts!

Ignorance is bliss. We can choose the path of ignorance in terms of disengaging from the issues.  But there is no excuse for the body of Christ to be ignorant.  Jesus wept.  Maybe we need to pray that we will emotionally engage with the issues.  Forgive me for looking at the world through dry eyes.

Compassion stays!  Some of you have chosen to stay in broken areas. God bless you in that.  You can stay geographically but also in mindset.  Nothing gets changed in a year.  Anything of significance, in terms of bringing about change, will take perseverance.  May we be a people who choose to stay and who choose to embrace tears.

The biggest gift Burundi has given me is gratitude.  In the west, we are among the most blessed people in the history of humanity but it is so easy to complain!  When you are tempted to have a moan, go through the mercies of God in your life. 

  • I can read and write - I think of a girl confessing sleeping with a priest for the 3 quid she needed for school fees.
  • I have access to free health care - I think of a pastor whose brother died in his arms because he couldn’t afford a medicine.

Our Talents

It is not an accident that you are who you are and that you are where you are.  I hope all of us have a sense of calling.  Maybe you have never actually asked God what He wants for you. God has wired you with a unique set of gifts, foibles, quirks and passions. We just need to pray that prayer, “Lord I’m in.  I’ll do anything, anywhere.”  We are called and He believes in us! He is the giver of the talents that we have. We are wired different ways.  God is saying bringing me yourself, combined with your passions, then your calling will be outworked.

In 1787, Wilberforce said that the slave trade’s wickedness was so great that he would never rest until he brought about its abolition.  He persevered for nearly 50 years but he nearly missed his calling. When he was converted in 1785, he thought he should bin politics and go into the “ministry”. Thankfully, he had a mentor (John Newton - author of Amazing Grace) who challenged him and persuaded him to stick to politics. “The Lord has raised you up for the good of our nation...”

God calls us to Himself  - everything we are is lived out as a response to His summons and service.

Our Time

It can take decades of perseverance to see lasting changes.  Majorities don’t normally change things. Creative minorities do.  They are the agents of change.

Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has. “

We’ve got the mandate. The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.  We need to speak up. We need to engage.  But it is going to take time! 

There are loads of good people in our country and in our church but apathy and powerlessness reign.  Get campaigning.  Choose an issue.  Write every week and keeping nagging until you see changes.

Remember the starfish - you are not wasting your time if you make a difference in a single life!   

With the recent refugee crisis, we have the opportunity to represent Jesus to people who have lost everything. It is not about preaching. It is being sharing love.  I have a “crazy” friend (middle-age lady) who goes up to young Muslim men and gives them a hug because they have lost their mums.  They are desperate for relationship.  There is a fertile field to engage with people cross culturally.  All of us can make a difference.

Our Treasure

It is just about being faithful to the calling of God on our lives.  

Do we love the truth enough to live it?

Acts 4:32: 33: All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.

Was God so liberal with His grace because they were so liberal with their lives? It is often the poorest people who are the most generous.  Some of us need to be challenged in that that area.

There was an urchin in a slum.  Another boy was taunting him, “You say that God loves you. Why doesn’t He look after you?  Why doesn’t He tell someone to bring you shoes and food?”  The boy replied, “God does tell somebody but somebody forgets!”

Jesus saved us for a purpose.  He didn’t save us to be nice or respectable.  He went that for us so that we would be free to embrace the cost of compassion - giving our tears, our talents, our time and our treasure to address a world of injustice and pain.

Jesus chose death so that we might choose life. Cynicism comes out of despair. The antidote is not optimism but action born out of hope. 

Surely none of us wants to get to the end of our lives and be sat in a recliner with a shrivelled soul and say, “I missed it.”