Jon and Dawn Barnes - South Africa
"Blessed are those that hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." Matthew 5:6
Hello from a very sunny South Africa! We have just recently finished the first year of our second term with the Kei Region of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa. Our work continues, both with HIV/AIDS projects as well as agricultural development. Our children, Khaya (age 4 ½) and Aly (age 3 ½), are both doing well and growing quickly. They are enjoying the crèche and are involved in many activities including swimming, sports, and ballet.
As we write this letter, we are living in a time of much uncertainty, both here in Africa and around the world. South Africa is entering a time of political uncertainty as we prepare for elections next year and rival parties vie for power. Many places in Africa such as Kenya, Zimbabwe, Sudan, and Chad are in crisis and many people, especially the poor, are caught in cycles of violence in which they have no control or say. Even within the United States, fear of "the other" drives us to make war and build fences. When we look at our world and our lives, we each want to hunger and thirst for peace and for justice, and we wonder if and when it may come. Jesus' words from the Gospel of Matthew give assurance that, even in the face of violence, oppression, and injustice, righteousness is still possible.
For many of us, because of how we have heard the term defined and talked about in sermons and Sunday School, we think of righteousness in terms of personal morality. To many, being righteous means not doing certain things, not acting in certain ways, and not hanging out with those that do. But the word righteousness, when used in scripture, means much more than personal morality. It means seeking justice. "Blessed are those that hunger and thirst for justice ..." And seeking justice is very difficult, for it is not just about my own personal life and story, but about my willingness to involve myself in the lives and stories of others. In a word, righteousness is about solidarity.
We have friends, Sam and Melody Harrell, who live and work in Kenya, a country that is going through tremendous crisis in the wake of recent national elections. Sam recently sent us a mediation in which he quotes John Paul II's encyclical, Laborem Exercens, which speaks about solidarity.
He (Pope John Paul II) says the best name today for agape love, for
perfect Christian love, is solidarity. We thought solidarity was being
nice and affirming, but ultimately it's to stay in there with brokenness
and let it lead you where it will, and be willing to pay the price. It led
Jesus to the cross.
I think solidarity with pain, with weakness, even with the signs of death
in society might be the best name for love in the world today, especially
for masculine love, a side of love expressed by both men and women.
None of us would choose to be nailed to the cross, or ffeely take the side
of the victims in society. Circumstances will unwittingly trap us there, and
finally there will be no noble way out.
We're not converted willingly; we're converted in spite of ourselves. Step
by step, God seduces and draws us into solidarity.
In this time of Lent, as we think about the life our Lord led, let us remember the radical solidarity that Jesus lived. It was a radical solidarity that led him to befriend prostitutes, tax collectors, and thieves. It was a radical solidarity that led him to stand up on behalf of the poor, the widows, the orphans; those that society paid no attention to. It was a radical solidarity that led him to the cross. His was a life lived in search of righteousness, longing for justice.
Are we willing to live lives of costly solidarity? Are we willing to hunger and thirst for righteousness? Most of us are basically good people. We try to live our lives with love and care for our families and neighbors. In most situations, we try and do the right things. But Jesus, and the cross, calls for much more. As we go through this time of Lent, looking forward to Easter and the new life that we celebrate, may we be willing to be used by God to bring justice to this world and to be in solidarity with our sisters and brothers. And may we work for and live for the day when that hunger and thirst for justice will be filled.
Revs. Jon and Dawn Barnes
Jonathan and Dawn Barnes are missionaries with the Kei Regional Council of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa, South Africa. They serve as development officers in the Kei region of the Eastern Cape of South Africa.