Jon and Dawn Barnes - South Africa
We have just recently returned back to South Africa for a new four year appointment with Global Ministries after having been away for seven months in the US. It was a wonderful time of sharing the lives of our brothers and sisters in South Africa with our Disciples and UCC family in America, as well as spending quality time with our families and friends. Our children, Khaya (age 3 ½) and Aly (age 2 ½), were able to get to know grandmas and grandpas, cousins, aunts and uncles and to be spoiled rotten! And I, Dawn, was so honored to spend quality time with my two grandmothers (both in their late 80's). We were a part of a dear friend's ordination service, baptized one of our best friend's son, attended many services at our home church in Richmond, Virginia, and were present when Jon's sister and her husband adopted their 2 month old son! So we were so incredibly happy to have been in America during this special time in our lives.
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Luke 4: 18-19
"What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8
One of our main tasks while in the US was to connect with Disciple and UCC Congregations, primarily in South Carolina and Virginia, and share the stories of faith, struggle, joy, and love from our sisters and brothers in South Africa. And it was such a joy to travel, share how God is at work in South Africa, and meet so many caring and compassionate people.
And as we traveled, we kept being reminded of the scriptures listed above. For while there are many things that churches (and the Church) are to be about, the ones listed above are our main calling. They are our main calling because they are what Jesus' ministry was about. After Jesus reads the above scripture in Luke, he then rolls up the scroll, gives it to the attendant, and says "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Jesus tells the people that the Spirit of God is upon him that God has sent him, and then he lists things he has been sent by God to do. And all of these things are pretty radical. He is to bring good news to the poor. Jesus lived, ate, and associated with the poor throughout his ministry. Jesus was not speaking of just spiritual things, but he is actually talking about setting prisoners free, of helping those that are oppressed, who society pays no attention to, and lifting them up so that they can stand on their own. Jesus says that he is to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. That is the Jubilee Year, where every 50 years in ancient Israel all debts were to be forgiven, all land that was taken and returned to the rightful owner, where those who have been the lowest and poorest in society are treated as equals to even the richest and most powerful.
Jesus, after preaching this short sermon, says that today, in the presence of those there in the temple, the scripture is fulfilled. But the word translated as "today" also means that what Jesus said then applies to all times. That from now on, even until the present, that scripture is being fulfilled. The task that Jesus came to start is our task now. We are to give good news to the poor, we are to proclaim release to the captives, we are to help the blind to see, we are to let the oppressed go free, we are to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. The question, one that we ask ourselves, and really one for all of us, is do we follow through on our calling? Do we get distracted and sidetracked by seeking the riches of this world that we miss the true essence of what our faith is about? Are the things that are important to God important to us? May God grant us the wisdom, the power, and the courage, to live out our calling in this world; to love and seek justice, not just for ourselves but for all. To seek kindness, not just for ourselves and those we love, but also for our enemies. And to walk humbly with our God.
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.