Heroes of the Faith (They were Jewish heroes first!)
Dear Federated Family,
Those in worship on Sunday, July 17th were given quite a treat. After wonderful sharing from our South Africa and South Dakota work campers, I determined that for me to preach would be a time breach that would cause many a pot roast to burn. Therefore, to applause, I announced that I would make my comments available online and not preach at either service.
What follows was what I had intended to share and I hope it gives you further information on these two amazing work camps and their participants.
We heard from this morning about some of the heroes of our faith. And I like to remind people that there were originally Jewish heroes, who were Jews. As Christianity developed, Jewish and Gentile believers found these heroes of the Jewish faith to be relevant as lessons for Christians as well.
These heroes did not develop their faith after they achieved their noteworthy accomplishments. Rather, their faith was moved forward, but they began with some kernel of trust in God. These moving stories became examples that anything is possible with God. And now these accounts are positions of encouragement for Jews, Christians and Muslims, all three of whom trace their spiritual convictions to Abraham. And why Abraham? What distinguished him? Abraham was the first person to have a relationship with God. And in that relationship, Abraham became the first believer in monotheism, or One God. Abraham was the first hero of all three of these world religions because God was revealed to him.
Our 53 summer missionaries, four of whom went on both work camps – John, Jonathon, Craig and yours truly, also pursued our faith and faith questions by entering into something that could be called heroic as well. We engaged in an adventure of service for others by paying for our trips, some using their vacation time, and traveling long and far to get to our South destinations – South Africa and South Dakota. And we believed that we could make a difference that would have a ripple effect in bringing hope to the worlds we engaged.
You have already heard the fascinating and moving stories of our work campers. You have heard how similar the work camps turned out to be, as noticed, captured and shared by John and Mary. And you may be thinking this is just what I need to be doing with my life. Well good for you!
I also noticed something that was evident in both work camps. Something that spoke to me of the “In Common” nature of our work with God this summer.
In South Africa there are many billboards that remind and educate people about the pandemic in South Africa with AIDS. It is a country that currently leads the world with HIV infection at about 27% of their population already infected.
On one billboard I was impressed with an ad that spoke of sexual responsibility as something that was heroic. Use a condom, was the unvarnished message. In their impoverished culture, there is very little that can be done to save the infected. Third world countries never have funds for expensive medicines. Few receive the available drugs. So, the government has focused on reality-based, in-your-face means to say, “There is a way we can slow down the infection rate.” And I admired that they presented the message in terms of being heroic.
On the door at our host school in the Pine Ridge Reservation, there was a flyer that encouraged the students to “Become a Native Hero.” On the poster there were opportunities for the kids to engage in sports, academic exploration and community programs, all being offered as a diversion from the kinds of things that plague young people everywhere. Be a Native Hero and join a team, a club or a program. In this way the Rez leaders were offering alternatives and giving the kids hope. Sadly, I heard this week of a statistic that shows that Native American teens have the highest suicide rate of any group of kids in our country. The study cited the absence of hope within Indian communities as being the predominate factor, contributing to this sadness.
And here we come – the white faced, mostly affluent, well meaning kids and leaders from the Chagrin Valley, representing I believe 6 different school systems, involving Fed kids, some Catholics and even a Lutheran! We were focused on bringing open hearts and hands into these two places of need. In our pre-trip talks, I made sure to remove for the kids the notion that we were the salvation, the answer, to solution for these impoverished communities. In fact, as Mary and John shared, the real change happens in us. And we do become heroes of the faith, as we see the growth in our own lives.
Yes – was did many helpful, needed, important projects on both work camps. People who are sometimes naturally stand-offish were won over and embraced us. A school in South Africa has actual computers because four in this congregation donated their computers. Yes, a teacher in Oglala gets to move out of the home of the neighbor lady, where she has been staying, and will soon be moving into a home of her own. Yes, Loneman School is 6 weeks ahead of schedule and will now be able to pass their state inspection on August 17th because we stood in the gaps created as school staff lost their employment for the summer due to cutbacks in a school that is already horrendously under-budgeted. But what we received is immeasurable. Our kids held children of other colors and cultures, some having color contact, skin-to-skin, for the first times in their lives. We could see and measure the relief we brought as work projects were completed. And, in doing the work, we were embraced by those on two continents who are not used to receiving good things from other people. Not a bad exchange at the end of the day.
So, with our lives and our work, we continue to add to the list of heroes in the book of Hebrews, chapter 11. Here are some of the ongoing entries.
- It is by faith that a school administrator would trust strangers to come and assist her in the work she does from early in the morning, to early in the morning – working a couple of days from before 8am to after 1am.
- It is by faith that middle class kids from the Chagrin Valley scrape the gum, melted crayons, unidentifiable smudges and boogers off of desks, as they scrub each desk and chair in the school so that kids can come in to a new school year not wading in filth.
- It is by faith that a custodian continues to polish patched, warped tile floors that have been overused, water damaged, and have crumbled from age at Loneman School so that the floors gleam when school starts, taking obvious pride in his work in spite of the circumstances, and knowing that his work will have an impact on the beginning of the school year.
- It is by faith that a team sands, stains and then varnishes gouged, dirty floors, in a house being prepared for a teacher, even applying the varnish from 11pm to after 1 am, by flashlights in some rooms, so the work will be completed before we come back home.
- It is by faith that black orphans and red-brown babies are held in teenage arms, loved and squeezed and validated and given an hour of contact, almost desperate contact, in the midst of a life that receives too little comfort.
- It is by faith that a young ambulance worker takes her medical kit with her and attends to the wounds of the poorest of the poor, actually insisting that elderly people who are obviously suffering, be helped to the hard, trash strewn ground in a slum so that wounds may be cleaned and treated, enabling healing to come to long neglected injuries.
- It is by faith that advisors take vacation time so that kids can have these experiences and that faith also directs teens to pay to go away for a week or two in the service of others, enduring long trips, questionable food, and poorly defined work projects to be a presence of good and to represent Jesus.
- It is by faith that a supporting church shows up for every brunch, enduring sometimes rubbery hash browns and tepid sausage so that mission money can be raised to finance the work being done, praying before and during the trips for the missionaries.
The list can go on and on…
And finally, it is by faith that we, as a community, continue to believe that God’s Kingdom, God’s very dominion and presence, can be established on this earth, offering the kind of hope that is undeniably what we love and expect in Christ.
Live out hope, my sisters and brothers. Live in it and let it flow from you in the hearts of the world around you. And in those days when you feel hopeless, be assured that Christ is there to revive and guide you.
It may be tiny, nearly invisible, but the good we all do does indeed make a difference. It is not so platitude or some catchy phrase to print on a t-shirt. Our efforts do add up, and, with the Master who feeds thousands using only a lunch sack of bread and fish, our miracles of service and care are also multiplied beyond our wildest dreams. So dream big for Jesus, and trust Him to bring the fruit for all of our efforts.