From the chapter: The Butierka Prison Engagement (A Return to Russia with Flags Unfurled)
General Frederick Coutts's words in the celebration held in New York's Cathedral of St John the Divine in October 1965, as the Army celebrated 100 years of Godly service ‘round the world’ echoed the Old Testament words that: 'We who were not a people, have been made a people.'
John Stott, in his book Understanding Christ, pays great tribute to us in quoting from The General Next to God, He relates Booth's staunch discipline and expectation of his soldiers, and how Salvationists dedicating their children in SA worship services: 'must be willing that the child should . . . spend all its life where God should choose to send it, that it should be despised, hated, cursed, beaten, kicked, imprisoned or killed for Christ's sake.' But that was a century and a half ago, we say, and times have changed. That was before we arrived; it was during the time our newly-formed church was being persecuted. Is it that the church is less persecuted today, or as John Stott says, 'simply ignored'? Is it that we are not different enough from the world, willing enough to speak up, to speak out, and to act out what God still calls us to do? Are our arms still wrapped around the poor, the vulnerable, the despised?
Our message must be clearly seen as being different from the answer given by the social scientist, where `technique is all', Our hope is one that offers purity to the dirtiest, hope for the worst fallen, and a vision swept clear of human prejudice and folly. And as that hope is shared it also offers a living testimony to the critics.
The crucifixion reminds me that Christ died for the world, yet it was for me. And in his dying for me, he not only offered salvation but also called me to service. Reginald Thomas in his book To Know God's
Way, says: 'Jesus comes to ask something, as well as to give something; and (we must) understand that sacrifice, denial, and even a cross are essential parts of the Christian vocabulary, just as much as rest, joy, pardon and peace. You have to know that you will not always be fascinated by our Lord, for there is part of his gospel to which you might not be so anxious to turn.' We claim a salvation and experience that makes us complete in him. Can it be said we are complete when the pattern of our behaviour shuns the experience for which he came? Are we truly walking in his Spirit when we sidestep the very ones he names as himself?
David Watson shares the insight of an Indian Christian in his I Believe in Evangelism: 'People are no longer converted to a doctrine. They can only be attracted to a way of life they see as a practical alternative to the values and assumptions of our competitive, alienated, materialistic society. We have been presenting Christianity (the system) and not Christ the person. . . We have to present to the world a living Christ, fresh, always life-giving and nourishing. . . •
In this charismatic age we need to be reminded that the charisma, the charm of our loving Saviour was not found in his solitude or absent union with his Father; it was in his joining and sharing with the oppressed, the alienated, and those living without hope. P. T. Forsyth says that we are 'potential Christs' in the sense that Christ grows in us and rouses our faith to action.
He is our example: we are not to live isolated from the world's suffering in some monastic fashion of seeking participation with deity. We must not let our love for God cause us to neglect our duty to love the poor. If we love God we must also love our neighbour. Our gospel compels us to live completely, which is to communicate a gospel which corresponds to people's felt needs. And in doing so we need to cry loudly the public shame in which we share for not having done more.
While many in the modern, sophisticated, western world question whether the plight of the vulnerable is the result of the politician's inability to mobilise, or the result of social scientists' inability to programme, it is no less the Christian's shame for not recalling the words 'As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me' (Matthew 25:40, RSV).
Christians must also assume the additional responsibility to cry out loudly about all blatant social injustice we meet, and we meet a great deal of it. Offering Christian hope, as worthy as that is, while remaining silent on the cause of injustice is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called 'cheap grace'. God seeks both the salvation of the individual and the healing of his total creation. We must seek it out so that God can 'execute righteousness and judgment for all who are oppressed'.
Elton Trueblood warns that 'one of the insidious dangers of any religion is spiritualism', and indeed many demonstrate a satisfaction with a sense of arrival, becoming 'satisfied with what goes on in a place of worship with no real worry about poverty adjacent to humiliation….' He was puzzled and bewildered.
One day, while riding listlessly on the city's outskirts, he saw a figure coming toward him. He halted and saw that it was a leper. He knew immediately that this was a challenge to would have found in the Crusades, but as one would challenge who knew the hearts of men. He knew he would never have shrunk from the banners, spears, or attacks of Perugia. But here Francis saw his fear walking toward him, coming to meet him face to face. For once, `his soul must have stood still'. Then, as if knowing nothing of fear, he sprang from his horse and rushed on the leper and threw his arms around him. It was the beginning of a lifetime vocation of ministry among lepers. To the man he gave what money he could, remounted his horse and rode on. Francis, sensing the need to catch a final glimpse of the leper, turned, as he rode, to see him once more, but he could see no figure on the road.
Come, meet the vulnerable, come visit the prisoners. Come, Jesus waits among them.