“That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” – John 17:21
A Period of Sustained Grief
Our planet is in a period of sustained grief: a season hit by a global pandemic, it’s corresponding recession/depression, and the tensions rising from emergency lockdowns and shelter in place orders and advisories. In addition, we are struck with racial tensions flaring, and the mistreatment of ethnic minorities by many and the killing of African Americans by police officers gone bad. Now the lockdowns have turned into curfews across the nation because of the reactions of rioters and looters on a scale like we have not seen in decades.
While my friends in the US are seeing this ongoing saga play out day in and day out, my colleagues across Asia are feeling its implications even within the church. Some churches in the US are both arguing for their rights to assemble while others are saying it’s best to continue to shelter in place to protect the welfare of people.
Voices from Two National Leaders
Several weeks ago, when I was interviewing several of our national directors, a few of these stories began to surface. My colleagues were naturally concerned for the witness of the Church in their nation given the admonition from the Gospel of John above. At Asian Access we aspire to help “Unite the Church” as Christ advises, for it is through this example that the world will know the hope of mankind.
In this interview from Indonesia, my colleagues Juserdi and Meiti shared their challenges firsthand during COVID-19:
And, just this morning, I received this letter from another of our national directors (who wants to remain anonymous due to the escalating crisis):
Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! I feel like that I have to share what is happening concerning among Christian and Buddhist nowadays here in [our country]. As you know that our Government has issued "Stay at Home Order" and "No Gathering Order" to all the Citizens in the month of March in order to control the spread of COVID-19.
But one famous Pastor (with his church members) broke the No Gathering Order. He and his team posted that very gathering via Facebook Live. Even more, he said (I paraphrased) that if someone or a Church really believes in Christ and live according to the Scripture, they would not be infected by coronavirus.
Then he himself and most of the members of his team got positive with Covid-19. His words (message) creates nationwide outrage especially among Buddhists. They said that Christians believe in Jesus Christ so they would not be infected by Covid-19, but we Buddhists do not believe so we would be infected by Covid-19. They take it (these words of that very Pastor) as an insult!
At that time our Nation only has just over 150 Covid-19 positive cases but nearly half of positive cases is related to this very pastor's gathering. Even more, the first person (patient No.1) is also a Christian who came back from USA in the early of March. So the whole Nation would say, "Christians bring this Corona Virus and Christians spread the Corona Virus in our Country".
It creates so many divisions even among individual Christian as well as Churches and Denominations. So Government comes in and they charge that very pastor and team in a reason of breaking the Law of No Gathering. All the eyes of our Nation is now upon all Christians and Churches. The situation is so intense. So we stay low profile. This is really hard to handle. I assume that it would take more time to subside the Nation's tension and misunderstanding upon Christians.
Please pray for our Nation and pray for us that we may have wisdom from above. In future, I believe that we have to be very wise in doing the ministry.
Seeking Direction and Transformation
Friends, in light of these challenges, and the increasing polarity in our world today, I believe it is imperative that we do our level best to obey Jesus’ teaching to live in harmony with one another: “How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity!” – Psalm 133:1
How can we do that given the escalating tensions we feel, the anger that rises in our hearts, and the anxiety and fear that is pervasive in our society?
- First things first: nothing transformational happens without abiding in Christ. For, “without him, we can do nothing!” – John 15:5 The starting point is fostering a relationship with the living God through his son Jesus. One way we can do this is by praying, asking God to guide our path. Check out Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
- Empathize: The wisdom of this American Indian proverb: “help me never to judge another until I have walked in his moccasins.”
- Love your Neighbor: Jesus goes farther and advises: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:31. He showed us the way when he gave the example of “Loving your neighbor” by telling the story of the Good Samaritan.
- Love your Enemies: And, he even goes deeper: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” – Matt 5:44
- Love Sacrificially: Jesus showed the way when he said and acted: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends!” – John 15:13
Friends, let’s live into our highest calling, asking Jesus to transform our lives, our attitudes, our behaviors. Let’s put our trust in him so that our paths will become straight. Let us pray and love and act out our faith. As we do these things, even to the degree of loving those we struggle with the most, we can move beyond our polarized opinions and political points of view to embody this unity that Christ calls us to live out.
Putting Jesus' Words into Action
Beyond these wise words from Jesus, to walk in another’s moccasins, try contacting your friends or neighbors from backgrounds other than yourself. Don’t talk… Just listen to them and learn from them. And, then offer to pray together. If you are a Democrat, contact your GOP friends and listen and vice versa… If you are white, reach out to Asian or African American friends or Latino and simply listen.
May we be one so that the world may know!
Do you want to bring hope and peace to this world? If so, make it your goal to live out these truths: to unite the Church, love your neighbor, love your enemy, trust in God and submit to him, so that he may make our paths straight. As we abide in him, we will bear much fruit!
Rev. Joseph W. Handley, Jr., Ph.D.
For those wanting to help foster a new conversation in our world and create a better society, check out a movement founded by one of my colleagues’ sons, Prashan De Visser. Global Unites now has a US initiative: USA Unites. I encourage you to look them up and get involved!