Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.- I Corinthians 1: 20-24
The news reached São Paulo; nine people were killed in Charleston, S.C. in Emanuel African Methodist Church. They were killed by someone whom they had welcomed with open arms. They chose to see beyond racial and cultural barriers and receive him as their brother in Christ. They even told him that they enjoyed having him there. Even after all these, he turned around and murdered them in cold blood. It did not take long for this tragic event to be used as a platform for some political position. Debates about gun control were rekindled. Discourse about racial issues popped up. Statistics were used to prove each other’s point. In the midst of all this, the people who were directly involved refused to be drawn into these impersonal arguments. Instead, they showed the world what it means to live in the world and not be of the world. They reflected the true meaning of being a follower of Christ. They lifted up the Cross in their hearts. For those who are blinded by power and violence, the Cross was, perhaps, the last thing on their minds. However, for Emanuel AME Church, it was the source of their strength to overcome this absurd situation. It is absurd because no explanation can bring any logic to the situation. It was a work of a mind that is overshadowed by hatred and pain. We don’t need to venture into the mind of the killer. There is nothing interesting there. The families of the victims, on the other hand, have something powerful to show us. They have allowed the Light of the gospel to shine through their lives so much so that we are sensing their glow and warmth in our ministry in São Paulo.
The Light of the Gospel compelled Emanuel Church to welcome a complete stranger into their midst. They welcomed him because they knew that it was an opportunity to share God’s love to a complete stranger. However, each time we invite a complete strange into our community, we also take a risk. They decided that it was worth it for the sake of the gospel. They allowed the Love of God to dominate their actions. God calls His people to reach out to those who labour and are heavy laden.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”- Matthew 11:28
Those who are burdened and heavy laden are not necessarily mentally balanced people. They can be people who are lost and confused. They can be people who have allowed hatred and violence to consume their soul. The message of the gospel is a message of hope and healing for these restless souls. However, it does not mean that they would receive the gospel. The death of Jesus on the Cross was an act of rejection. People rejected the love and hope that Jesus offered. They chose to murder Him mercilessly. Jesus knew the risk but it did not stop Him from showing His love to the people. He calls us to do the same. He calls us to carry the Cross.
A Church that is not willing to risk and receive anyone that walks through their door is not a church that is willing to carry the Cross.
Before this event happened, we talked about opening our home to allow the homeless teens to drop by. Igor has come several times to our home. We know that it is a matter of time before the others would drop in as well. We want them to come here. We want them to know that they are welcome into our household. However, there is always an element of risk. We don’t expect anything bad to happen, but we need to be aware that it is a possibility. We need to ask ourselves whether we want to take this risk. Most importantly, is it worth taking this risk? This is a good question to ask. The people of Emanuel African Methodist Church gave us an answer to that question. They have answered with a resounding “Yes” but not with words. Their answer was given in the powerful act of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is the most powerful thing one can give. It is more powerful than any weapon. It is more powerful than any political discourse or ideas. It is so powerful that it reveals a strength that only can come from beyond. The good news is that this strength is available to all those who are willing to carry the Cross. The gospel never guaranteed that we will be be safe from danger. There is really nothing in this world that can keep us safe from violence. No guns and laws can keep us safe from danger. However, the gospel can give us the strength to forgive. Being able to forgive is a divine sign that nothing that happens in this world can destroy our soul. The message of forgiveness that these good Christians in Emanuel Church shared with the world is that they have no regrets about welcoming this violent man in their midst. They are deeply hurt by what he has done, but they have no regrets about welcoming him. They are saddened that their love was not sufficient to bring peace to his disturbed soul. This doesn’t stop them from loving him despite the fact that he took precious people of their own families and friends. Some of them were angry but even in their anger, they said that they will eventually come to forgive. Their goal is forgiveness because they know a God who is able to do exceedingly more than we can ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20)
What does Charleston have to do with our ministry in São Paulo? Well, everything basically. Emanuel AME Church has shown what it means to carry the Cross in this world. Their faithfulness and love will continue to inspire Christians all over the world to carry the Cross. When we go into the streets or even welcome some of the restless souls in our homes and hearts, we will remember the strength and love of the good people of this wonderful church. We can safely place our lives in the hands of the God and worship together with them knowing that He will always be our strength no matter what happens.