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Who Cares? – A Reflection on Servitude

Who cares!

Talking to a fellow missionary, I asked him. “What is the greatest problem of the people in the country you serve?”  Little did I expect to hear his immediate response “Slavery”. For the past 12 years, my friend worked as a missionary among farmers and brick kiln workers, whose homes are little mud huts, in which there is a bed that serves as a table, chair, or couch with some leftover food. Here and there, a bony goat or chicken scratching the soil for crumbs, and maybe some buffalos. Droughts and floods frequently destroy, burn, or wash away their huts, crops, produce, and also kill the few animals they have.  These bonded labourers are considered “a mere nothing” in their society. Landlords and kiln owners dispose of them at will, making them victims of extortion, suppression, underpayment, physical harm often leading to commit suicide.  These are the modern slaves, with no hope!

What can one do in such a situation? How to bring relief and hope?  My friend told me it is too easy to say, “Bring God”.  He sees people praying to God/gods in mosques, temples and churches, but there is no concern for these victims of modern slavery. Thus, God/gods seem more a problem than a solution.  Is that so? Or is our concept and understanding of God that needs to change?

Pondering this question, I am reminded of the Israelites in Egypt.  Their situation was probably not very different from what people suffer in modern slavery. Let’s read: 

“Then the Lord said, “I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, …. behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.  Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.” 

The parallel is obvious. The bold print is what strikes me: “I have seen the affliction of my people” and therefore “Come, I will send you!”  When God reveals himself to Moses, he is not talking about his almighty power and strength, but “humbles himself in the form of a slave”(Philippians 2), suffering the pains and sorrows of our human condition, its disasters, afflictions, anxieties, and fears.  When Jesus cried out on the cross “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me”, he wants us to know his unfathomable love, which leaves the ninety-nine sheep for the one that is lost, and who descends into hell, as if to say, “if you are in hell, I want to be there with you!” After all, God is “Immanuel” and “will be with us until the end of the world”.

When the Lord sends “Moses”[1], he tells us: “For … I will visit you and fulfil my promise… my plans of welfare, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:10-12) In our daily lives, numerous people need to see God’s face, which brings comfort.  When we stand helplessly at a hospital bed of a dying friend or relative and know not what to say, we are present to do what he commanded us namely: “Comfort my people!”

When Jesus was born in a manger, this baby still mellows even the hardest of hearts. The famous psychologist Freud, who claimed himself to be an atheist cried in front of a Christmas tree.  God thus calls us to open our hearts, for he desires a personal relationship with us, so that: “all will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.”

[1] When in Hebrew people say “the name”, they mean God. The mirror writing for “the name” is “Moses”.

Guido Gockel MHM

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