The first spiritual conversation I had at the Mamelodi Initiative was with one of my co-teachers the second week of program. They asked me about deliverance and why God doesn’t answer certain prayers and I thought I had a good answer. From what I could tell, we had relatively similar backgrounds. I explained to my co-teacher how I sometimes pray for God to give me a good grade on a exam and He answers that prayer with a no. Its frustrating, but upon reflection I always seen the value and goodness in how things turned out. Sometimes the Lord has lessons to teach us from failed exams, broken hearts, and even trauma. I’ve experienced all these things and in them I have also experienced Gods unfailing love. I left the conversation feeling closer to my co-teacher and modestly satisfied.
Later that week, I had another spiritual conversation with one of my students. One of the journal topics asked for the students response to John 3:16. Unlike the rest of the class, this student challenged the verse. She raised some questions about why the church talks so much about Jesus and not as much about God. The trinity was something I didn’t fully understand for quite some time, so I jumped at the opportunity to respond to her. Non-unique to almost all my responses to my student’s journals, I wrote at the end of the response that I would love to talk more in person with her about this. On Thursday, this student approached me during lunch and asked me to grab her one more sandwich. There were plenty of extra so I grabbed her one and then she asked if I wanted to talk about her journal. I was overjoyed; this meant she actually read my response! I told her YES, but asked if we could talk the next day so that I could prep and bring my bible.
I spent the night looking up verses supporting and explaining the Trinity. One of the Cru staff who is currently in seminary even let me use some of their software to learn more about the Trinity from a myriad of perspectives within the church. Eventually, I figured that this student wouldn’t be terribly interested in an extensive history of theological debate of the Trinity within the church, so I stuck with John 14:23-26. The time came for this student and I to meet and I approached her before she was about to leave. Right off the bat she asked about deliverance, just like my co-teacher. We were standing up in the midst of students and co-teachers shuffling around, so I ushered her over to a quieter area outside. I didn’t have my bible and she wasn’t even asking about the Trinity so I just decided to see where the conversation would go. Unlike my conversation with my co-teacher, I struggled to find similarities in this student and I’s background. She opened up to me about her family’s struggle to find a home and admitted that she goes to bed hungry sometimes. She asked me why God doesn’t answer her prayers for her family to move out of the room they rent and into a home or why God allows her to go to bed hungry. My mind was spinning, utterly at a loss for words. I’ve never experienced real hunger and I’ve never asked God to provide my family with a home. I felt an overwhelming lack of qualification. My heart broke in ways I have never experienced and even just writing this is making my heart sink again.
This student hugged me and said that God spoke to her through me, but all I could feel was useless. When I got in the car to head back to Kilnterton guilt set in which then turned into righteous anger. I have a lot of trouble answering the question of why God allows for suffering in the context of disease or hunger. I can understand the tragedy I have experienced in life because I can see clear choices that were made by individuals. With larger, systemic issues of sin, the choices of individuals become less and less clear. I can’t point this student to a specific person or choice to explain why she goes to bed hungry. I don’t know why God answered her prayers with a no and I was silly to speculate why God answered my co-teachers’ prayers the way He has. This is the mystery of God and something we must accept in faith.
Though I will forever be a loss for words at the question of deliverance, I have experienced a glimpse of what it’s like to truly love like Christ loved us. I learned that loving someone else doesn’t mean just smiling in their direction or sending them an encouraging note; it’s so much more. Loving someone else is sacrificing the blissful ignorance of living in a world where you only see your own problems to take on another persons burdens. Loving someone else is listening to the things they usually try to avoid talking about. Loving someone else is painful and hard. The ultimate act of love, the crucifixion, is the height of physical pain and represents just a fraction of the burden Jesus took on to forgive us of our sins. It should have been no surprise to me that when I pray for God to soften my heart to love like He does, I pray for exposure to more of this worlds sin and suffering.
I think that through all of this, God is calling for me to “listen carefully, doing justice for the fatherless and the oppressed so that men of the earth may terrify them no more (Psalm 10:18).” We live in a broken world where no one can escape the sting of sin; “for all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God (Romans 3:23).” The sin we all experience points us towards a new earth where “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, no crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelations 21: 4).” Sin is temporary and so is this life but that is not to say we should sit around waiting to die. God has called us all to a higher purpose with higher dreams of justice.