Monday, September 8, 2014

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” ― Nelson Mandela

One of, and perhaps the most important, reasons that Christianity is growing so fast in Africa and South America is that it brings a message of hope.  Hope for everyone.  There are no sins beyond forgiveness.  You cannot run far enough away to outrun the love and forgiveness of God.  No matter how bad things are, there is always hope, and there is the basic, almost primal understanding that we are resident aliens here.  Our home is not here on earth but eternal in the heavens, in the arms of an ever-forgiving and always-loving God.  The more we love God, the more we love each other, and the more we love each other, the easier it is to deal with the tragedies and obstacles that life throws at us.  I am always dumbfounded at the doom-and-gloom people who say that we are at the end times.  These poor, misguided people simply don’t know our history or have forgotten it.  All of the current strife going on is nothing compared to the Rwandan genocide of 1994 when 1,000,000 men, women, and babies were hacked to death with machetes.  What is happening in Syria, Ukraine, Libya, Egypt, and other hot spots do not come close to the total deaths of that one year in Rwanda.  How quickly we forget that WWII took almost 85,000,000 lives worldwide.  We forget that almost 30,000,000 men, women, and children died in World War One.  We ignore the famines that took 10,000,000 people in 1921 after the Russian revolution.  The 4,000,000 who died of starvation in Bengal in 1943.  We forget the Holocaust and the over 6,000,000 souls lost at the hands of evil.  We forget maybe the worst of all, the Black Death, which in just four years in the 1300’s wiped out half of all of Europe, including half of England killing adults, children, and babies in England.  No one knew why it killed, or how it chose its victims because it killed rich and poor, urban and rural, young and old, healthy and ill.  No one knows how many died but the numbers are guessed to be between 100 to 200 million people.  And it didn’t die out, it came back again and again.  In 1665, it killed over 20% of the population in England alone (in the U.S. today, that would mean 60,000,000 souls).  You all have access to Google if you have forgotten your history.  There is no area of the world, no religious group, no ethnic group, no geographical place that has been spared, and yet we have continued.  In yesterday’s blog I quoted Gandhi’s quote that while we have always had tyrants like Hitler and Saddam Hussein, they have always died and what they built has always been destroyed.  Yet, Christianity, in spite of its persecutions has thrived over the last 2,000 years to become the world’s largest religion (twice as large as Islam) at over two billion followers.  Here in Tanzania, the numbers have risen from around 10% fifty years ago to almost half (some say 62%) of the population this year.  Why is this?  Hope.  Hope which always triumphs.  Nelson Mandela was in prison for 27 years but emerged without hate, bitterness, and resentment, and a new nation was born from the hope in his heart.  A personal friend of mine, was imprisoned falsely for the same number of years, seven of them in solitary confinement, yet he emerged smiling, happy, full of life, love, forgiveness, and hope.  He died recently and I was honored to help scatter some of his ashes in Lake Victoria because even though he was from Louisiana, he called Tanzania his home.  He told me once that hope saved him when nothing else could.  There have been many times in different places in the world, or in the world as a whole, when it looked liked it must have been the end of times, but as horrible as those times were, they did not mark the end.  If you have the love and hope of Jesus Christ in your heart, there is no prison, no torture, no death that can remove you from that love and from that life eternal in the heavens.  If you have lost hope, it is not because God has turned away from you but because you have turned away from God.  God is love.  God is truth.  God is hope.  God is good.  All the time, whatever else is happening, God is constant and eternal.  So is hope.  Hold fast to it. 
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