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There is no need for self-protection

12 July 2013

We have to learn to drop our guard and trust in God, says Elaine Storkey

SOME years ago, I was in Amsterdam to speak at an enormous celebration of Christian ecumenism. I breakfasted each day with a Roman Catholic monk who was on his way to serve a community in Sudan. The relaxed and warm atmosphere of the conference was very welcome to him; it provided a peaceful preparation for a future where he might be enveloped in conflict.

On the third morning, he disclosed to me that he was replacing a colleague who had just been martyred. My face must have registered shock and concern, as I asked what kind of protection they had. He shook his head at the word "protection", and preferred to talk about "trust", explaining, gently, that he was well aware that his own time there might end in death: "The Brothers rarely come home, you see."

His replacement of "protection" with "trust" sums up the commission that Jesus gave to his disciples as he sent them out into the towns and villages (Luke 10). They were to go in faith and vulnerability, seek out the people of peace, receive from those they ministered to, and proclaim the Kingdom of God.

The cultures they entered were not their enemy, but places where they healed the sick, and spread the good news. What motivated the monk - and was commended to the disciples - was a trust in God that extended beyond suffering and death; for this trust alone, rather than concern for self-protection, could draw them into the life-giving service that changes lives.

I fear we see something rather different in the way that we operate today in our Church. Over the past few years particularly, we have seemed preoccupied with self-protection. We want to ensure that our views are safeguarded, our ways are heeded, and our power exerted. We become defensive in response to secular culture, and to differences within the Church itself. I can understand why Christians become defensive. There are forces in our world that oppose the gospel. But, surely, this is where trust in God must replace defensiveness. We need wisdom and maturity to respond.

Especially within the Church, trusting God enables us to listen to those who disagree, and look for ways of working together. We might even be able to acknowledge that, although we do not get our way, God's will could yet be done.

But when we develop a siege mentality, we end the conversation, and draw to a swift separation. This can harm our culture, but it is even more harmful within our Church. When we pull up the drawbridge, batten down the hatches, or retreat to the trenches, we see other believers as those we need to be protected from rather than brothers and sisters who love God and are called to love each other in God's service.

Perhaps we need to gain more insight from the way in which Jesus refused to be drawn into self-protection. The Gospels record how he did not allow his family to protect him from the crowds; he overruled his disciples, who wanted to protect him from the dangers ahead in Jerusalem; and he rebuked Peter, who tried to protect him from arrest by violence.

Everything about Christ speaks of vulnerability and trust in God, even to the point of crucifixion. It is an enormous challenge to follow Christ, but even more challenging when we set off in the wrong direction.

Dr Elaine Storkey is President of Tearfund.

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