The injustice of one person of power over the powerless is seen by a just God and condemned. Yet even in the valley of the shadow of death, the God of the cross and empty tomb provides comfort. Even where the "powerless" are overshadowed by evil, the light of heaven still shines.
That's what I ran across in an amazing article from a few years back that told the story of how life in the shadow of death has become life lived under the cross of Christ for the children of Zambiri, Nigeria. Today the number of internally displaced people, people who have lost their homes because of the violence in Northeast Nigeria from tribal conflicts, is even higher than when this article was first written. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, it hovers at around 1.7 million people. Those in need of humanitarian assistance stands at about 7.7 million. (Cf. https://www.unocha.org/story/nigeria-us105b-needed-reach-61-million-people-2018). In the city of Jos, a city of almost a million people, the loss of life is so extensive that a culture of orphans has sprung up. Most of these children have experienced unspeakable trauma. One girl who was raped and infected with HIV when she was only 9 witnessed both parents die of AIDS. At 10 years of age she was left to care for her 7-year-old brother. At a local orphanage she and her brother were abused by caretakers yet again. It was at this point that these children were taken in by Benjamin and Gloria Kwashi, where Benjamin is Archbishop for the Anglican Church. The Kwashis had taken in 60 orphaned children in 2015, when the article was published. Stewart Ruch, an Anglican bishop and author of the article, describes his visit to the Kwashi home. As a foreign guest he arrived at the back of the house and saw all 60 children lined up in white plastic chairs. He and others shared devotional messages with these children, noticing what they thought were “bored” or vacant looks in the children’s faces. It was after these preliminaries came to an end that one of the pastor’s wives sat down with the children and said to them, “Children, if any of you saw your mommy, your daddy or both get murdered before your eyes, I want you to come forward for a special time of prayer.” Ruch said that for the first time he understood the children’s look not as boredom but as numbness. Their expressions were not restless…but dazed. At first no one seemed to budge. But after an awkward silence one young girl came forward and collapsed in the woman’s arms. Then another. Then another. As a group of 20 children wept and sobbed, a group of Christian women there threw themselves on the ground and started sobbing even louder than the children. They implored the God of heaven to look and see these traumatized youth. They called on Jesus to bring the gift of his healing love. Ruch writes that such a display of emotion was shocking to see. But this mother-love for these orphaned children was like medicine for their broken hearts. No one pretended that this prayer ritual filled the gaping chasm of their grief. But when the prayer meeting was over the children had one request. They wanted to pray for their visitors from America! Ruch writes: “One of the older girls stood before the entire crowd and announced, ‘Bishop Ruch, you have come a long way from America and we know you are a new bishop with a very big job, so we want to pray for you.’ So I knelt on the hard ground of Zambiri and 60 children engulfed me and laid (or tried to lay) their hands on my back. … In the midst of profound trauma the Kwashi kids didn’t’ just want to receive prayer; they wanted to offer a blessing to us.” The Kwashi kids weren’t only living under the shadow of death. They were living under the shadow of the cross of Christ. They knew what it meant to receive the gift of abundant Life--and to share it--even though they still struggled with a loss too big to comprehend.
As a pastor I sometimes meet people who tell heartbreaking stories of how evil and injustice have impacted them in traumatic ways, leaving them numb and robbing them of their joy. I imagine something similar must have been going through the hearts of those who had been followers of John the Baptist, as they buried his earthly remains in a tomb (6:29). His death had been a sudden and traumatic defeat for those who loved him. It was the outcome of a gross injustice. St. Mark tells the story as one chapter of a greater story that would also end with an execution and a tomb. But though this injustice would be much greater--the death of an innocent man for the sins of the world--so would the nature of the comfort that would arise from his tomb: a tomb that did not stay occupied for long. I know that the scars of traumatic events are not easily healed. But I also know that ever since the tomb of Jesus was discovered empty and the risen Jesus was encountered as living, even the most powerless people of God have arisen with the power to comfort others. Even in the darkest night, the light of heaven shines.
Where will you find your comfort this week? How will the Lord of life empower you to provide comfort for others who need it most?