A reflection by Jenny Ross on meeting slavery survivor leaders.
They are smiling big broad smiles, like they have never known anything other
than the happiness that fills their faces in this moment. But I look at their eyes.
I wonder at what pain and trauma they have seen. I wonder what their ears have heard, the sounds of their slave masters, their abusers’ voices ringing out in words of violence and degradation. Acts and words that reach their mark through the desire of their perpetrators to reduce these precious ones to the smallness, the nothingness of the despised and lowly.
And I hear it ringing true from Paul down through the ages:
“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong … so that no one may boast before him.”
These beloved were those whom the world would consider lowly and weak and despised. A young woman born into slavery, a man falsely accused and imprisoned, another forced into bonded labour, a survivor of sexual violence.
These were treated as though they were of no worth, as foolish and weak, as nobodies. Now they stand before us endowed with value, honour, strength, courage, poised to be the ones who will be the influencers of our age in the fight for freedom for all who have yet to be raised up to their true stature as sons and daughters of God.
The Message tells it this way:
Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”?
God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses. That’s the definition of this group of incredible survivors of violence and slavery, all of them once overlooked and exploited and abused, regarded as nobodies by people who wanted to make themselves somebodies through the oppression and mistreatment of their fellow human beings.
We see in these words from Paul the outrageously upside-down kingdom of God. The kingdom that takes the small, the insignificant, the vulnerable, the weak and the foolish and uses them to “expose our hollow pretensions”. God uses them to remind us that all we have and are comes from the goodness, the love and the generosity of God. God uses these precious ones to remind us that it is God’s heart that all of God’s creation would be one day restored to live in the rightness, holiness and redemption of God. And God is literally using these courageous survivors through their stories, their restoration, their advocacy to tell the bigger story of his restoration of the earth:
“It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our
righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
Paul is quoting here a passage from Jeremiah 9:23-24. It’s a passage that sums up what we are to be all about in this life:
“Don’t let the wise brag of their wisdom.
Don’t let heroes brag of their exploits.
Don’t let the rich brag of their riches.
If you brag, brag of this and this only:
That you understand and know me.
I’m GOD, and I act in loyal love.
I do what’s right and set things right and fair,
and delight in those who do the same things.
These are my trademarks.”
Our life is not about our wisdom, our riches, or our strength. God says, if we are going to brag about our life, if we are going to say our life is really something, if we are going to really value and lift up who we are, then do it because of this – because we can say that we KNOW him, that we are KNOWN by him and that HE IS GOD.
What does that mean? It means that God acts in loyal love, he does what’s right and he sets things right and fair and he delights in those who do the same things. These are his trademarks, this is his standard, this is how he does things and this is what he calls us into as well.
God delights in those who do the same things. This is our invitation: because of who God is – the One who sets things right and fair – we can be ones in whom God delights. We can be ones who also call out the value and worth of the “nobodies”, the overlooked, exploited and abused.
And today we do that. We call out and celebrate the beauty and goodness and strength of these our brothers and sisters who represent the righteousness and justice of our God in all its goodness and upside-downness.
Jenny Ross was Staff Chaplain at IJM Australia until May 2021.
Meet three survivor leaders and founding members of the Global Survivor Network here. Make a tax-deductible gift before 30 June to help IJM find and rescue future leaders like these.
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