How does Pastor Andrew's story of hope from despair in Nigeria relate to Isaiah? And what can we learn from both today?
We all need good news – especially at the moment with all that is happening around the world. But when we think about good news how do we picture it?
In Isaiah 61:1-4 the good news which the prophet proclaims to the poor looks like lots of different things. It looks like release from captivity and comfort for those who mourn. It looks like people wearing garlands of flowers rather than the ashes of mourning: “…a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61:3) I’m not sure what a garment of praise looks like, but I like to imagine something with a lot of sequins.
Most of all, for the exiles and captives who knew that Jerusalem lay in ruins, good news looked like rebuilding. And that’s certainly what good news looked like for Pastor Andrew in Nigeria. For him and his traumatised congregation, good news looked like some burnt zinc roofing materials perched precariously on some poles.
When the Nigerian village of Guyaku was attacked by Boko Haram extremists, Pastor Andrew could only watch on in horror as the village burned. When they returned, several believers had been killed, and all but six of the houses in Guyaku were burned down, including the church.
“We lost everything,” Pastor Andrew says. “The persecution was so much that I never imagined we would come together again to worship in the church.”
"We brought all our burnt zinc together and some sticks to make a worship place" Pastor Andrew
Many people decided to leave. But Pastor Andrew and other church leaders chose to stay to serve the community and rebuild the church.
“I called the attention of some of the church members, and we brought all our burnt zinc together and some sticks to make a worship place,” he says (pictured above).
As you can see, it’s just a shelter, there was so little left to build with. And yet this single, defiant act of rebuilding was good news. It gave a shape to hope.
These sheets of burnt zinc and rickety poles became a sign that the church could not be destroyed. And with the help of Open Doors local partners, the people of Guyaku were able to receive not only emergency relief and food aid, but also trauma counselling and support for the longer-term.
When Jesus returned to Nazareth and spoke at his home synagogue, it was this passage from Isaiah that He used. And His life and teaching showed that the good news takes many different forms. Indeed, the ultimate expression of good news looked for all the world like failure, like the death of a man on a cross.
The good news might not look much in worldly terms. Isaiah talks about ‘oaks of righteousness’ but even oak trees don’t look like much at the beginning.
So, what does the good news look like for you today, I wonder?
Does it look fragile? Make-shift? A bit ramshackle and rickety? Maybe all around you is rubble and ruin and you are struggling to see signs of hope. But be encouraged by the words of Isaiah and by the faith of Pastor Andrew.
Boko Haram thought they were wiping out Christianity in Guyaku. But God had other plans. The exact opposite has happened: the church is growing and they’ve had to build a bigger place to worship.
“Because of you,” says, Pastor Andrew, “my church is living hopeful, thinking of the kingdom of heaven."
Perhaps ‘thinking of the kingdom of heaven’ is the key to ‘living hopeful’. Thinking in worldly terms might only leave us seeing see ashes, rubble and ruin. But in the kingdom of heaven different rules operate.
A church can be made with just some sticks and old roofing. Ruined cities – and ruined lives – can be rebuilt. And a spirit of despair can be replaced with a garment of praise.
You can send a message of encouragement to Pastor Andrew. He would love to hear from his brothers and sisters around the world - your words of support make such a difference. Today, can you show him that his worldwide family are thinking of him, and standing alongside Christians in Nigeria?
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