There Is No More Time: Showing God’s Love to the Refugees on Manus

Commentary
By Jarrod McKenna 11-10-2017
Delroy Bergsma and Jarrod McKenna’s aerial sit-in above the Foreign Minister’s office. Photo: Molly Schmidt
 

No food. No water. No sanitation. No safe place to go. No future.

This is the reality for the refugees in a shuttered Australian detention center on Manus Island, where a U.N. human rights committee says international law has repeatedly been violated. 

This week, our “aerial sit-in” has been one of many actions dramatizing this reality — that if something is not done immediately, more men will die on Manus. 

My prayer is that as you read these words you may have your "come to Jesus" moment. I know that phrase is used as a metaphor, but my prayer is genuine. With everything in me, I pray that these words might bring us to Jesus.

This brings me to one more prayer: that you would take action for these men on Manus. This week. There simply is no more time. I know you may have objections. I have heard some this week; I’ll let you in on a few.

  1. Why are you mixing Jesus and justice?
  2. Do you think living with refugees at First Home Project means you can’t see things objectively anymore?
  3. What about Romans 13?
  4. As an evangelist, why don’t you just stick to the “Sinner’s Prayer”?

And now, a few of my answers.

1. “Why are you mixing Jesus and justice?”

Because the Bible does.

God’s Messiah and the messianic age of justice, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, are inseparable (Romans 14:17). We cannot separate Christ, his Cross, Resurrection, and Ascension from the coming of God’s kingdom.

They are the coming of the kingdom.

In the words of N.T. Wright, “Either Jesus is Lord of all or he’s not Lord at all.” If your gospel isn’t good news to everything, it’s not the gospel. With Christmas just around the corner and advent approaching, we are about to sing,

No more let sin and sorrow grow
Nor thorns infest the ground:
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found.

If your understanding of the curse is wider than your apprehension of God’s grace, we need to have a Bible study.

Let me be clear: The gospel is good news to the captives on Manus.

Rev. Dr. Geoff Broughton heard this objection to his leadership, “What are ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ doing crossing-over into issues of human rights?” The answer is, the gospel of Jesus Christ rights every wrong.

2. Do you think living with refugees at First Home Project means you can’t see things objectively anymore?

Yes, living at First Home Project with refugees has unquestionably altered my perception, but this has only been part of my conversion. Living daily with people who spent four years on Manus means that more and more I see this through their eyes. Your neighbours interrupting the news stories from Manus to say, “That is Adam. He loves the Lord Jesus. Let us pray for him,” changes the way you watch the news.

You could say I’ve had an interesting week. On Sunday I was praised in the newspapers for showing compassion to refugees, and by Wednesday I was being slammed for asking for justice for refugees. I thought of the witness of Helder Camera as he said, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” Discipleship of Jesus calls us to do both.

And discipleship of Christ Jesus means we don’t have a neutral claim on the truth. As politically incorrect as it may be, our Lord says, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Truth for the baptized is not objective, it’s relational. A relationship with Jesus means we must be found where he is found, partying with whom he partied with: the lost, the last, the least of these. The persecuted church, who in part are found on Manus, offer us a way of seeing the world that calls us to conversion. We must live Christ’s way, proclaim him as the truth, and live his life.

3. What about Romans 13?

A number of people have written this on my Facebook page this week. The best answer I’ve heard came from a friend who is a worship leader (and though it’s none of your business, a conservative voter) who, after being arrested in the second #LoveMakesAWay action was asked the same question. Her response went something like this,

“Um, you mean Romans 13? The same Romans 13 that was written by the Apostle Paul who went to jail repeatedly and had his head chopped off by the authorities for proclaiming the gospel? I think he models for us what submitting to authority means.”

And I think the kids would call that a “mic drop.”

We must never forget that Hitler loved to quote Romans 13 to keep the church docile. We must also never forget that our resistance to the powers must look like Romans 12 and the remainder of Romans 13. In short, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom.12:21).

Yet I want you to hold me accountable, if I ever start “hitting and splitting” instead of “staying and praying,” please bring up that I’m not submitting to the authorities.

4. As an evangelist, why don’t you just stick to the Sinner’s Prayer?

The “Sinner’s Prayer” is not in the Bible (Well, unless you are in a hotel room and pick up a Gideon’s Bible. God bless the Gideons). Don’t get me wrong, I always give an opportunity to respond to the gospel, but any altar call must lead to believing, repenting and being baptized (Matt. 28:19-20, Rom. 6:1-18, Acts 2:38-41, Acts 10:48, Acts 16:31-33, Acts 22:16, 1 Cor. 12:13, Col. 2:12, Gal. 3:27, Eph. 4:4-6… I could go on). I really think the church’s slowness to respond to the “least of these,” including our brothers on Manus, is a failure to take our baptism in Christ seriously.

Let me explain: Variations of “the sinner’s prayer” arose in the Great Awakenings. Evangelists were helping people make faith personal and (don’t miss this!) signing them up to a political campaign that was in keeping with gospel proclamation. I’m not making this up. Charles Finney, an innovator of the use of the Sinner’s Prayer was giving people the opportunity to make faith in Christ personal, AND practical for “the least of these.” Finney was literally signing you up to end slavery when you came down the front. If you weren’t willing to sign up for the abolitionist movement, he would turn you away because you hadn’t put your faith in Jesus! And yes, refugees, as “strangers,” are explicitly mentioned in Matthew 25 as Christ in camouflaged as the poor (Matt. 25:35).

Only in our hyper individualistic culture(s), can the Sinner’s Prayer become a magic incantation to avoid hell rather than putting us on the journey towards baptism, being immersed in Christ and God’s kingdom agenda. All the good stuff in a sinner’s prayer we get in baptism with so much more depth. Finney was never replacing baptism with the Sinner’s Prayer — he was calling people back to it.

The early Christians did not pray the Sinner’s Prayer as isolated individuals to become Christians. They prayed the Lord’s Prayer as communities in response to the grace of God. They responded to the gospel by becoming part of a people through the waters of baptism. More than just a personal prayer, baptism was a political changing of allegiances. Nationalism, patriotism, racism, class, violence, lust, and greed no longer name us. In baptism we were given a new name. We died to those Powers, and were raised in the name of the Triune God (Matt. 28:19, Gal. 3:26-29) to walk as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6).

This is what the men on Manus need, the church to live into our baptism. Forget the politics or right or left, we need the politics of grace that is our baptism.

We have Christians in Australia responding to those on Manus as Australians, when we need Australians who respond as Christians.

Only then will we witness the redemption of the nations.

Baptism is where the early church were immersed in the narrative of God’s liberating love. They were immersed in the reality of repentance, forgiveness of sins, God’s community and the seal of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). For the early church, baptism was being birthed anew into God’s New World (Jn. 3:3-5, 1 Pet. 1:3, Titus 3:5). They died to their old self, formed in the patterns of the kingdoms of this world, and were raised with Christ into the nonviolent redemptive patterns of discipleship (Rom. 6:3-11, Col. 2:12).

They didn’t merely invite Jesus into their heart as their “personal Lord and Savior,” they responded to Jesus’ invitation to Gods heart for all of creation. Baptism was not merely an outward sign of an inner reality; it was a personal appropriation of the outward coming of the Kingdom of God. They pledged allegiance to Christ as cosmic Lord and Savior of all creation (1 Peter 3:21). As evangelists we are commissioned to call the world into a community that prays the Lord ’s Prayer and allows the Holy Spirit to move us into action. We are baptized into a community that witnesses to the kingdom coming on earth (Matt. 6:9-13).

As the church, we must act to show that God’s kingdom wants to come to Manus.

Learn more about the movement to help those on Manus at Love Makes a Way.

An earlier version of this op-ed was published on eternitynews.com.au.

Jarrod McKenna is the co-founder of First Home Project, a community welcoming, housing and “giving a hand up not a hand-out” to recently arrived refugees, is the Teaching Pastor at Cornerstone Church in Perth, was a part of initiating the #LoveMakesAWay movement, and is a peace award winning nonviolent social change trainer, working primarily in the Middle East and Eastern Europe when not at home.

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