It may take a century - but keep at it.
A blog to inspire, especially if you think nothing is happening and your labour apparently in vain.
As author Jon Bloom observes “Christians are slow-grown, and fruit-bearing typically comes after an arduous time of maturation.” He’s right.
This needs to be said as we live in an age of short-termism, in a society which expects instant results. This is in part a result of urbanisation as we have become detached from the rhythms of the agricultural year. You can’t hurry the harvest.
It is significant that many of Jesus’ parables feature sowing and reaping. Clearly he was fascinated by seeds, even those as small as a mustard seed. Tiny but huge potential – given sunshine, water and above all time.
Each morning I use the excellent Church Mission Society daily prayer diary, Prayerlines. It gives both focus and a global perspective. I am continually moved as I pray for those selfless disciples serving Jesus in the most testing of environments – and still keeping at it.
Each weekend there is a reflection to give a wider perspective and last week’s was particularly arresting. As it happens it was written by someone I know well – Andrew Leake, whom Jacqui and I visited in Salta, northern Argentina three years ago.
I’ve written about Andrew before but a brief recap. Incredibly he represents an inter-generational ministry serving the indigenous people of northern Argentina over an entire century.
To give an over-simplified overview, it was his grandfather Alfred who left Norfolk over 90 years ago as an evangelist to lead many of the Toba and Wichi people to Christ. Then his father David, who as Bishop, supported them in their struggle to be recognised as full citizens. And now it is Andrew’s turn to help them regain their ancestral lands against powerful commercial and political interests.
I blogged at the time how we accompanied Andrew for an advocacy meeting with the state governor but I could see that it has been a hard slog for Andrew with many disappointments and setbacks. Moreover, he was contesting powerful forces, political and commercial.
And so Andrew’s piece in Prayerlines this weekend was a huge encouragement. The heading says everything: Slow growing fruit.
“For those whose missional calling is to Bible translation and environmental advocacy and action, results only become clear over long periods of time. If we just look at what we have done recently, especially bearing in mind recent travel restrictions, it would be easy to despair. We get the sense we are doing nothing. "Yet, looking back over 30 years of service, it is abundantly clear that the fruits of our service, combined with that of many other people and organisations, tend to come over the long haul.”
Referring to his ministry in northern Argentina, Andrew reflects that his struggle for indigenous land rights is only now yielding results after more than fifty years.
Again he writes: “This process, which began with initial land surveys conducted by South American Mission Society mission partners Bishop Pat Harris and Kevin Bewley and was often led by Anglican missionaries, has just recently yielded a high profile ruling by the Inter American Court of Human Rights. This puts significant pressure on the Argentine state to provide not only land titles but also ensure the ecological restitution of forests degraded by cattle and illegal lumber extraction.”
Here he refers to an adjudication made by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights only this April, a landmark judgment for the indigenous communities from the Rivadavia Department of the province of Salta, Argentina.
As such it is only one step in a long journey – but one with huge significance for it the judgment expands and clarifies the content of state obligations to protect indigenous peoples’ economic, social and cultural rights under Article 26 of the American Convention on Human Rights.
It was also fascinating to read of Andrew’s similar ministry in Honduras over 25 years ago. Again he writes: “We did what we could, but no land titles had been acquired by the time we left. Unbeknown to us, and some 23 years later, those claims we helped start resulted in the Honduran state ceding communal land titles to more than 14,000 square kilometres of jungle-covered territory in the region of La Moskitia.”
He concludes: “Some of our work even contributed to the creation of the Patuca National Park (3700 km2), something we did not consider even in our wildest dreams at the time!”
But that is how God works, even beyond our wildest dreams. My experience too.
As the apostle Paul concludes his teaching on the implications of the resurrection of Jesus: “With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.” (1 Corinthians 15: 58 Message translation)