A friend told me about an incident he experienced just before Christmas. He was awakened one morning at 3:30 a.m. in a cold sweat from a nightmare. It was Christmas morning, and his community was in flames. Unable to sleep, he turned on the news. Every channel was reporting the violence erupting around the world.
He realized his dream was a response to fear for his family’s safety. He said, “I’m scared for my community. The situation has become too painful. This has got to stop.” We sat together in silence for several minutes and then parted, saying, “See you soon.”
I can relate to my friend’s statement. Our communities, nation and world are burning with hatred. Hatred has fanned the flames of violence, racism and intolerance. The past year felt out of control and frightening for many people.
Yet, most tried to live into the spirit of peace that the Christ Event heralded on Dec. 25. I wonder what more I could have done to have been a messenger of God’s reconciling presence. There were several opportunities I missed that could have made a difference in my community.
As we reflect on 2015, many events in our church, community and nation have impacted the way we experience life. They have been good or bad, depending on what matters most to you.
But one fact stands above the rest: 2015 was a year of intolerance. Relationships were shattered. People drew lines in the sand that said, “This is my territory, and no one dare to enter!”
It feels like we are in a wilderness, seeking to find a way out of the mess that human sin has caused. Let me suggest how not to lose hope in the wilderness.
Keep focused on why you are an agent of reconciliation. It will give you strength to keep going because it’s the righteous thing to do. Many people are searching for a reconciled community. Remember that you aren’t alone. God is there with you. The wilderness is not the end to your story. It’s temporary — if you let it be. It begins a new journey that forges our future. The wilderness can be a bright spot. Our self-sufficiency is taken away, and we are forced to rely on our Creator and each other.
When we awoke on Jan. 1, 2016, another day was given to us to make a difference. The date and year have changed, but the fear, world conflict, injustice, violence and exclusion remain. We can’t pretend that what’s happening around us will soon dissipate. We can’t change international events. But we can work to create a justice-focused society that will impact those events.
Yes, 2015 was a year of intolerance, but 2016 can be the year of opportunity. What will it bring for you?
There are unjust situations that need an advocate. Our communities need a calming presence in the midst of fear. You can provide it. Challenge the status quo of complacency. There are peoples’ lives you can alter. Be a model of compassionate love if you can’t advocate.
It’s time to take a stand. It’s decision time. Today may be the most important day in your life. Having embraced and learned from life’s wilderness, proactively engage to bring hope where little exists. You may not cause a tsunami; but you can create a ripple effect that will cause people to say “Enough already!”
Our communities need healing. Are you available?
John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., is a regional pastor for Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference.