The beauty of running a start-up is that you see the world through lenses that you ordinarily would not. One of our current struggle at LLA is where to hold our meetings! Each time we schedule a meeting and especially if it is for the wider group, my first headache is where we will hold the meeting. Our default meeting point has become church as many of our forums are on weekdays or on Saturday (and even this is never easy to get). As I have searched for a church that can host us, I have been heartbroken at how inaccessible the church has become (physically and otherwise). I will explain.
I am currently reading the book of Isaiah. In previous chapters, Isaiah had talked about how Babylon would attack and destroy Israelites. However, in Isaiah 14, God goes to great lengths to explain the pain that the Philistines and Babylonians would go through for destroying His people. The last verse of this chapter is very fitting given this background. It says, “What should we tell the Philistine Messengers? Tell them: “The Lord has built Jerusalem; its walls will give refuge to his oppressed people.”
In between all the chaos, God ensures that there is a place of solace for His people – the walls of Jerusalem will give refuge to God’s people.
Jerusalem is God’s City just as the Church is God’s dwelling place. So as I read this verse, I am convicted that just as the walls of Jerusalem exist to give refuge to the oppressed people, so do the walls of the Church. The Church exists to be a refuge for the oppressed people. The people can be oppressed by the modern-day Philistines and Babylonians, but they have a surety of refuge in God’s house!
But is that our reality?
With this belief in mind, each time I have walked into a church in search of a meeting point, I have wondered if we are really the solace God intended for us to be. The answer I have found is a resounding no!
Instead the church is this place that more often than not is so focused on Sunday services and everything else is a one-off activity. When did the church become a place with big gates for barriers and many security men who the oppressed cannot get past? When did the church become too comfortable to even allow the oppressed past the gates of the church? Do we exist for purposes of looking after the comfort of the happy-go lucky like me, or for the oppressed in the society?
Where does the widow who does not have a meal go to? Where do the homeless go to? Where do orphans go to? Where does the depressed person go to? Do the oppressed even think of the church as a possible place of solace? Capitalism has killed the church as we watched!
A couple of weeks ago I was talking to one of the leaders of a local university. The conversation landed on the impact that the commercialization of the education system has had on the quality of education. She shed light on the magnitude of the financial challenges that local public universities face, and how commercialization is the only option if universities are to survive given the current budget deficits.
As I listened to her, what I heard the prevalence of survival mentality, and survival mentality almost always has a way of taking any institution (and individuals) from their core mandate, hence the poor quality of education. Unfortunately this survival mentality is not only prevalent in our education institution, but the institution that’s the church as well.
One of the tragedies of modern church is that we are survivors! The church serves the well-off (yes if you do not sleep without a meal you are well-off), it serves the privileged (yes if you drive to church or even take a bus there you are privileged), but unfortunately the church is on survival mode, in some cases barely making ends meet.
Guilty as charged
A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a leader of a Ministry that I hold in high regard. We were discussing the possibility of using their venue for our meetings at a discounted rate, and our conversation got to the fact that the rent from the premises is what has kept this Ministry afloat. As I talked to this Ministry Leader, I had yet another story of Survival Mentality. And as I judged this mentality, this time I looked inward and realized that we had done the same thing; we had created a Lapid Leaders Program which only the privileged (and anyone who is in uni in Kenya is among the privileged) would access. The rationale behind this had been ensuring that the Program was sustainable, an objective that we must continue to guard jealously.
However, what about that guy in rural Kenya whose possibilities of ever accessing the Lapid Leaders Program are next to nil? What about that guy who got a D and could not make it to university, or the other one who got an A but could not afford to join uni? Who speaks into his life? Who mentors him? Who inspires him? Who equips him with the skills that will enable him to make a life of himself despite the odds being against him?
As I think through these questions, I have no easy answers. I just know what the Word of God says, the Church exists to provide refuge to the oppressed, period!
As we get on with life, as we build privileges around us, as God allows us to be the privileged in our society, we must never forget that our mandate is not to build a pretty church that hosts the privileged to a weekly dose of Powerful Words, we must ensure that the Church and church remains true to its mandate – to host the oppressed. We must also direct our giving to the church and free the church from the survival mentality. I have a renewed commitment to give towards the Church and its mission, even when it is not easy, I have a renewed commitment to financially free the church from the survival mentality, I have a responsibility to ensure that Lapid Leaders does not build elitism but that we become a place that finds solutions for the oppressed.
Lord, we have walked away from your calling for us, help us to come back to what you desire us to become, a REFUGE FOR THE OPPRESSED.