The story of Moses and the burning bush resonated this morning. It speaks to unsettled and unsettling times, the cries of the oppressed in Egypt were heard by God, it was time for Him to put His solution into action. He had Moses in mind, but how to get his attention? Flames will do it every time, so He got a bush burning. It was such a strange phenomenon that of course it drew the attention of the fugitive, Moses. Imagine his surprise, and I am sure fright, when a voice came at him out of the flames.
It is interesting how often voices bringing change originate in the flames of desperation, hurt, and hunger. As I listened and watched reports coming out of the land of my birth these past weeks, I found myself in dark territory, such as I have never experienced. My imagination kicked in.
A pall of smoke, the smell of teargas, the sound of intermittent gunshots. Fear prowled, but determination continued undaunted. It is time. We have had enough. We cannot take any more.
Over the years the same scenario has played out in the Kingdom of eSwatini. Protests. Met with force. Bullets and teargas instead of words. Police brutality. Maybe a death. At worst. At best extreme physical abuse. Then life settles back into its old routine. Except that it doesn’t and hasn’t: the scars don’t heal, the wounds fester until once again an incident triggers the pain and outrage breaks out once more.https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jul/08/eswatini-protests-we-are-fighting-a-liberation-struggle
I could feel all of it, I couldn’t stop crying. The desperation, the fear, the pain, the courage that allowed one young man, there is a picture that will be forever etched on my mind, to stand arms spread as if on a cross, facing a line of armed policeman marching towards him, the act of surrender Christ-like in his willingness to die.
Another posted on Facebook how he was setting off in the full knowledge and acceptance that that day could be his last on earth. Beside he posted the photograph of himself that he wanted used at his memorial. There have been more in similar vein.
One clip, which many found amusing, of a crowd surging into a mall, the sound of gunshot rings out and the crowd reappears in terrified flight had me on my face sobbing uncontrollably. As weird as the burning bush. From some place far in the dark I thought I heard the Lord saying: that is My grief, the tears I cry, how deeply I ache for my children.
Paul Coelho writing in ‘The Winner Stands Alone’ talks of each life representing a world: what might be achieved by that life; the impact of those achievements; that life’s longevity through its descendants. When we take a life, we kill a world. It is a powerful premise.
I hate violence. I hate intimidation. I recoil from cruelty, bullying. I hate anything that seeks to control and manipulate. We are surrounded by so much of it. The African way seems to want to control by force. Dialogue and negotiation are not a part of the equation.
I remember years ago having a conversation with a clerical friend who told me about a friend of his who went missing. They found him in the forest, up a tree with a rope trying to hang himself. Their response? “We beat him!”
I was stopped by traffic police in Mozambique and, against sage advice, argued my innocence with them. I was with two friends and the officer assumed two of us were both wives. When he eventually gave up the struggle, he said to my friend’s husband: “When you get home, beat this one.” We laughed, but he was serious – that is the way in this part of the world.
It was the way elsewhere, too, for many decades, history offers much evidence of this, – why did it stop? What happened to make communities, nations, tribes and governments realise that there was a better way? How did rights and empathy and compassion evolve? Why is much of Africa so far behind in this?
These questions hovered at the edge of the darkness that overwhelmed as events unfolded. A dear friend always reminds me that there are three truths: yours, mine, and then there is The Truth. Somehow we have to try to negotiate our way to the third and final truth. I try to focus on facts, the most glaring of which to come out of the mayhem that gripped Eswatini is that people armed with sticks, stones and matches were confronted by teargas, stun grenades, bullets, rubber and live.
I shuddered day after day at what might be unfolding behind the wall of silence erected by internet and communications being cut. This action did not save lives, as it has been claimed, how could it? it was meant to inculcate fear and insecurity. Isolation always does that. As breaks came at odd hours through that silent barricade, the videos and reports were all and more that I feared they would be. Figures of dead, injured, missing are quoted and disputed by both sides. The number of arrested only mentioned by one side.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OS8MVp3TbKk&t=450s
One death is too many. One world destroyed is unacceptable. More than that and you have a human tragedy. Why is that so obvious to some and not to others? 26, 49, 70, over 100 precious lives, created by God for His purposes, senselessly destroyed, because talk is deemed too expensive, too costly, rather take a life, it is cheaper. So many worlds lost, so much potential snuffed out.
As Christians we have cried out for years to our God to hear our pain and relieve us of our national sufferings, basing our cries on 2 Chronicles 7:14:
“If My people, who are called by My Name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I ill hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
The catch word for me is “Humble”. What is humility? For me it is the ability, the willingness to acknowledge when you have got it wrong. To be able to say “Sorry” and mean it.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QU-hWUIGe2k&t=50s
In a number of interviews I have watched I see the Eswatini authorities quickly correct the number of dead quoted, killed, but not once have they admitted that maybe, just maybe, they should have listened before they fired. If that is a step too far, surely some remorse, particularly from men who proclaim they are representative of the gospel of Christ, to show a little humanity by offering some thought, show some empathy to the families of those killed these past weeks. Not all were protesters, some were children, some mothers who simply were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
My heart breaks and bleeds at the senselessness of it all. Yes the protesters lost control, they admit as much. The damage is massive, the economic consequences dire. But for people who have nothing, the figures mentioned are meaningless. There is fault on both sides and I doubt we will ever know The Truth. But of one thing I am certain: nothing equates in value to the life of a person – God is very, very clear on this point.
My contention is that most of the destruction could have been avoided if only we, as humanity were as good at demonstrating God’s love in action, laying down our lives for our brothers, considering each better than ourselves, as we are the devil’s cruelty.
It is time to put down arms, to stop posturing, to find the humility and courage to listen to one another, respectfully and carefully.
And to say “Sorry. Sorry for your loss, sorry for your pain.”