Prepared to be different
Jo and I have been having a discussion recently about buying a second car. We'd realised that we were entering a season when we were going to need one or life was going to be quite complicated at times as we’d need to be in different places at the same time, places that weren't walkable, runnable or cycleable. So a week or so back we did something that I never thought would happen. We bought a Ford KA. In fact when my son saw it he was convinced it must be a courtesy car, telling his fiancée ‘Dad would never buy a car like that!’ It’s 11 years old and cost £800. We offered the guy selling it £750 but he refused that on the basis that it had a full tank of petrol! Actually, it's really great and we're blessed to have it. It’s just not very me. If there was room I'd even think about keeping a big hat and a false beard in the car so I could get about incognito.
I mention all this because although I feel slightly self conscious driving it in Norfolk, I shouldn't. There are still a few Ford KAs about and hundreds, if not thousands, of similar small cars - Hyundai i10s, Fiat 500s, Smart cars, etc etc. But if I was driving it in Dallas, then that would be quite a different story. I would stick out like a, well, a small car. Small is not a word that can be associated with motor vehicles in the Lone Star State. Every other vehicle is a truck with wheels the size of those black plastic covered straw bales that blight the beauty of the Norfolk landscape at harvest. All the cars here are trucks, or 4x4s, or just big. I first noticed this when I went out for a run around the neighbourhood were I am staying. I then reflected on it again when I went out for a walk. And I was very aware on these occasions that not only were the cars big but everyone was in them. No one walking the streets, no one running the sidewalks (I did come across a few fellow joggers running around White Rock Lake).
Calum kindly drove me 30 minutes to the Dr Pepper Arena for the Friday evening start of the Liberate Conference. 5,000 people from around the world gathered to celebrate 20 years of IJM. 20 years of working tirelessly in national centres and field offices around the world to set captives free, obtain liberty for the poor and oppressed, and the reform of justice systems to wipe out abuse and corruption. We heard the headlines - 45,000 people set free from slavery, whole countries such as Cambodia changing attitudes to the sexual exploitation of children and the work of the faithful in the Philippines reducing sex trafficking by up to 85%. We heard stories of individuals like David in Kenya who, as a 22 year old man was shot and left for dead by the police and then, when it was known he hadn't died, accused of crimes to try and protect the corrupt offices who had shot him. We heard from David himself who, saved from injustice by a newly formed IJM advocacy team in 2003, he has gone on to overcome his disability (his right hand was lost in the shooting) and the injustice to become an advocate in the Kenyan High Court, now fighting for justice for others. I could go on. So many stories of hope, of liberty, of love.
Calum had returned to his very pregnant wife Hillary, who is expecting their first child in a few weeks. ‘No problem’, I assured him, ‘I’ll make my own way back’. After all I was in an arena full of my brothers and sisters, children of the same Heavenly Father, advocates for the lost, rescuers of the helpless. How hard could it be? And if the worst came to the worst, Calum reassured me, I could always get an Uber. Only $40. $40! That's a tank of gas in a KA! I'd rather walk back!
The evening ended. Much celebration, worship, thanks and praise. And much still to do. For every success story everyone in the room was aware that millions more remain in slavery, under the boot of violence and oppression, even as we celebrate. But, as Louis Giglio had reminded us His arm is not to short to save, He is El Roi, the God how hears and what we do for the least of them we do for Him.
I stood at the bottom of an elevator accosting every man who looked like he might possibly be driving back to the city. Person after person politely and with brotherly affection, and all whilst appreciating my accent, told me that sadly they were not going my way. I prayed rather guiltily, as my problem was so small compared to all those whose need of help is far greater than mine. And having prayed I tried again and to my joy a young (relative to me!) guy called David, and his girlfriend Erica, set my mind at rest by warmly agreeing to give me lift.
We chatted much on the journey about our own journeys to faith and to justice. They were keen to help their whole church be a ‘justice’ church and so I shared about some of the things we have done to bring that about at STN. In particular I mentioned the great Connect Group material that Kerry and others have written and produced, 6 sessions rooting God’s heart for justice in scripture,highlighting the issues, and offering some ways to response. He asked if he could have access to these sessions. Well of course, I said, it’s the least I could do. You didn't just rescue me, you did it in a Ford Fiesta!