I have been asked to write down my ideas and experiences regarding the issue of a Christian’s response to social conflict. Here follows my experiences and perspective.
Nearly 35 years have gone by since the Lord put my wife Donna and I, with our family, into the middle of what some considered to be a war zone. It was the “troubles” of Northern Ireland. This was the first social conflict we experienced together.
After training in our seminary and then Hope College, where I received an elementary teaching degree, I taught my first year in Hope School, Grand Rapids, MI. In the middle of the next summer, I was asked to consider a call to help teach in a one–room Christian school in Ballyclare, NI. I taught the older children. Donna helped teach the younger children. Our school met in a very old Reformed Presbyterian church. We lived in the port city of Larne, where the dear saints lived and worshipped who would eventually become the origin of our sister church in NI, Covenant Presbyterian. It was a great blessing to be part of this group. We were there for one school year.
While living there, we saw firsthand the strong British military presence because of the attacks from the Irish Republican Army (the IRA), a terrorist group which rejected British rule. This conflict was understood to be between the Catholics and the Protestants.
We had to interact with both Catholic and Protestant neighbors around us. We recall bombings, soldiers, helicopters, and checkpoints. Although we felt very safe, we were always aware of the conflict. Thankfully, there is now peace, even though resentment and sad memories remain. Among many great memories was a visit from Prof. Hanko and Rev. Engelsma and their wives, one of the first of their many visits through the years.
We were blessed to return to Northern Ireland in March of 2019. We rejoice in long–lasting friendships and new friends. With the congregation, we felt a common love of the Reformed faith and the cause of Christ.
The second social conflict we have experienced is in the work that God has given to Georgetown PRC in our mission in India. Donna and I have visited there several times in the past six or seven years. We love and respect our fellow saints there in the Protestant Reformed Church of Vellore. Pastor Paulraj ministers to both a Tamil and an English congregation. They continue to grow spiritually in the Reformed faith, as well as in numbers. The pastor and his family help run an orphanage with 60 children.
Through experience and observation, we have come to some understanding of the difficulties they face in their witness in a hostile society ruled by those of the Hindu religion. Their love and care of the weakest neighbors, the orphans mostly abandoned by family and society, as well as their clear witness of the gospel, has brought many into the church and earned the respect of the authorities. As we represent Georgetown seeking to be a blessing and help to the saints there, we have received the great blessing of their love and friendship in Christ. Words can hardly express the deep love we share with each other because of our common faith.
The third social conflict we have experienced is the work we have been given among the broken souls in our own community through our involvement in the Holland Rescue Mission. Donna worked as a staff member there for 12 years and continues to volunteer. Representing First PRC of Holland, and now Georgetown, I have led chapels there for about 17 years. In addition, I have hired mostly ex-convicts in my landscaping business, many of whom were part of the Rescue Mission, as I seek to give them a second chance to become a contributing part of society. Together we have had many opportunities to witness in practical ways, prayers, and compassion. We have experienced the worst of human nature and the power of sin. But, more importantly, we have seen the power of Christ over sin, prejudice, addiction, and cruelty through the healing of God’s redeeming grace through the Spirit.
What are the lessons we have learned through these experiences of social conflict and injustice?
The first lesson is that we must never lose sight of our calling to a broken humanity. We must always bring the good news to lost and hurting sinners. Only the message of God’s mercy toward lost sinners is what matters. Our hearts must burn with the desire to bring that message to lost souls. Social solutions are no answer. Social activism is only a band-aid. Repentance and reconciliation with God, through Christ, is the only way of hope.
The second lesson is that our kindness toward others, even our enemies, as we seek their good is the most effective witness to those walking in sin and unbelief. Prejudice, self-righteous anger, and conflict bring shame to the cause of Christ. Gentle care and compassion while speaking the truth from the scriptures is the way God uses our witness.
It is a life of compassion that God will use to provide opportunities to witness. A desire to help others will drive us to grow in our faith so that we have the words we need to speak when we are called to witness. That enables us to say the right thing when needed. This knowledge, with a prayerful desire to reach lost sinners, is what enables us to seize the opportunities that we are given to witness to those most hurt by the cruelties of society around us. Does that desire drive you? We cannot help but have compassion for our neighbors even as we know how lost we are without the grace of our merciful God!
All of this is to say that our focus must not be to combat social evils. Instead, our desire should be to witness of the love and mercy of our God, who loved us poor sinners. Pray that God will give us a heart that desires truly to help those around us.
Let me know if I can help you in this calling in any way.