Zambia Tragedy Compels Student to Rethink Gospel Mandate

Post a Comment » Written on May 20th, 2008     
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CHICAGO, IL (May 20, 2008) – The following was written by Matt Enquist, a student at North Park University, following a sermon series on spiritual disciplines presented as part of the College Life student worship services. Enquist’s reflection was specifically in response to a message on frugal living by Richard Johnson, director of University Ministries, and references a mission trip he was privileged to experience. It is presented by Covenant News Service for the encouragement of our readers.

By Matt Enquist

I went to Africa to see suffering. I went to Zambia last summer to witness the pain that I’d always just heard about and had every option to ignore. And I saw it in the pauper’s graveyard on a hillside outside of Ndola where men work full time with heavy pickaxes, digging graves for the procession of funerals that are conducted there every day.

It was hot, and our little North Park mission trip team sweated in the sun and the awkwardness of our presence. To my left, graves. To my right, graves. In front of and behind me, amongst the graves, women wailing, shrieks unlike anything I’d ever heard.

And the service began, with singing and a few words in Bemba, and we were invited to walk by the casket in a procession, saying our farewells to the boy before us, dead of malnutrition at the age of 10. A boy with a name and a bloated belly. A boy I had probably played with the day before. A boy, dead at age 10, because he hadn’t eaten in a month.

And I wept. I knelt and grabbed a handful of the red dirt and squeezed it as hard as I could, until it ran out between my fingertips and back to where it came from.

To be completely honest with you all, I’ve struggled to find hope since then. I have moments of faith when I realize that it’s obedience I’m called to; but most of the time, it’s a struggle to come to church, where we’ll sing songs about justice – Jesus feeding the hungry and clothing the naked.

And it’s a struggle to go back to my apartment after a college life service – walk past my guitars, my television set, my Xbox and my stocked refrigerator, and into my bedroom with my computer and my closet full of clothes – when I buried a child 11 months ago. I buried a child who starved to death.

I was joking with a friend the other day, saying that I almost gave up Jesus this week. You see, I’m addicted to Wikipedia and every now and then, I get caught up link-jumping around articles about televangelists and their private jets and their limousines and their megachurches and their book deals – about how you can be a better you in just 10 easy steps.

And I read about the “good news” that Jesus will bless you with money and a nice car and a beautiful house if you just believe in him. And did you know, Jesus said that he would set you free from your stricken condition and make you ever so happy and more comfortable than you could ever hope for?

And I get overwhelmed and I get exhausted and I get depressed. And if that’s the truth, I want nothing to do with Jesus and nothing to do with this “gospel.”

No, the gospel that I’m still interested in is one that I rarely hear much about. Until last week, when Rich spoke about the importance of living simply, I had never heard anyone advocate the discipline of frugality in church.

I went to Africa hoping to get messed up, hoping that I would see things that shook me and hit me harder than I knew. What’s come out of that is the desire to live simply.

I want to use the smallest amount of money possible on myself and give the rest away. I want to denounce the prosperity gospel, skip over the talk-about-justice gospel, and get right at the gospel of Jesus, the gospel where we actually think of ourselves last of all and the one where we do justice. It is the gospel where instead of just saying God will provide, we let God provide through us.

The Jesus gospel is meek and it is humble. It is poor in spirit and often poor in pocketbook (God forbid). It is the gospel of the oppressed and the gospel of the weak.

The gospel I still care about is the quiet gospel that seeks peace alone. It is the way of equality and community and honesty and transparency. It is a message of solidarity and love, where we find ourselves grasping red earth and weeping with the mother of a boy who never saw 11. And I just don’t see how I can follow this gospel when I still look at my riches as my own to use however I want. For I have no hope, if our faith is wealthy and comfortable.

I am humbled by my failure. Here, I am the epitome of shortcoming, of Pharisaical hypocrisy. I am daunted by just how far I have to go. I change slowly and I only hope God is as patient as I’m told.

I know so little about these things and I know so few people who are willing to think seriously about it with me. For this reason, I’m thankful for Rich’s message and for his friendship to me and for his presence on this campus. As terrifying as this is for me to say: please hold me accountable, because there is a humble kingdom to be a part of, and a humble king at its head.

Peace to you.

Editor’s note: Matt Enquist is part of a group of North Park students who on May 26 will embark on an 11-week cross-country bicycle trip to raise awareness and funds in support of two compassion ministries in Zambia. To read a previously published story on their adventure, please see Cross-Country Bike Trip.

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