Guest post by Aaron Kenny, CBM Africa Team Leader
This past Tuesday morning, Erica and I sat in a circle of leaders from the Canadian Baptist Ministries’ program working with the Muslim majority communities in Kenya. The mood was sombre in the aftermath of the Easter Week massacre of Christian students in the Garissa University College by the terrorist group Al Shabbab. “Garissa is becoming a ghost town,” shared our colleague Geoffrey. “People are frightened. No one leaves their house unless they have to. Christians are walking away from their jobs and leaving the town. In my church, there are usually 500 people worshipping on Sunday, but our Easter service had less than 200.”
How could we blame them? We had evacuated our own CBM colleagues and their families from Garissa as police and military are shooting anyone seen on the streets after 6 pm. One innocent man was already shot and killed for being out after curfew, and the tensions are rising. The only grocery store closed and is boarded up; Businesses have been put up for sale; and buses to Nairobi are sold out. A mix of anger and fear pervade every conversation. As one local Christian asked our friends, “Has God forsaken us?”
This is not unlike the scene that we find in Luke 24, as after the Crucifixion the remaining disciples have barred themselves behind closed doors in fear and despair. Had God forsaken Jesus, had God forsaken them? Would they be hunted down next? Would they be silenced too?
While this was happening a follower of Jesus named Cleopas, and another unnamed disciple, journeyed to the town of Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32; Mark 16:12-13) when they met a fellow traveller whom they invite to join them. They talk along the road, and upon reaching the town invite the stranger to share a meal with them. In the midst of this act of hospitality, the stranger breaks bread and immediately they realize it is Jesus, and in that moment he vanishes before their eyes. They leave the table and run back the seven miles to Jerusalem where they find the eleven disciples in their room, and tell them of Jesus’ appearance: “They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.’” (Luke 24:34-35)
The disciples began talking about this and the tale told by Mary and the women who had claimed that they had met two angels at the tomb earlier that morning. The stories were fantastical. Perhaps they argued. How could any of this be true? But then in the midst of their debate Jesus appears among them. The disciples gasp, is this a ghost? But Jesus’s first words are a message of comfort — “Peace be with you.” (Luke 24:36) And his first actions are a series of demonstrations that this is no illusion, no trick of the mind, he shows them his wounds, he shares a piece of fish, and sits among them. At first the disciples are “terrified”, but soon their fear turns to joy.
Jesus explains how all that had happened fulfilled the scriptures, and out of the ashes of what seemed to be a tragic end, a new hope was resurrected: “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:47)
Isn’t it wonderful to know that while we may be hiding ourselves behind our attempts of comfort and safety, that Jesus is moving in the world and in the lives of others. In the graveyard, out on the road, and in the byway tavern over bread and wine Jesus appears. At first no one recognizes him, but in simple acts of kindness and hospitality Jesus breaks through. And even our locked doors and cynical doubt can’t keep him out. Jesus breaks through all of that.
Our attempts to close ourselves off from the world are a sign that we are human. But Jesus meets us in that place of cloistered consolation and draws us out back into the brokenness and the risks of this world.
Our friends Geoffrey returned to Garissa today. He is knocking on doors and visiting pastors who courageously stayed when others left. I can’t help but think that the call to “be my witnesses” would have been easier to follow if it did not begin with Jerusalem. The world outside our closed door may be the scariest mission field out there, because it is the one we know all to well. But that is where God’s mission begins, crossing the threshold that lies right before us. It is a step of faith that every follower of Jesus is called to make. But the good news is, when we move out into the world, we soon discover that Jesus is already there.