A letter from Jed Koball on home assignment from Peru
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”—Luke 21:25-27
The signs are so very clear. The snowcaps are melting. The water tables are decreasing. The pastures are dying. The animals are starving. The people are warring. The signs could not be any clearer.
This is the story I have shared time and time again, from congregation to congregation, presbytery to presbytery over these past several months of interpretation assignment in the U.S. It’s the story of increased social conflicts across Peru—conflicts rooted in environmental distress, irresponsibility, greed, contamination, global warming. It’s a story spelled out by the signs of a broken world—broken relations among humans, broken relations with the earth, a broken covenant with God. It’s the story of so many signs calling for our attention; calling for us to wake up; to take action; to change.
But these are not the signs we wait for. Indeed, in this season of Advent, we wait for something else, something new to confirm that being broken is not the way the world should be. We are waiting for a sign to tell us that things can be different, that they should be different. We are waiting for a sign of hope.
Amidst my travels around the U.S., I am fortunate (as are you!) that I don’t spend all my time speaking, preaching and teaching. I have been privileged to also hear the thoughtful and inspired words of many others. Just a few weeks ago I was blessed to hear a sermon preached by the Rev. Susan Verbrugge of the Blacksburg Presbyterian Church—the church where I was baptized as a young adult prior to serving as a YAV in the Philippines, the church that took me under care in my road to ordination as a teaching elder, and the church where my mother’s ashes have rested in peace for nearly 10 years now. I had been so very eager to introduce my wife Jenny to this special place and people in my life.
Susan preached that day from the book of Job; unbeknownst to her it was my mother’s favorite book of the Bible. She spoke at one point about Job’s “friends”—about how each of them approached him in his own distinct way certain of his wrongdoing, certain that he was to blame for the tragedies of his life. And then Susan said something I had longed to hear (and what I believe my mother had figured out on her own so many years ago); she said, “I wish those friends had said nothing. I wish they had kept quiet and just sat down with Job amidst the ashes of his life.”
I believe the hope we wait for, the hope we long for, rises from those ashes.
I believe as partners in mission, as companions in this gospel ministry that we share across borders and boundaries, as followers of Jesus Christ we are called to sit down amidst those ashes—the ashes of our friends, our neighbors, our strangers, our sisters and our brothers.
I believe we are called to sit, to wait, to listen, to be present, to accompany.
In my time in the U.S. I have seen the signs of great brokenness here as well. I have seen friendships torn apart in the heat of a presidential election; I have witnessed families struggle to recuperate after losing their homes to a hurricane; I have heard the voice of workers on strike, pleading for fair wages and decent benefits. And amidst this brokenness I have also seen the church at work. I have seen the church sit down alongside its people. I have seen the church stand side by side with those who have suffered, who have been hurt, who are scarred. And, I have seen them as they then rise from the ashes, refusing to be overcome. I have seen hope restored through the power of God’s grace made real through accompaniment.
Soon I will return to Peru. I will return with gratitude and with joy and with renewed vigor to sit and wait and be present. I will return to the despair of farmers whose soil no longer sustains their crops. I will return to the struggle of the urban poor who pay extraordinary sums for water that is not even potable. I will return to a mountain of ashes that is La Oroya, where women and children risk life with each breath. And I will listen for that voice within each of them that refuses to be drowned out. I will bear witness to the light within each one that will not be overcome by the darkness. And I will cry out to the world, Here is your sign! Here is your hope! And I will give thanks.... for them, for you, for this ministry we share, for God with us.
With profound gratitude,
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 23
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 31
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