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Compassionate Community Work Stories

Most of us struggle to be the very best we can be. And for many of us, Jesus Christ of Nazareth represents the very best that we can be.

It might be too much for any of us to expect to be Christlike in terms of our ability. Very few, if any, could ever calm a storm, or raise the dead, like Christ did. But it’s not too much for any of us to expect to be more Christlike in terms of our sensibility. Now, more than ever, we need to learn to care for people like Christ did.

Fortunately, the path of Christlike compassion is one that others have trodden before us; and there are men and women in the past whose lives can serve as examples of the way we need to take in the future.

I don't think that it helps us to treat anyone as if they're saints. To hold people up as models of sinless perfection, when they're not, doesn't help them, or us. Haloes only serve to create delusions of grandeur that become reasons for discouragement when disillusionment eventually sets in.

The relevance of the example of people who have gone before us, depends on our remembering them and reconsidering them as they were -imperfect people in relentless pursuit of the practice of perfect compassion. 

I would like to acknowledge that these stories first saw the light of day in Target magazine, a publication of Tear Australia, a Christian aid agency.

In telling these stories I have tried to be accurate. But because they are sketches - outlines, not portraits - a lot of details are missing. To get a full picture you need to read their biographies and autobiographies yourself!

Dave Andrews,

Brisbane, Australia

 

Stories

Telemachus - ‘The Mad Monk’ (4thC)

John Chrysostom - ‘The Man With The Golden Mouth’ (347-407)

Wenceslaus - ‘The Good King’ (903-935)

Hugh – ‘The Hammer of Kings’ (1140-1200)

Francis of Assissi – ‘God’s Juggler’(1182-1226)

Elisabeth von Thuringia – ‘The Queen Who Served Beggars’ (1207-1231)

Menno Simons  - The Architect Of A Pacifist Church (1496-1561)

Nikolaus Ludwig – ‘The Count Who Cared’ (1700-1760)

John Wesley – ‘The Whole World Is My Parish’(1703-1791)

Charles Finney – ‘Christ’s Lawyer’ (1792-1875) 

Sojourner Truth  - ‘Ain’t I A Woman!’ (1797-1853)

Caroline Chisholm – ‘The Tireless Campaigner (1808-1877)

Florence Nightingale  -‘The Lady With The Lamp’(1820-1910)

Joseph De Vuester – ‘Damien The Leper’(1840-1899)  

Henri Dunant - “Founder Of The Red Cross’ (1828-1910)

Mary MacKillop –‘The Little Battler’ (1842-1909)

Pandita Ramabai – ‘The Learned One’(1858-1922)

Charles Freer Andrews – ‘Christ’s Faithful Apostle’ (1871-1940)

Helen Keller – ‘The Light In The Darkness’. (1880-1968) 

Toyohiko Kagawa –‘The Faithful Traitor’ (1888-1960)

Albert Luthuli – ‘The Apartheid Opponent’ (1898- 1967)  

Dorothy Day - The Woman Who Wanted To Change The World (1897-1980)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer –‘The Man Who Stood By God’ (1906-1945)

Simone Weil – ‘The Red Virgin’(1909-1943)

Helder Camara  -‘The Red Bishop’(1909-1999)

Clarence Jordan – ‘The Race-Mixing Communist.(1912-1969)

Jose Maria Anznediarretia – ‘The Coop Priest (1915-1976)

Desmond Tutu- ‘The Voice Of The Voiceless’ (1931-


Telemachus – ‘The Mad Monk.’

Telemachus was born sometime in the fourth century after the birth of Christ. He lived as a monk in a remote Asiatic Christian community, growing  vegetables and studying prayer. Then one day, in prayer, Telemachus sensed that the Spirit was encouraging him to leave his community and go to Rome, which at that time, was like the capital of the world, a big bustling metropolis at the centre of the greatest empire the world had ever known.

When Telemachus arrived in the so-called ‘heavenly city’, Rome was celebrating a recent victory of its powerful legions over the troublesome Goths, and so, for the holiday festival, a circus was being staged for the jubilant multitudes.

Telemachus didn’t know where he was going. But he allowed himself to be swept along by the crowds on their way to the Coliseum for the circus. When the crowds arrived at the Coliseum they began to get excited at the sound of the lions roaring their challenge and the gladiators preparing for combat.

Telemachus didn’t know what he was doing. But he followed the crowd into the Coliseum, where, to his horror, he was confronted with callous gut-wrenching carnage, as gladiators fought one another to the death, slaughtering their hapless foes, without pity, as a red-blooded entertainment for the bloodthirsty crowds.

It was all too much for Telemachus.              He felt that he had to do something. He simply couldn’t stand by idly and do nothing while human beings were being beheaded, disembowelled, and dismembered before his very eyes.

So Telemachus ran down the steps of the stands, leapt into the arena, and began darting, back and forth between the fighters, crying, ‘Forbear. Forbear. In the name of Christ I beg you to forbear.’

When the crowd saw the scrawny figure of the monk, running frantically about the arena, ducking and weaving between the combatants, to start with, they took Telemachus to be a bit of welcome comic relief, and roared their approval.

But as time went by, some of the people in the crowd began to hear what ‘the mad monk’ was saying, and, as more and more of the crowd came to realise that Telemachus was actually trying to spoil their bloody fun, they turned against him, hissing, and booing, and bellowing at the top of their voices for his quick despatch.

What happened next no one seems to know for sure. We do know that the gladiators lunged at the monk with thrusts from their swords; and we do know that the audience buried the monk under a hailstorm of stones. But we do not know for sure whether it was the gladiators, or the audience, that killed him. All that we know is that, when the furore was over, Telemachus lay dead in the middle of the arena.

Then a strange thing happened. In the silence that ensued, it was if the monk’s last cry echoed eerily around the arena once again: ‘Forbear. Forbear. In the name of Christ I beg you to forbear.’

Overcome with shame, the spectators departed, leaving the circus empty, never to return. Never again did spectators gather to watch people butcher each other at the Coliseum in Rome. All brutal gladiatorial battles were banned. And Telemachus was written into the pages of history as the hero who, single-handedly, brought the era of slaughter as entertainment to an end.

Probably, the declining power of the empire, resulting in diminishing numbers of recruits for gladiatorial schools, and decreasing amounts of funds available to stage gladiatorial contests, were also very significant factors in putting an end to the circus; but Telemachus will always be remembered as the man who, in the end, was actually prepared to put his body on the line to stop the slaughter.

 

John Chrysostom – ‘The Man with the Golden Mouth.’

He was called “Chrysostom” - the “Man With The Golden Mouth.” Born in Antioch in 347CE, from an early age John was trained in rhetoric by the orator Libanius, and, as a young man, showed great promise as a brilliant debater, with the prospect of a long and lucrative career ahead of him.

However, at the age of twenty-three, John decided to turn his back on sophistry, undertake baptism, and devote the next few years of his life, to living in the wilderness with a bunch of monks, and learning from them how he could live the way taught by Jesus -  the way of simplicity, empathy and compassion.

After six years, John felt it was time for him to return to Antioch. This time as “an a ambassador of another city...the city of the poor.” So he sought ordination, and was invited to be first a deacon, then a presbyter, in the church of Antioch. Where he quickly began to earn a reputation as a courageous advocate of the gospel, and fearless defender of the poor.

If there had ever been a time in John’s life when he had sought the favour of the rich, that time was well and truly over. Antioch was a wealthy city and it enraged him to think that though there was more than enough food to go round, the rich stuffed their faces while the poor went hungry . So John used his sermons as opportunities to give the people statistical information about the gross inequalities in the distribution of  wealth in Antioch, and publicly chastise the rich for their disregard for the poor.

John accused the rich of robbing the poor of their inheritance:

“Do not say, ‘I am spending what is mine; I am enjoying what is mine.’ In reality it is not your’s, but another’s.”

“Tell me how is it that you are rich? From whom did you receive your wealth? From (your) father? From (your) grandfather? By climbing this genealogical tree are you able to show the justice of this possession? Of course you cannot! Rather its root ha(s) come out of injustice!”

John begged the rich to repent of their neglect of the poor, saying:

“When you are weary of praying and do not receive, consider how often you have heard a poor man calling and have not listened to him....”

“It is not for stretching out your hands to heaven that you will be heard. Stretch out your hands, not to heaven, but to the poor!”

When he was nominated Patriarch of Constantinople in 397CE, John took his chance to put the church’s money where his mouth was. Vast amounts of money were spent on ransoming slaves, resettling the destitute and rehabilitating the disabled. Hospitals were constructed. Shelters provided. And even a hospice for lepers was built in a salubrious suburb - much to the consternation of the neighbours.                         

Needless to say, the ordinary people, whose silent suffering John faithfully articulated and addressed, year in and year out, loved the patriarch they called “Chrysostom”- “The Man With The Golden Mouth”. But because John, who constantly denounced the Empress Eudoxia for her outrageous extravagance, refused to desist, he was driven into exile - not once, but twice.

The first time the people rose up against the authorities and brought John back home in triumph. The second time, when the people rose up against the authorities, the authorities were waiting for them. John’s supporters were systematically cut to pieces. And John himself died when he collapsed as a result of a forced march in the heat of the day ordered by the soldiers charged with his final banishment. 


Wenceslas – ‘The Good King.’

Wenceslas, or Wenceslaus, as he was called, was born into the royal family of  Bohemia in the year 903. When his father died in 924, Wenceslaus, at the age of twenty-one, became Duke of  Bohemia.

The first thing Wenceslaus did when he became King was to put an end to the bloody war between Bohemia and Germany. Wenceslaus did this by taking the risk of personally seeking reconciliation with Emperor Henry of Germany himself . And the alliance Wenceslaus achieved finally brought some peace to his beloved Bohemia.

Later, when the peace broke down, and fighting flared up again along the borders, to save his soldiers from being slaughtered by a much bigger and much better equipped army, the King offered to settle the matter by fighting a duel, one on one, with a powerful opposing General.

As they prepared for mortal combat, apparently the General found himself struck down by a strange attack of paralysis and he was forced to concede victory in the contest to the King. Typically, Wenceslaus forgave the enemy chief, and spared his life on the condition that he withdraw all his forces from Bohemian soil immediately.

During the period of peace that ensued, Wenceslaus redirected the energy and resources usually committed to the war effort, to reconstruct the infrastructure of the country.

He sought to reform the legal system and brought about many measures to establish social justice. He instituted freedom of religion.  He set prisoners free who were unfairly imprisoned. He abolished torture as a form of punishment. And he tore down the gallows that dotted the countryside laden with the corpses of criminals.

At the same time Wenceslaus personally extended his hospitality to strangers, provided rations for the poor, and guaranteed protection for the widows and orphans in his care. 

It’s hardly surprising that the people loved their “Good King Wenceslas”.

But the aristocracy, whose arbitrary authority he threatened, hated him with a vengeance. And they took their vengeance out on him, in 935, when they assassinated Wenceslas, at the age of thirty-two, in an ambush organised by the nobles, and led by his brother, Bolislaw.

As he lay dying, Wenceslas said to Bolislaw: “May God forgive you.”  

 

                                    GOOD KING WENCESLAS

           

            Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of  Stephan,

                        When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.

            Brightly shone the moon that night, though the frost was cruel,

                        When a poor man came in sight, gathering winter fuel.

 

            “Hither Page, and stand by me. If thou knowest, telling,

                        Yonder peasant, who is he, where and what his dwelling?”

            “Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain,

                        Right against the forest fence, by St. Agnes’ fountain.”

 

            “Bring me flesh and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither.

                        Thou and I shall see him dine, when we bear them hither.”

            Page and Monarch, forth they went, forth they went together,

                        Through the rude wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.

 

            “Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind grows stronger.

                        Fails my heart. I know not how. I can go no longer.”

            “Mark my footsteps good, my Page. Tread thou in them boldly.

                        Thou shalt feel the winter’s rage, freeze thy blood less coldly.”

 

            In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted.

                        Heat was in the very sod, which the saint had printed.

            Therefore faithful folk be sure, wealth or rank possessing,

                        Ye who now would bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

 

 

Hugh – ‘The Hammer of Kings.’

Hugh, though regarded as English saint, was actually born in France, in 1140. The family that he came from had a reputation for compassion. Anne, his mother, used to tend to the needs of the lepers in her community, literally washing the feet of those whom no one else even wanted to touch.

Not surprisingly, growing up under the guidance of his mother, Hugh began to develop a very practical, compassionate spirituality himself.

When he was old enough, Hugh decided to join the Carthusians. The Carthusians were part of a monastic reform movement that was seeking to get back to the essentials of the gospel. In the Carthusian monastery at Grande Chartreuse, Hugh was appointed the procurator, entrusted with the care of the guests, and as such, it was his responsibility to take care of the poor, who flocked to the monastery for help.  

Hugh’s reputation as a hardworking helper of the poor began to spread far and wide beyond the borders of his native France. And it wasn’t too long before Henry 11 invited Hugh to come to England to set up a monastery in Somerset. Hugh said he would be more than happy to comply with Henry’s request; but only on the condition that the King would compensate the peasants, whose land he had apparently already compulsorily acquired for the project!

In 1186, the popular Prior was appointed Bishop of Lincoln, a diocese that stretched from the Humber River in the north to the Thames River in the south. Hugh arrived in Lincoln, accompanied by a splendid cavalcade of canons and knights, dressed as a simple monk, riding astride a mule. It is said he walked barefoot to the Cathedral, and, following his investiture, threw a great party for the poor of the city, ensuring them, that from then on, that one third of all episcopal revenues would be set aside for their welfare.

Hugh began to reorganise the diocese. Rebuilding the Cathedral, that had been damaged in an earthquake; and founding a School Of Theology at the Cathedral, that became a famous centre of religious learning.

Hugh not only visited the poor but also invited them to his home. Like his mother before him, he would wash them, kiss them, and send them on their way with a gift. Hugh didn’t claim to be able to heal them. Rather, he said, “It is my soul that the leper heals with a kiss!”

When Henry died, Richard became King of England, and the ‘Lion Heart’ embarked on a series of Crusades. During the Crusades violence against the Jews erupted all over England.

Hugh acted quickly to intervene on behalf of the Jews. He not only offered them refuge in the Cathedral; but also personally stood between them, and the armed mobs that were out to get them, to protect them! Thus Hugh saved the Jews of Lincoln, from the terrible massacre that engulfed the Jews of York!

Hugh, unlike most clergy, refused to support the King’s foreign military adventures in any way, and refused to pay any war taxes - the first recorded case of conscientious tax objection in history!

The King threatened to confiscate the Church’s property. And the Bishop threatened to excommunicate anyone who tried. The King was furious. But the Bishop held firm. Leading John of Leicester to call Hugh of Lincoln ‘The Hammer Of Kings!’

Hugh died on 16th of November in the year 1200.

On his deathbed he declared he never possessed anything; but lest the Treasury confiscate the property he had at his disposal, Hugh said “I leave everything I appear to possess to our Lord Jesus Christ in the person of the poor”.


Francis of Assisi – ‘God’s Juggler.’

Giovanni was born in Italy in 1182 to a French mother, Pica, and Italian father, Pietro. His father changed his name to Francesco after a trip to France. And the 'little Frenchman' was brought up on a romantic French ballads sung by travelling troubadours. The son of a wealthy merchant, Francesco Bernadone led a cavalier life in his youth, and was considered 'the life of the party' by his contemporaries in Assisi. Until, in his early twenties, he left home to fight in a battle against a neighbouring town, was captured and incarcerated.

This time was to prove a turning point for Francesco. During the year in prison, and the year in convalescence, following his release, Francesco thought long and hard about his life. He had intended to become to become a great knight. But that seemed a rather foolish dream in the light of the harsh reality of war.

One day Francesco was riding along a road when he simply stopped in his tracks. It was as if he could not carry on any more as he was. He dismounted, undressed, then, bit by bit, took everything that he had with him - including his horse and his armour - and gave it all away. His father became exasperated with Francesco, over his prodigality with the family's property, and organised a meeting with the local bishop to pull him into line. But it backfired big time.

Francesco responded to his father's complaints by renouncing his family, and his family's property, altogether. He gave back everything his family had given him. Including the clothes that he was wearing at the time. So that Francesco stood there naked as the day that he was born. Then he turned to his father and said: 'Until now I have called you father, but from now on I can say without reserve, Our Father who is in Heaven-He is all my wealth-I place my confidence in Him.”

In order to consider his future, Francesco decided to spend some time living as a hermit beside an old church in San Damiano. While there Francesco heard a voice calling him, saying, 'Rebuild my church.' Francesco responded to the call by repairing the ruins of the church in San Damiano, then set about the task of reforming the life of the church throughout Italy.

Francesco approached the task of renewal - not as a legislator - but as a juggler! He had been brought up with troubadours coming to his house, singing romantic ballads that stirred the heart; and he aspired to be like one of the jugglers who accompanied the troubadours, drawing the crowds for the musicians, so they could listen to the music of the heart that they played. As a 'Juggler for God', Francesco wanted to travel from town to town, like an entertainer, without a penny to his name, introducing people to, the 'true joy of living'.

Francesco set about his task with such enthusiasm that people all over the place wanted to join his movement. And he pointed the hundreds and thousands who did, to the Sermon on the Mount, as the simple gospel imperative for them to flesh out in their lives. For he wanted - more than anything else - for them to model the life of Jesus in the world.

Considering his views, it is quite remarkable that Francesco did not rage against the pompous opulence of medieval society. Instead, ever the romantic, Francesco tried to woo the people away from their preoccupation with the trappings of power, and get them to fall in love with 'Brother Sun' and 'Sister Moon' - and the lovely 'Lady Poverty'.  Poverty was not an end in itself. But, as far as Francesco was concerned, people needed to be willing to joyfully embrace poverty in order to follow the way of Jesus. How else, he asked, would they be free to share Jesus' love with the world?

In 1210 Francesco obtained approval from Pope Innocent III for a simple rule dedicated to 'apostolic poverty'. He called the order the 'Friars Minor'. And this band of 'Little Brothers' followed their founder in caring for the poor. In 1212 Clare - a wealthy friend of Francesco's from Assisi; who, like Francesco, had been converted, and had given all her wealth to the poor - started a sister order to the brothers, that was to become known as 'the Poor Clares'.      

At this time most Christians understood mission in terms of the crusades - to slaughter as many Muslims as they could - in the name of the Lord. Francesco not only refused to take up weapons himself, he actually travelled to Egypt where the crusaders were fighting, and begged them to lay down their swords. When they would not listen to him, Francesco crossed the lines at Damietta, and went to talk with the 'enemy' sultan, Mele-el-Khamil, to tell him about the 'Prince of Peace', and to try to broker a peace deal 'in His name'.

While Francesco was overseas disputes arose among the Friars. A Vicar-General was appointed to take control of the order, and a revised set of organizational rules were instituted, which were to change the character of the movement. Holding on to his original calling Francesco withdrew from leadership and retired to a hermitage on Monte Alvernia - where he died in1226.

Elisabeth –‘The Queen Who Served Beggars’.

Elisabeth was born in 1207, probably at Pressburg, in Thuringia. She was the daughter of King Andrew II and Queen Gertrude of Hungary. King Andrew II - by all reports - was a bad king, whose misrule led his nobles to a revolt against him. They eventually managed to get the King to sign an edict called the Golden Bull - that was Hungary 's Magna Carta - a charter of rights and responsibilities.

Queen Gertrude was apparently a good woman who, unfortunately, got implicated in the politics of the day, and was assassinated by the nobles in 1213, when Elisabeth was just seven years old. But before she died, Gertrude managed to do two things that were to shape the rest of her daughter's life.

The first thing was to share her faith with her daughter. Gertrude was a very devout Christian, and she encouraged Elisabeth to pray regularly from a very young age. The second thing was to arrange her daughter's marriage. By the age of two, according to the custom of the time, Elisabeth was betrothed to the eldest son of a local Landgrave.  When the eldest son - Hermann - died, she was betrothed to the second eldest - Ludwig.

Ludwig married Elisabeth in 1221. When he was twenty-one and she was fourteen. Ludwig proposed that they take 'Piety, Chastity, and Justice' as their family motto.  They committed themselves as a couple to pray regularly, practice hospitality, and rule justly.

In the same year Ludwig and Elisabeth were married, the Franciscans set up their first base in Germany. And Brother Rodeger, one of the first Germans to become a Franciscan, became Elisabeth's spiritual mentor. He encouraged her to live out the Franciscan ideals - of kindness and service -as much as she could.

Elisabeth was very rich, and had brought great wealth a dowry to her marriage with Ludwig. In the early days she had so many castles she was called 'Elisabeth of Many Castles'. But as time went by this very wealthy woman became increasingly concerned for the poor. And she began to ride around the countryside, assessing the plight of the impoverished among her people.

Elisabeth couldn't see the need and not respond to it. So she began distributing alms all over kingdom. Even giving away the robes of state and the ornaments of office. Once she started giving, Elisabeth couldn't stop at charity. And she looked for ways to give herself. She built a twenty-eight-bed hospital for the poor in Wartburg, and visited the patients daily herself. And she helped feed nine hundred hungry people daily herself.

Ludwig and Elisabeth lived such exemplary lives that people started to refer to them as 'St Ludwig' and 'St Elisabeth'. They were not only exemplary, they were also happy and had three children together - Hermann, Sophia, and Gertrude. 

In 1227 Elisabeth's beloved husband, Ludwig IV, died. And the twenty-year-old Elisabeth was inconsolable. 'The world and all its joys is now dead to me,' she cried. The next year Elisabeth sent her children to stay with her aunt, formally 'renounced the world', gave away her inheritance, and joined the Franciscans, as the first tertiary in Hungary.

The queen now dedicated herself to serving beggars. She provided them with clothes and shoes - and agricultural tools. She opened the first orphanage in Eastern Europe for destitute children. And, at the hospice she established in Marburg, she tended to the needs of dying lepers with her own hands - washing the sick and burying the dead.

On November 17th 1231, Elisabeth died. Worn out as much by the lack of support that she got from her spiritual director, as from her implacable service to the poor. But, at the age of twenty-four, Elisabeth died one of the most influential activists in thirteenth century Europe.

The political philosopher, John Ralston Saul, says of Elisabeth, 'She and Francis of Assisi were the most famous activists (of their day). To a great extent they laid out the modern democratic model of inclusion - an important step towards egalitarianism. Elisabeth used her position, as a member of the ruling class, to put the ideas into action.'

'Like many others, she created a hospice. But unlike others, she went beyond pity and charity. She washed the sick and buried the dead. It is hard to imagine now the public impact of a royal figure washing the bodies of the homeless dead. Imagine the (President, Prime Minister - or the Governor General for that matter) not visiting or holding hands with street people, but (actually) washing their bodies for burial.' 'Elisabeth …took the elements of personal responsibility, set out tantalisingly in the New Testament, and imagined a social model which …would change our societies.'


Menno Simons - The Architect of A Pacifist Church

Menno Simons was born in 1496 in the small town of Witmarsum in the northern Netherlands. His family were poor peasants – probably dairy farmers. They sent young Menno to school at a local monastery, where he learned Latin and was taught a bit about the church and the church fathers. At the age of 15, Menno entered the novitiate and at 20 became a deacon in the Catholic church.

Menno was appointed as a priest in his father's village of Pingjum. To begin with, he accepted the church traditions he was brought up in. But in 1531, the church-sanctioned execution of Sicke Freeriks Snijder – whom Menno regarded as “a god fearing pious hero” – caused Menno to have serious doubts. He started read-ing the Bible for himself and thinking critically about church traditions in the light of the scriptures.

Menno was not alone in his struggle with the church. The time was rife with ecclesiastical disillusionment and replete with alternative experiments. Menno found himself caught in the middle of the fights between fanatical reformers on the one hand and reactionary conservatives on the other. And he was critical of both.

Menno was transferred to Witmarsum, where he came into direct contact with “Ana-baptists” - those who have been “baptised again”. They attacked tradition, called for conversion, and advocated adult baptism as a sign of being “truly born again of the spirit”. Menno was attracted to their zeal, but appalled by their intolerance.

While Menno kept his distance, his brother Pieter joined the Anabaptists. This heightened Menno's ambivalence towards the movement. In 1535, when Pieter was among a group of Anabaptists killed for their beliefs, Menno's agony of soul reached fever pitch. What was he going to do? Menno felt he could no longer be a part of a church which had murdered his brother. But he felt loathe to join the Anabaptists, because he was revolted by the reign of terror they'd employed to build their 'New Jerusalem' in Münster.

In the summer of 1535, the armies of Bishop von Waldock stormed the city of Münster, destroyed the 'New Jerusalem' community, and killed their leader Jan van Leyden. Persecution swept through Europe like a plague, but Menno felt it was the perfect time for him to publicly throw in his lot with his Anabaptist brethren. Where others could only see risk, Menno saw the opportunity. With their hardcore leaders dead and their militant ideas discredited, Menno realized there was an unprecedented chance to turn the movement into a tough-minded but tender-hearted counter-culture. Obbe Philips – a pacifist Anabaptist leader – ordained Menno as a pastor, and charged him with this task.

For the next three years, Menno travelled continually, visiting members of the “scattered and dispirited brotherhood”. For Menno, Christ was the cornerstone of the “true church”, out of which he wanted to build his coalition of radical, voluntary, non-violent communities of disciples, committed to mutual help and peace-making. Menno wrote in his Reply to False Accusations: “We who knew no peace, are called to be a church of peace. The Prince of Peace is Jesus Christ. True Christians do not know vengeance. They are children of peace. Their hearts overflow with peace. Their mouths speak peace, and they walk in the way of peace.” Thus, out of the violence and counter-violence of Münster, the famous Mennist peace church was born.

Their commitment to peace did not end their persecution. The church treated anyone who would not submit to their authority as heretics, and the state treated anyone who refused to take up arms for them against others as insurrectionists. So the Mennonites were massacred by the allied forces of the church and the state.  A price of 500 guilders was placed on his head, so Menno was forced to be constantly on the move to escape pursuit. Anyone who provided him with hospitality risked arrest. Menno said, “We could not find in all the countries a cabin in which (we) could be put up safely for even half a year.”

On 31 January 1561, Menno Simons died in Schleswig-Holstein. He was survived not only by the family he and his wife Gertrude had raised, but also the pacifist faith communities they had nurtured. And the Mennist Anabaptists, or Mennonites as they became known, have been a faithful witness to the vital role the church can play – through mutual help and peace making – for nearly five hundred years.

Nikolaus Ludwig – ‘The Count Who Cared.’

Nikolaus Ludwig, Count of Zinzendorf, was born in Dresden in 1700. His father, a cabinet minister in Saxony, died when Nikolaus was only six weeks old. And he was brought up by is grandmother who was a Pietist.  The Pietist movement emphasized a religion of the "heart." So Nikolaus grew up with a passionate spirituality. At the age of ten Nikolaus was sent to grammar school. There Nikolaus met up with five other boys who were as devout as he was. Together they founded 'The Order Of The Grain Of Mustard Seed', pledging themselves to 'love the whole human family'.

Nikolaus went on to study law at Wittenberg, and after graduating joined the civil service. Before settling down, he travelled round Europe. In an art gallery in Düsseldorf, Nikolaus found himself face to face with a painting by Feti of Jesus before Pilate, wearing a crown of thorns. The inscription read. 'All this I did for you. What are you doing for me?' In answer to the question, Nikolaus decided he needed to leave the civil service, and find the work Christ wanted him to do.  

In 1722, Nikolaus was approached by some Moravian refugees with a request to settle on his lands. He granted their request, and a small band crossed the to settle in a town they called Herrnhut, or "the Lord's Watch." Nikolaus was intrigued by the story of these Moravian 'Unitas Fratrum', and studied the history of the devout 'United Brethren'. As it turned out the 'United Brethren' were not very 'united' at the time, and in fact were going through a period of serious communal discord. So in 1727 Nikolaus decided to work full time with the troubled Moravian community. Eventually, Nikolaus was able to help resolve the conflicts, and broker the "Brotherly Agreement' - a document that set out the guidelines for Christian conduct - that became the framework for life at Herrnhut.

Following the resolution of the conflict, the community experienced a period of incredible renewal, described by some observers as the 'Moravian Pentecost'. As a result of this renascence there was an increased interest in love feasts, songfests, prayer and mission. They established a twenty-four hour a day prayer watch that continued for the next hundred years! And they developed a mission movement that encircled the world!

In 1731, while attending the coronation of Christian VI in Copenhagen, Nikolaus met Anthony Ulrich, a converted slave from the West Indies. Nikolaus brought Anthony back with him to Herrnhut, and encouraged him to tell everybody his story.  And the tale of his people's plight so moved the Moravians, that two young men, Leonard Dober and David Nitchmann, were sent to live among the slaves and share the gospel.

In 1732, the Moravians sent their first mission to the slaves on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. And, in 1733, they sent their second mission to Greenland. Then, in 1734, they sent third mission to St. Croix, also in the Virgin Islands. Ten people in the third mission died in the first year; but others volunteered to take their place. The Moravians sent missions to Surinam (1735), South Africa (1737), the North American Indians (1740), Jamaica (1754), and Antigua (1756). Between 1732 and 1760, 226 Moravians went to ten different far-flung countries, doing more mission work in thirty years than Anglicans and Protestants had done during the two preceding centuries.

It is also important to remember that John and Charles Wesley, were converted through their association with Moravians, and went on to found the Methodist Church.

In 1737 Nikolaus was elected as bishop to guide the movement. He travelled widely to encourage the movement's missions, which expanded rapidly to embrace America, Russia, Africa, and Asia. Wherever he went, Nikolaus encouraged Christian groups to cooperate with one another.  And, history seems to suggest, that it was Nikolaus who first advocated evangelical 'ecumenism' as we know it today. In 1760 Nikolaus died at the age of sixty, having done his best for fifty years to be true to the pledge he made as a child at the age of ten - to 'love the whole human family'!

 

John Wesley – ‘The Whole World Is My Parish.’

John Wesley was born into a Church Rectory in Lincolnshire, England in1703. He was born into a robust extended Christian family environment, which was animated by rigorous devotion and vigorous debate. His grandparents consistently advocated a nonconformist view of faith. And, though his father was a bit of a traditionalist, it was his mother, who promoted the evangelical cause with a passion, who managed to shape the young John Wesley the most.

After school, John, and his younger brother Charles, went to Oxford University together, where they started, of all things, a group called “The Holy Club”.

In 1737 the Wesley brothers travelled to America on behalf of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. On the way the Wesleys met some Moravian Christians. And, by all accounts, it was a meeting made in heaven.

For, it was through the Moravians, that John was introduced to a deeper, more personal, more profound experience of the grace of God than he had ever had before. His heart was “strangely warmed” and his ministry was “totally transformed” forever.   

Over the next fifty years John rode over two hundred and fifty thousand miles on horseback, travelling the length and breadth of Britain, to preach his gospel of amazing grace to rich and poor alike.   

At daybreak you would often find John preaching in the fields to the labourers on their way to work. While at midday you would find him making his way to the village square to preach to the crowds there thronging round the merchants in the marketplace. And at the end of the day you would often find John meeting with people who had responded to his preaching, and who wanted him to preach some more.

All in all he is said to have preached some fifty thousand sermons!

John’s message was the simple proclamation of the love of God revealed to us in Jesus. John pleaded with people to open their hearts to the Spirit of Jesus, so that He could fill their lives with His love to overflowing. 

John expected that as people’s lives were filled with the Spirit that they would spontaneously get involved with causes that were close to the Spirit’s heart.

John particularly hoped people would join him in sharing the good news of God’s love with the destitute, who felt that God had abandoned them.

‘I have only one point of view,’ he said, ‘to promote as far as I am able, vital practical religion, and (so) preserve the life of God in the soul of humanity. 

In1742 John set up ‘class meetings’ for his converts, to equip them to carry out their great commission. Each meeting had a leader and a dozen members.

In each meeting each member was expected to give an ongoing account of the progress they were making in seeking to make the two great commandments - one: to love God; and two: to love their neighbour; - a reality in their lives. 

It was a stroke of genius, the ‘method’ of the ‘Methodists’, and it unleashed what was referred to as ‘the unspeakable usefulness’ of a mass movement made up of a large dynamic network of small discipleship groups.

Consequently by the end of the 1700s these ‘Methodists’ were ‘quite simply the most disciplined, cohesive, and self-conscious body of people in England’.        

They campaigned against the slave trade; opened up clinics, dispensed medicines, and gave services freely to those in need; set up revolving loan funds for the poor; worked to solve the problem of unemployment; and agitated for prison, liquor, and labour reform.            

John was rejected by the powerful figures of both church and state whom he denounced as a ‘generation of triflers’, but the common people embraced him as one of their own.

He died in London on March 2, 1791.


Caroline Chisholm – ‘The Tireless Campaigner.’

Caroline was born into a wealthy rural English family in 1808. Her father brought his daughter up to stand by what she believed in. And her mother brought her daughter up to serve the poor. Caroline's father died when she was young, and her family was suddenly plunged into desperate poverty. It was one thing for her to care for the poor; it was another thing for her to be poor herself. It was an experience Caroline never forgot. 

When she reached a marriageable age, Caroline met Archibald Chisholm. He was an English Officer in the Indian Army. Wen she got the chance to talk with him, Caroline found Archy had substance as well as style. So they decided to marry. The Chisholms' was anything but a traditional marriage. They decided their marriage would be 'an equal partnership', as opposed to the 'superior-subordinate relationships', which were more common at the time.

After their wedding Archy was recalled to India; and Caroline was to follow him later to Madras. Caroline loathed the petty gossip that filled the empty lives of the burri memsahibs. She immediately began to pray that God would show her a way to respond to the plight of the hapless child prostitutes that swarmed around the outskirts of the garrison town. Caroline eventually decided that the only way she could save the poor kids from prostitution - or marriages, so degrading, that were almost as bad - was to start a school, which could teach them marketable skills. With Archy's support, Caroline set up a modern school in Madras - teaching not only reading and writing, but also cooking, cleaning, budgeting, bookkeeping, and even nursing, to street kids.

Some years later, due to ill health, Archy and Caroline applied to take long service leave in Australia. So they arrived in Sydney with their two children in 1938, and settled into a comfortable house in Windsor. After a couple of years Archy had to go back to his regiment; but they decided it was best for Caroline and the children to stay on at their new home in New South Wales.

Caroline became convinced she needed to set the idea of a school aside for a while, and get involved with the poor immigrant women - penniless widows and orphaned girls- who slept in tents in the inner city. Many of the women that Caroline met told tragic tales of fleeing destitution in England by emigrating to Australia; only to fall into the hands of abusive crews on the ships, and unscrupulous brothel owners once the ships docked in Sydney. Upon hearing these stories, Caroline made it her business to meet every ship as it came in and take these women into her own home at Windsor. Then, when there were too many, she persuaded the wife of Governor Gipps to get her husband to make the old barracks available to her. And she turned the rat-infested shed into an emergency shelter accommodating more than a hundred women at one time.

Caroline then accompanied the residents around town in their search for work. When she couldn't find enough jobs around Sydney she set up voluntary committees all around New South Wales to act as employment agencies for her. And she personally took  her charges from Moreton Bay to Port Macquarie to secure proper employment for them. In the process, Caroline secured employment for over fourteen thousand women. And to protect the rights of these women, Caroline introduced employment contracts, in triplicate, to ensure the provision of good basic conditions in their place of employment.

When Archy returned in 1845, Caroline talked to him about the need to take her campaign to Britain, in order to lobby the British Government directly. Archy agreed to return with Caroline to England to take up the fight there. Back in England Caroline met with the Secretary of State, the Home Secretary, and the Land and Emigration Commissioners, providing them with detailed reports on human rights abuses, and presenting them with specific policy options which they could adopt to address these issues.

While waiting for these reforms to be adopted, Caroline went ahead and organised a society to aid migrants, independent of, but in cooperation with the British Government. The central committee of the society she organized, under the high-profile presidency of the Earl of Shaftesbury, with the public support of Charles Dickens, set up a scheme to help poor migrants with everything from safe travel to personal loans. Caroline did all she could to expedite family reunions for ex-convicts, who were separated from their wives and children for years. She lobbied for free passage for these reunions, and for land reform to enable these families to get small farms of their own.

Back in Australia Caroline continued her relentless campaign through the press and the parliament for women's entitlements.

By 1866 the Chisholms had exhausted their considerable intellectual, emotional and physical resources. When they retired to England they were worn out. In 1877 Caroline died; as did Archy a few months later.

Joseph De Veuster – ‘Damien The Leper.’

On January 3 1840 a boy was born into a family of farmers at Tremeloo, Belgium.  They called their son 'Joseph' - Joseph De Veuster. His mother was very religious and she encouraged hers son go to the College of Braine-le-Comte and join the Fathers of the Sacred Hearts. In 1860, when 'Joseph' entered the order, he took the name 'Damien'.

In 1864 Damien volunteered to go as a missionary to Hawaii. He was ordained in Honolulu, and spent the next nine years evangelising the people of Puno and Kohala. During that time nearly eight hundred people were diagnosed as lepers, rounded up under the orders of the Board of Health - which the locals called the 'Board of Death' - and banished to the island of Molokai - where they were left to die. Damien wrote 'many Christians at Kohala also had to go to Molokai. Eight years among Christians you love and love you have tied powerful bonds. I can only attribute to God an undeniable feeling that soon I shall join them.' In May 1873 Damien was granted his request to go Molokai. But the church sent him with little more than their blessing. He took no resources - apart from his breviary - to start his mission in the Kalawao Leper Colony.

When Damien arrived he found a dilapidated church in a demoralised community. There was no place for him to stay. So he camped under a pandanus tree near the church. A large rock beside the tree served as his desk and dining table. Damien couldn't help but hear the wracking coughs of the chronically ill people all around him during the night. At daybreak he set out to visit them, and it was as if he'd opened a door to a parallel universe and stepped into world 'scarcely less dreadful than hell itself'.

He came face to face with men and women whose bodies were ravaged by the coracious bacillus of leprosy. In one of his first visits he came across a young girl whose whole side of her body had been eaten away by worms. He found the stench of rotting flesh the hardest part to cope with. 'Many a time' he wrote, 'I have been obliged to remain outside to breathe fresh air. To counteract the bad smell I use(d) tobacco. The smell of the pipe preserved me from the odour of our lepers.'

Damien was determined to do all he could to demonstrate God's love for the lepers. He made their beds, tidied their rooms, and rebuilt their huts. He washed their bodies, bandaged their wounds, and anointed them with oil. And when they were dying, he heard their confession, prayed for their salvation, and assured them of a decent burial. Damien did not see the lepers as helpless, and he recruited as many as he could as his partners to help him in his work. He taught them to till the soil and tend the animals.  Together they built cottages for themselves and a home for their children. They made a road from the settlement at Kalawao to the shoreline at Kalaupapa where they blasted the rocks and built a dock. And they restored the church, learnt to play musical instruments and sang jubilant songs to God - as only the Hawaiians can!

Meanwhile Damien found himself fighting battles for the welfare of the lepers on three fronts. He clashed with the lepers who hung out at 'the crazy pen', who not only refused to help, but steadfastly opposed his plans. He quarrelled with the government authorities, who rejected his constant demands for more resources. And he argued with his religious superiors, who were enraged by his willingness to go public in his appeal for the aid they withheld, without due regard for the embarrassment he caused the church. He was constantly criticised, but Damien was undeterred in his commitment.

To begin with Damien maintained a safe distance in his dealings with the lepers.  But as time went by, Damien flung caution to the winds and embraced his leper friends physically, fully, freely, and without reservation. In December 1884 Damien was soaking his feet in hot water, but didn't feel the heat. Through his contact with the lepers he had become a leper himself. He wrote to his brother saying - 'I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all for Jesus Christ.' The lepers of Molokai gathered round the priest who had become one of them. And St Philomena's crowded chapel resounded with the joyful music of the choir whose buoyant voices sang against the scourge of leprosy that attacked their vocal chords. .

But while the lepers cherished him, his colleagues ostracised him. Some accused him of contracting leprosy as a result of getting syphilis 'by fornicating with lepers'. He declared his innocence, and submitted to a physical examination to prove to his detractors that he didn't have syphilis. But the scorn meted out by his order was a bitter blow - the disdain, not the disease, being 'the greatest suffering he had ever endured in his life.

Damien The Leper died on April 15th 1889 - just before Easter.


Henri Dunant -“Founder Of The Red Cross”.      

Henri Dunant was born in Geneva, Switzerland on the 8th of May 1828. He was brought up in a devout Reformed family who were involved in an evangelical awakening committed to fidelity and to generosity. The young Henri didn’t do well in his studies, but he did win the school piety prize. Later he joined the Societe Evangelique, flourishing under the guidance of Pastor Louis Gaussen.

In 1848, at the age of twenty, Henri organized the Union of Geneva with a group of other young men - to ‘heat up lukewarm believers’, to fire them up and to make them ‘more effective in Christian charity’. The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) had been started in London a few years earlier; And Henri linked the Geneva Union up with it, encouraging the YMCA to become an international movement in 1855. 

Meanwhile Henri was developing his business. He traveled to Algeria, where he wanted to set up a wheat mill, but couldn’t get the necessary approval. Henri decided to approach the Emperor and ask him for permission directly himself. Napoleon III was leading the French army against the Austrian army who had invaded neighbouring Italy. Henri arrived at Solferino to meet the Emperor a day after a French victory had left 40,000 dead and wounded men laying on the battlefield. Henri instantly set aside his business and any plans he had to speak to the Emperor, and turned his attention to the causalities in desperate need of help.  

In those days a wound was a death sentence. Most armies not only had no effect-ive way of caring for the wounded, but treated doctors and nurses from the other side as combatants - and would fire at them. So the wounded were often left to die where they fell. But - despite the risks - Henri could not leave them there. He organized a group of nearby townspeople to help. He got the wounded moved into their homes and their churches - even a local castle. And he got his volun-teers to treat the wounded – friend or foe – as brothers. He went about his work crying ‘Tutti fratelli! Tutti fratelli!’ – ‘All are brothers! All are brothers! 

Solferino changed Henri’s life forever. Henri was appalled at the carnage of war; and committed himself to do whatever he could to reduce the suffering associated with it. He wrote a book entitled A Memory Of Solferino. It included eyewitness accounts of the battle and its brutal aftermath. And it contained an idea about forming an international society of volunteers committed to caring for the victims of war. Solferino was published in 1862; and it stirred influential people all over Europe to act and to act quickly.

On February 9, 1863, Gustav Moynier put Henri’s proposals before the Geneva Society for Public Welfare. The society decided to set up a ‘permanent inter-national committee’ – including Moynier, two well-known physicians, Switzer-land’s leading soldier as chairman and Henri as secretary – to implement Henri’s plans. On October 26,1863, 36 delegates from 14 countries met in Geneva to organize the work of what was to become known as the ‘Red Cross’ and lobby for international recognition of what was to become known as the ‘Geneva Con-vention’. On August 8, 1864, 24 official delegates from 16 European govern-ments met to formally agree to the terms of the first Geneva Convention. It was also agreed that the symbol of the move-ment would be a red cross on a white background - the opposite of the Swiss flag. And Dr Appia, one of the founding physicians, first wore the red cross in the Prussian-Danish war later that year.

During this period Henri’s life as the architect of a global benevolent organiz-ation was in great shape – but his life as a Swiss businessman was falling apart. He had spent a lot of his time and money and energy on his humanitarian work at the expense of his financial ventures – and, in 1867,Henri was declared bankrupt. A story by his colleagues, blaming him for the collapse of their enterprise, was published in the newspaper. He promised to pay his creditors; but it was a scandal - and Henri was forced to resign from the Red Cross.

Henri fled Geneva and made his way to Paris. But he didn’t find any work and was reduced to sleeping on park benches. He left Paris, and  - for the next twenty-five years - wandered round Europe - destitute. Till, in 1892, he returned to Swit-zerland and was given shelter in a hospital in the village of Heiden, where he was to stay for the rest of his life.

In 1895 a young journalist heard there was a man staying in the hospital who claimed to have started the Red Cross. So he went to investigate. He found Henri, interviewed him, and printed his amazing story. Once his story was known, Henri was again feted by society. In 1901 Henri was given the Nobel Peace Prize. Henri spent none of the prize money on himself; but made bequests to people who had helped him, and funded a free room in the hospital for the poor of Heiden who needed medical treatment.

Henri Dunant died on October 30th 1910. The anniversary of his birth is World Red Cross Day.  

 

Mary MacKillop – ‘The Little Battler.’

Mary MacKillop was born in Fitzroy in 1842 into a Scottish migrant family. Mary was the eldest of eight children, and their father - who had attended Scots College in Rome - educated the children at home.

Having squandered most of the family fortune, the MacKillops were dirt poor. So at the age of fourteen, Mary was sent out to work. By the age of sixteen, Mary had become the major family breadwinner. Even in her youth Mary showed herself to be a very capable person. At Sands & Kenny, the stationers where she worked, Mary was given a position of responsibility usually reserved for older employees.

At the age of eighteen Mary assumed the role of governess to her cousins in Penola, South Australia. There she met Father Julian Tenison Woods. Mary had already decided that she wanted to be a nun, so she asked Fr. Woods to be her spiritual mentor. Julian Woods and Mary MacKillop became close friends. They shared a vision for developing an Australian religious order that would serve the needs of the poor. In 1866 they founded 'The Sisters Of St. Joseph' - an indigenous mission, made up of small, mobile communities of two or three sisters, caring for kids in frontier towns, rural farms, and roadside and railway camps.

The itinerant lifestyle of the sisters was very simple. They took a vow of poverty to identify with the poor. And because they had no money, they were only able to get by through begging. The hierarchy of the church did not approve of the practice. But, mindful of her mission, Mary encouraged the sisters to carry on regardless. Mary started Australia's first free catholic school. At the time only the rich could afford to pay the fees to send their kids to school. But the sisters provided education for the children of the poor - whether they could afford to pay the fees or not.

In 1867 Mary moved to Adelaide. And it wasn't long before she and her sisters had seventeen schools up and running. Instead of supporting their efforts, the Bishop of Adelaide - who was a paranoid alcoholic - tried to clamp down on the congregation. And when Mary resisted, he excommunicated her, and discharged her sisters.

For Mary, being thrown out of the church was a terrible blow. She was totally devastated. But, in spite of the desolation, she was determined to maintain her faith. She refused to become bitter and twisted about the way she was treated. The Holy See sent a delegation to investigate the disturbance in the antipodes; and as a result of their inquiries, they decided to back Mary against the Bishop.

In 1872, when the Bishop lay dying, he apologized to Mary, absolved her from excommunication, and reinstated her and her sisters. In 1873 Mary travelled to Rome. There she sought permission from the Pope for her congregation to run its own affairs free from the interference of the bishops in future. In the light of the quality of her work, her request was well received, and the Josephites were given the independence Mary had fought for. In 1875 Mary was elected superior-general of her order.

Under Mary's guidance the Josephites became the primary provider of catholic education to Australian girls - regardless of race, class or creed. And, because they had a policy of being non-proselytizing, the sisters enjoyed a lot of support from protestants, as well as Catholics, in the communities where they worked around Australia.

In 1885 the Josephites found themselves in conflict with the Bishops again. The Holy See supported the congregation, but asked Mary if she would stand aside and let someone else (less controversial) lead the congregation for a while. So in 1888 Mary stood aside; and Mother Bernard was elected to lead the order in her stead. But in 1898 Mother Bernard died; and Mary was elected again by the congregation to the lead the order into the twentieth century.

They not only taught students, they also taught the teachers who taught the students. They opened orphanages for those with no homes, and refuges for those fleeing violent homes. And they provided family support services and residential care services for those with intellectual, physical, psychological and developmental disabilities.

In 1909 Mary died. And in 1995 this 'little battler', this 'feminist trailblazer' and 'ecclesiastical troublemaker', this 'extraordinary never-say-die pioneer of education for all' was appropriately recognized as the first Australian Saint.

 

Florence Nightingale – ‘The Lady of The Lamp.’

Florence Nightingale was born in 1820, the daughter of wealthy English parents, William and Fanny Nightingale, who had inherited a large fortune. Florence, and her sister Parthenope, were tutored in languages, history, and mathematics by their father, and in etiquette, society, and manners by their mother. When Florence was twelve years old, she was riding a pony near her family estate in Hampshire, when she came across a shepherd whose dog had broken its leg. The shepherd told Florence that the dog was going to have to be put down. But Florence would not hear of it. She immediately took charge of the situation, binding the broken leg and tending the dog’s wounds until the animal recovered.

At the age of seventeen Florence wrote in her diary, “God spoke to me and called me to His service.” When Florence told her parents that she felt called to serve God by becoming a nurse, and caring for the sick, William and Fanny were mortified. In those days hospitals were squalid establishments, and the nurses who worked in them were as disreputable as the institutions they served. William and Fanny had “far nobler things” in mind for Florence than becoming a “mere nurse”. But Florence would not be dissuaded from pursuing her call to nursing. In 1845 she began visiting hospitals to study how they operated for her self. In 1851 she persuaded her parents to permit her to train as a nurse at the Institute of Protestant Deaconesses in Kaiserwerth, in Germany. 

And, in 1853, upon her return to England, she accepted a position as Superintendent of the Institution for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in London. Florence seized the opportunity that appointment provided to turn the Institution for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen into a model hospital of the times - putting bells in wards so that patients could call nurses when they needed them, and training the nurses to give quality care when called upon to do so. 

Meanwhile, war broke out in the Crimea. News filtered back from the front that the wounded were being treated appallingly. Often being left to die, on makeshift beds of filthy straw, of dysentery. The Secretary Of War, Sydney Herbert, asked Florence if she would do something about the situation. And, two days later, Florence found herself on the way to the major hospital in Scutari, Turkey, with thirty-four of her nurses.

Florence was determined to do her utmost to provide the best care that she could. But when she got there, Florence found herself blocked at every turn. On the one hand there was the misogynist military bureaucrats who didn’t want to lift a finger to help the “interfering women”. And, on the other hand, there were the doctors, who didn’t want to be upstaged by nurses in “their own hospital”.

But Florence was undaunted by these obstructions. She confronted them fearlessly. “The very essence of Truth seemed to emanate from her,” wrote an awestruck William Richmond.  She had, he said, “a perfect fearlessness in telling it!” Florence broke army regulations that got in the way of getting what she needed for the men in her care. To anyone who had the temerity to try to tell her that something “could not be done”, she countered, quickly, “but it must be done!” -  “it must be done!” 

However Florence never demanded any more from others than she demanded of herself. She was “on call” twenty-four hours a day. She accompanied her patients into the operating theatre, and, as chloroform had not yet been invented, stayed with them through the operation to soothe their pain. She often spent eight hours a day on her knees, cleaning, tending and binding the wounds of the wounded. Then, before she retired, she would light a lamp, and walk through the wards - walk by the four miles of men, in beds, lined up side by side, in the military hospital - just to make sure they were as comfortable as they could be for night.

Legend has it, that the men used to kiss her shadow as she passed by.

Though emaciated and exhausted, Florence refused to leave Scutari until all the soldiers were evacuated in July1856. When she returned home the “Lady of the Lamp” was a hero. But Florence spurned the spot light. She didn’t make any public appearances or give any interviews to the press. Instead, for the next sixteen years she invested her time in training nurses and working tirelessly for real health reform.

Over the time her own health began to fail, and by 1896, Florence herself became completely bedridden. For her heroic efforts in transforming the nursing profession, in 1907 the bedridden Florence Nightingale became the first woman to be awarded the British Order Of Merit.  Florence was quoted as saying “I have simply done my Master’s work.” And, having done so, in 1910 she died.


Sojourner Truth - 'Ain't I A Woman!'.

Sojourner Truth was born in 1797. One of thirteen children born to slave parents in a little Dutch settlement in New York state in the United States of America. She was given a Dutch name - Isabella Baumfree - and brought up speaking Dutch. Only when she was sold to an English-speaking master did she learn to speak English, but always with a strong Dutch accent.

Isabella never got to know her brothers and sisters because they were sold off one by one as slaves. Isabella herself was first sold off as a slave at the tender age of eleven. But by the time she was sold off, the young Isabella was able to take with her a strong faith and an indefatigable dignity that her mother had managed to cultivate in her daughter's heart. Isabella was bought and sold twice. Her third master, John Dumont, stood out as 'cruel man', even in those times, when casual cruelty was so common it usually went unnoticed. Dumont forced the young Isabella to marry an older slave named Thomas, with whom she had five children. And, one by one, Dumont sold off Isabella's children as slaves.

As a result of the pressure exerted by the growing anti-slavery movement, Dumont promised Isabella her freedom. But Dumont reneged on his promise. So, in1827, Isabella ran away with the last of her children. A few months later, in 1828, slavery was finally abolished in New York State. Isabella - and her infant son - were free at last. Isabella moved to New York City, where she worked as a domestic servant in a few different religious communities. For a while she stayed with a Quaker family. They helped her get back one of her children. And gave her a basic education.

While slavery had been abolished in New York State, it was still in force in other states. So Isabella decided to take up the cause of her enslaved sisters. In 1843 she changed her name to  Sojourner Truth - and she hit the hustings, speaking out on behalf of her sisters still in bondage, rallying support for abolition. In Northhampton, Massachusetts, Sojourner came across a radical community that went by the pedestrian name of 'The Northhampton Association For Education and Industry'. In the community Sojourner met fellow abolitionists, who supported her ministry, and helped her tell her story. And in 1850 The Narrative Of Sojourner Truth was published. Sojourner spent months on the road at a time preaching 'God's truth and plan for salvation', working tirelessly to free her fellow slaves, and lobbying the government to give freed slaves land of their own to till. And so Sojourner became the national symbol of the struggle.

Sojourner was a tall woman, powerfully built, with a big booming voice, who was a spellbinding preacher. One moment she would throw the book at her audience, and the next moment she would lead them in song to repentance. It was said that 'no one who met her could forget her.' Perhaps the most famous message Sojourner preached was 'Aint I A Woman'. Which she delivered at the Women's Right Convention in Akron Ohio in 1851. And which has since come to be regarded as one of the great speeches on women's rights of all time. (see below). Sojourner continued to preach on human rights until her ill health forced her to retire to her home in Battle Creek, Michigan, where she died in 1883. 

"That man over there says that women need

to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches,

and to have the best place everywhere.

Nobody helps me any best place.

And ain't I a woman?"

 

"Look at me! Look at my arm.

I have plowed, I have planted and I have gathered into barns.

And no man could head me.

And ain't I a woman?"

 

"I could work as much, and eat as much as man -

when I could get it -and bear the lash as well!

And ain't I a woman? "

 

"I have borne children and seen most of them sold into slavery,

and when I cried out with a mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me.

And ain't I a woman?"

 

"That little man in black there!

He says women can't have as much rights as men.

‘Cause Christ wasn't a woman.

Where did your Christ come from?"

From God and a Woman! Man had nothing to do with him!"

"If the first woman God ever made was strong enough

to turn the world upside down all alone,

these women together ought to be able to turn it back

& get it right-side up again.

And now that they are asking to do it the men better let them."


Charles Finney- ‘Christ's Lawyer.’

Charles Finney was born in 1792 in Connecticut and raised in Oneida, New York State. Brought up on the family farm, he was a big, strong, healthy boy who couldn't remember being sick a day in his life. Charles enjoyed working hard on the farm, and then taking time out to play in the forest and sail on the lakes. He loved music, learning to read and write compositions, and to sing and play the violin and the cello with a passion. He also loved study - reading everything he could lay his hands on - from histories and biographies to philosophies. 

Charles grew into a formidable, intelligent, and multi-talented young man who was only saved from taking himself too seriously by an irrepressible penchant for fun, and a great sense of humour. From the age of sixteen to the age of twenty he taught in a progressive, experimental, student-centred school at Henderson. He joined in games before and after class as well as guiding learning in class - so its not surprisingly his students loved him.

In 1812 war was declared against Britain. And Charles was one of the first to enlist to fight for his country. But he became disillusioned with the indiscipline of the troops, the incompetence of their commanders, and the questionable nature of their cause. So he packed his bags and came home.

In 1814 Charles decided to go to New Jersey where he taught school during the day and learned Latin, Greek and Maths at night. He excelled in his self-guided studies, but never got a college degree. In 1818 Charles went to Adams, where he read law and became a law clerk. In 1820 he was admitted to the profession and began to practice as a lawyer. 

Charles had always attended church - more for the music than the message. He loved anthems, but hated sermons. He despised 'the lack of reason in religion'. And regularly took a minister aside on a Monday to shred the homily he had delivered on a Sunday. However, in the pursuit of these disputes, Charles began to study the bible for himself. As a result of his study, on October 10 1821, Charles was miraculously converted. And the very next day he publicly announced, in his own inimitable style, 'I have taken a retainer from the Lord Jesus Christ to plead his cause!' And 'plead his cause' he did.

To begin with people thought the conversion story was 'one of Finney's practical jokes.' But as time went by they realised Charles was very serious indeed. He called his choir together, confessed he'd been an unbeliever, and begged them to join him on his journey towards faith. He delivered a series of lectures to the Bench and Bar of Rochester, New York, critiquing Tom Paine's Age Of Reason, and calling for them, on the basis of reason, not to reject religion, but to accept it, and to be committed as lawyers to the Law of God. It wasn't long before he was preaching to large crowds all over New York State.

Charles' preaching was a potent mixture of sustained intellectual argument and impassioned emotional appeal, delivered in a strong, imaginative, colloquial, popular style. As Christ's lawyer he plead his case for people to be converted, 'repent from selfishness', and participate in 'the reforms of the age'- 'without respect to station in society'.

Charles said 'there can be scarcely be conceived a more abominable maxim than "our country right or wrong"', challenging the church to refrain from 'aiding and abetting' the country in its prosecution of what he saw as an imperialist war. He denounced the US war against Mexico as a 'selfish war', declaring that, as such, it was 'wholesale murder' and 'for a person to aid or abet the prosecution of (this) war involves the guilt of murder.'

Furthermore, he said, it was 'horrible' to even 'think of fighting in defence of a nation, proclaiming the inalienable right to liberty' while 'standing with it's proud foot on the neck of three millions crushed and prostrate slaves'. All he could think of was the need for the church to work for 'repentance and restitution' - 'emancipation and reparation'.

So, in 1835 when Charles went to help set up the theology program at Oberlin College, he made sure that it was not only coeducational - inclusive of 'coloured' students - but also committed to the anti-slavery campaign. Both staff and students at Oberlin publicly opposed the Fugitive Slave Bill, administered a fund to help fugitive slaves, and developed one of the most important stations on the underground railroad for fugitive slaves on the run. On one famous occasion, in 1858 hundreds of people from the college marched into town, and stormed a hotel where an escaped slave was being held captive and brought him back to Oberlin, where he stayed (appropriately enough) in the home of the Professor of Moral Philosophy, before he was spirited off on the road to freedom.

Charles Finney died in 1875. Up to a million people were converted through his ministry.

 

Pandita Ramabai – ‘The Learned One.’

Ramabai was born into a high caste Brahmin family in Maharashtra in 1858. Her family were very devout Hindus and often took the young Ramabai on pilgrimage to holy places - climbing up sacred mountains, bathing in sacred rivers, and visiting temples all over India.                 

At the time it was the practice not to teach women Sanskrit, India’s classical language, or the Vedas, India’s classical philosophy. But Ramabai’s father considered this custom discriminatory, and, in total defiance of tradition, taught both his wife and his children, including Ramabai, the secret wisdom of India.            

Then came the first in a series of disasters that was to be a defining moment in Ramabai’s life. The famine of 1876 killed everyone in Ramabai’s family, except her and one of her brothers. On his deathbed her father held Ramabai in his arms and said to her: “Remember how I loved you. Serve God always. I leave you in His keeping.”

In 1878, at the age of twenty, Ramabai went to Calcutta, with her brother, to look for work. It was a fortuitous decision. For, of all the learned cities of India, Calcutta celebrated learning like no other, and it wasn’t very long before the whole city was talking about the erudite young scholar they lovingly called “Pandita”, the “Learned One”. During her time in Calcutta the much-loved Pandita Ramabai got married, bore a daughter and began a major campaign for women’s education.             

Then came the second disaster that was to define Ramabai’s life. In an outbreak of cholera, that periodically swept through the city of Calcutta, Ramabai’s husband suddenly took sick and died. So after only nineteen brief months of marriage, Ramabai was left alone once more.

As she began to ponder her predicament, firstly as an orphan, and secondly as a widow, Ramabai was forced to face the terrible plight of other orphans and widows. And she was determined that she would do whatever she could to help them.

In order to get the training she felt that she needed to move from scholarship to social work, Ramabai travelled to England, where she went to Cheltanham Ladies College and got involved with the Wantage Sisters, a community of Christian women who worked with prostitutes. “I had never heard or seen anything (like) this before,” Ramabai wrote. “ (And) my heart was drawn to the religion of Christ.”

In 1889 Ramabai returned to India as a devout Christian and founded a home in Mumbai for abandoned Brahmin widows and orphans like herself. It was a controversial venture. Nothing like it had ever been done before. But it proved such a success that many other groups began provide similar services for needy people in their communities.

Then came the third in the series of disasters that was to be a defining moment in Ramabai’s life. The famine of 1896 made the famine in 1876 look like a picnic. Millions of people all over India died like flies. In the face of this catastrophe Ramabai felt called to extend her care across caste boundaries, beyond just helping Brahmin widows and orphans like herself, to helping all widows and all orphans, regardless of their caste.

So she set up the Mukti Mission and, without so much as a rupee in promised funds to her name, threw open the doors of her mission to help as many people as she could. By 1900 her Mukti Mission was responsible for the welfare of some 1,900 widows and orphans!

Over the ensuing years the “Learned One” developed a legendary reputation for tireless evangelism, education and emancipation. “I am busy from 4:30 in the morning till 8:30 at night. Till my feet are aching and my head is tired.” she once said. “What a blessing this burden does not fall on me. But Christ bears it on his shoulders.                           

In 1922 Pandita Ramabai died, but her vision and her work live on.

  

C.F.Andrews-“Christ’s Faithful Apostle”.                      

Charles Freer Andrews was born in 1871 in Newcastle, England. He was the fourth child in a family of twelve. He had a close relationship with his mother who nursed him through a prolonged period of illness.

In 1877 the family moved to Birmingham where Charlie’s father was called to be a minister in the charismatic Catholic Apostolic Church. Through his father’s ‘long round of spiritual toil’ with the battlers in the big grimy industrial town, Charlie’s father taught him two things - a love for prayer and a love for the poor. 

While Charlie was still quite young, his mother lost all her money through the duplicity of family friend.  And the family were plunged into poverty themselves. But his parent’s response to the disaster made an indelible impression on young Charlie. On the night they got the news of their ruin, his parents quietly gathered the family together and prayed for forgiveness for man who had ruined them. And, from then on, Charlie watched his parents work and scrimp and save ‘untiringly all day long’ for sake of the kids. Later he was to say of his mother: ‘her pure unselfishness made us ashamed…to act in self-indulgent ways’

Charlie studied at the King Edward VI School in Birmingham.  In 1890, just before he was due to start his study in Classics at Pembroke College, Cambridge, Charlie had a personal encounter with Christ that was to prove to be the turning point of his life. In 1896 Charlie became a deacon, and took over the Pembroke College Mission in South London. And in 1897 he became a priest, and three years later, took on the work of Vice-Principal of Westcott House Theological College in Cambridge.

While at college Charlie got involved in the Christian Social Union and began to explore the relationship between a commitment to the gospel and a commitment to justice. He became increasingly interested in the struggle for justice throughout the empire, India in particular. So, in 1904, when Charlie was invited to join the Cambridge Brotherhood as a teacher at St Stephen’s College in Delhi, he jumped at the chance to go.

Charlie was quite shocked with the racist attitudes of the British in India. He felt an immediate rapport with the Indians he met who were trying to reform Hindu-ism and struggling to create a modern independent Ind-ian state. And, in 1906, Charlie decided to go public with his opinions - writing a letter, published in the Civil and Military Gazette, Lahore, openly supporting the Indian nationalists.

As a British supporter of India, Charlie was in a special position. He was invited to attend meetings of the Indian National Congress. And he was trusted by both the British and the Indians to be an intermediary. In 1913 Charlie successfully intervened in the Madras cotton workers strike. And later that year, Gokhale, the leader of the Congress, asked Charlie to go to South Africa to help the Indian community their resolve some of their difficulties with the British authorities. Which, by all reports, he did very expeditiously.

While in South Africa Charlie met Mahatma Gandhi. Upon their return to India Charlie worked very closely with Gandhi, the Congress and the Unions. In 1925 and 1927 Charlie was elected the President of the All India Trade Union. From 1931 to 1932 Charlie sat beside Gandhi at the Round Table Conference, helping him negotiate with the British Government for the Indian National Congress.

While working independence for India, Charlie worked on dialogue between Christians and Hindus. He spent a lot of time at Shantiniketan Ashram in con-versation with the poet philosopher Rabindranath Tagore. He also supported the movement to ban the ‘untouchability of outcastes’. In 1925 he joined the famous Vaikkom Temple Protests, and in 1933 he assisted Dr. Ambedkar in formulating Harijan demands.

About this time Gandhi took Charlie aside and told him that was probably best for sympathetic Britishers like himself to leave the Indian independence movement to the Indians. So from 1935 onwards Charlie began to spend more time back in Britain, teaching young people all over the country about Christ’s call to radical discipleship. Over time C.F.Andrews became affectionately known as ‘Christ’s Faithful Apostle’.

On the 5th April 1940, Charlie died and was buried while on a visit to Calcutta.

Charlie and Mohan – Friendship As Partnership 

Charlie Andrews was said to be the only man who called the great Mahatma Gandhi ‘Mohan.’ 

When Charlie first met the Mahatma in South Africa, Mohandas Gandhi had just been released from prison for organising a campaign of non-violent protest against the government. Instinctively, Charlie stooped and - in a traditional Indian sign of respect - touched Gandhi’s feet. The South Africans were mortified. ‘We don’t do that sort of thing in Natal.’ But from that moment on Charlie and Mohan were life long friends.

There were a number of features of his friendship with Charlie that Gandhi loved. He loved Charlie. Gandhi said ‘I have not known a better man than C.F.Andrews’ He loved the special relationship he had with Charlie. Gandhi said ‘Nobody knew Charlie Andrews as well as I did.’ It was close. ‘There was no distance between us’. It bridged the vast chasm of culture, tradition and religion.  ‘He was a son of Eng-land who also became a son of India. And he did it all for the sake of his Lord and Master Jesus Christ.’ It could bear the weight of honest debate. Gandhi once wrote to Horace Alexander,’ I want you to criticize me as frankly and fearlessly as Charlie!’ It was equal, mutual and respectful. ‘When we met, we simply met as brothers and remained as such to the end. Our friendship was an unbreakable bond between two seekers and servants.’

Charlie did all he could to help Mohan in his struggle; and, in return, Mohan cared for Charlie – nursing him personally while he was ill in Calcutta and holding his hand himself during the last few days of his life.

 

Helen Keller- “The Light In The Darkness”.

Helen Keller was born on July 27th 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama, in the United States. Helen was a healthy new born, but at 19 months of age a fever left her blind and deaf.

Her father Arthur – an ex-confederate captain - and her mother Kate – a southern socialite - didn’t know what to do with their daughter Helen.  Her frustration at not being able to communicate made her angry.  Helen would smash dishes at the dinner table and oil lamps round the family home - ‘terrorizing the whole household with her temper tantrums.’ Relatives advised them to put ‘the little monster’ in an institution.

By the time Helen was six years old her parents were desperate. They consulted  a local expert, who turned out to be Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, who was an activist in education for the deaf. Bell counseled the Kellers to find a teacher for Helen as soon as possible.

The Perkins School for the Blind recommended a recent graduate by the name   of Anne Sullivan (See Box). On March 3rd 1887 Anne came to serve as Helen’s governess. Anne moved with Helen into a small cottage on the Keller’s property - and started Helen’s education.   

Anne taught Helen to finger spell. Anne had bought Helen a doll and taught her to spell out the word ‘doll.’ Anne thought Helen’s behaviour was abominable. Anne refused to ‘talk’ with her if Helen didn’t behave properly. Helen’s behav-iour improved markedly. In a matter of weeks a real bond developed between them.

 Then the ‘miracle’ occurred. Anne took Helen to the water pump, poured water over her hands and spelled out ‘water’. Up until then Helen had not really under-stood the meaning of words, but at that moment, she says, she got it  -‘the myst-ery of language was revealed to me’. She wanted to spell out the whole world.

From then on, Helen’s progress was amazing. It wasn’t long before Anne was teaching Helen to read. She learnt to read and write in braille. She even learnt to type on an ordinary typewriter. She became a celebrity. ‘Her ability to learn was far in advance of anything that anybody had seen before in someone without sight or hearing’. Pictures of Helen reading Shakespeare appeared in the national press.

In 1890 Anne took Helen with her to the Perkins Institute to continue her edu-cation. In the hope of learning to speak, Helen went with Anne to Wright-Hum-ason School of the deaf in New York City in 1894.Because her vocal chords were underdeveloped Helen was never able to speak clearly. However, she was still able to go to college. And, in 1990, she became the first deaf-blind person to ever enroll in tertiary education.  In 1994 Helen graduated from Radcliffe College. The first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor of arts.

In 1913 Helen published Out Of The Dark, a series of essays on social justice. ‘When indeed shall we learn we are all related one to the other, we are all members of one body?’ ‘Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other's welfare, social justice can never be attained.’

Helen practiced what she preached. She spent most of time helping others, particularly the poor. She wrote tirelessly - advocating on behalf of people with disabilities. ‘Although the world is full of suffering,’ she said, ‘it is also full of the overcoming of it’ When the American Foundation for the Blind was organized in 1921 Helen gladly became their global ambassador. And she worked in that role for the rest of her life.

On June 1st 1968, Helen Keller died.

The Role Of An Unsung Elderly Nurse

Queen Victoria asked Helen how was able to do so much. Helen said she owed it all to Anne. Now Anne’s story is almost as remarkable as Helen’s. Due to a childhood fever, Anne was almost blind. As an angry child Anne was diagnosed as ‘insane’ and  locked in the basement of a mental institution. Hearing about ‘this hopeless case’, an elderly nurse began to visit her. Anne rejected her over-tures. But the nurse refused to give up. She responded in kindness with cookies. Eventually Anne’s life was transformed by her love. Anne grew up with the resolve to show the same care - that elderly nurse had shown to her - to Helen.

 

Toyohiko Kagawa – ‘The Faithful Traitor.’

Toyohiko Kagawa was born in 1888, the son of a rich Japanese businessman and one of his many concubines. By the time that he had turned just four years of age Toyohiko had lost both of his parents and was left all alone.

The Buddhist orphan was cared for by some Presbyterian missionaries, and so came to learn about the love of Christ. At the age of fifteen Toyohiko was baptised; and began intently studying Christian pacifist classics, such as The Kingdom Of God by Leo Tolstoy, the famous author of War and Peace.

At the age of sixteen Toyohiko went to Tokyo to study theology. At the time Japan was at war with Russia and the young peace activist spoke out publicly against it. Much to the dismay of fellow students who were embarrassed about his protests. So they put him on trial for treason; and, adjudging him guilty, beat him mercilessly.

Needless to say Toyohiko became increasingly disillusioned with the kind of Christianity that he encountered at seminary. He said that he yearned for 'a gospel incarnated' in what he called 'love- intoxicated personalities' and 'demonstrated in institutions which sacrifice and serve.' He cried, '(We) must show what Christian ideals actually mean!'

On Christmas Day 1909, Toyohiko Kagawa, aged twenty-one, walked out of the seminary, and, with his few simple belongings packed in a handcart, made his way to the slums of Shinkawa, which were to become his home for the next fifteen years.

Toyohiko poured himself out for the poor. Visiting the lonely. Feeding the hungry. Comforting the bereaved. And accommodating as many of the homeless in his own little hut as he could...even when he got married!

But Toyohiko not only worked for the poor; Toyohiko worked with the poor. Practicing gospel processes. Developing cooperative societies. Organising peasant unions. And contributing to the labour movement in the establishment of the Labour Party.

Toyohiko was a twentieth century polymath. His writings encompassed the entire breadth and depth of the human experience that he sought to embrace. He wrote a 654 page Study On The Psychology Of The Poor. And his 1920 autobiographical novel, Crossing The Death Line, became a huge best seller in Japan. Typically, Toyohiko reinvested the royalties from his books in his work.

In 1923, when an earthquake wrecked Tokyo, the government turned to the incorruptible Toyohiko to supervise relief and reconstruction in the city. Toyohiko agreed. On one condition. That he would take no pay!

In 1928, in the shadow of war, Toyohiko set up the All-Japan Anti-War League.

In 1938 Kagawa met Gandhi; and with Einstein, they put their signatures to a famous international Anti-War Pact.

Not surprisingly, in 1940, Toyohiko's magazine, The Pillar Of Cloud, was banned, & Toyohiko himself was imprisoned. Bills were posted round Tokyo calling for Toyohiko's execution. 'Kill the traitor Kagawa!' they screamed. 'He is a traitor to the nation!' Somehow Toyohiko survived. As soon as he got out of custody he visited America in a last ditch effort to avert the oncoming war with Japan. 'When nations engage in war,' Toyohiko warned, 'they become brutal!'

Back in Japan after the war began, Toyohiko was in and out of jail, but he continued his anti-war activities. He even made a special trip to China, to the China National Christian Council, where he personally apologised to the Chinese for the Japanese Rape Of Nanking.

In 1945, after the war was over, Toyohiko was appointed as an advisor to the Prime Minister. He was made the Commissioner for National Social Welfare. And one of the first things he did was call for a Campaign Of National Repentance. 'Christ alone can make all things new.' Toyohiko said. 'The spirit of Christ must be the soul of all real social reconstruction.'

When Rabbi Israel Goldstein, the president of the American Jewish Congress, was asked if he could name a Christian who could work together with Jews for world peace, without hesitation he nominated Toyohiko Kagawa, saying that his 'religion is contagious.'

In recognition of his ongoing commitment to world peace, Toyohiko was elected the President of the All-Asian Congress for World Federation, and the Vice- President of the Union for World Federal Government. On April 25 1960 Toyohiko Kagawa died .

Albert Luthuli – ‘The Apartheid Opponent.’

Albert Luthuli was probably born in 1898. The date is uncertain, as no records of births were kept at that time in Groutville, Natal, South Africa. His father died when Albert was six months old. So it was left to his mother, Mtonya, to bring up Albert by herself. Before her marriage, Mtonya had become a devout Christian, and so she also raised her son Albert to be a committed Christian. 

Albert grew up in the Congregationalist church, but became a Methodist when he went to a Methodist boarding school. He trained as a teacher, and was then sent to teach at Blaauwbosch, in the Natal uplands. Though he could never pinpoint a date when he was 'converted', Albert was convinced that it was during his time in the Natal, that he became much more conscientious about his faith himself.  

After two years teaching at Blaauwbosch, Albert, obviously a very gifted young man, was offered a bursary to do Higher Teacher Training at Adams College.  After completing his course, he was appointed to the staff, to lecture in Zulu, Music, and School Organisation. At Adams, where Albert was to stay for the next fifteen years, C.W. Atkins, the Head of the Training College, had a profound affect on him. Of Aitkins, Albert was to say, 'He placed his emphasis on loving God and on service of society…and in involving us deeply in the affairs of African communities…’

Albert's first major opportunity to involve himself deeply in the affairs of the African community that he came from was in 1936, when he was elected as Chief of the Umvoti Mission Reserve, which had its headquarters in Groutville, his own hometown. Albert accepted his appointment reluctantly, knowing full well that the position would thrust him into his peoples' struggle for human rights.

But in 1938 Albert was nominated as a delegate to the World Missionary Conference in Chennai, India, and the trip to the conference was to change him so much, that by the time he returned home, Albert was ready for the fight. The fire of indignation that it ignited in Albert's belly came from two experiences that he had - one at the conference, and the other on the way there and back.

At the conference, Albert, as a black South African, enjoyed the pleasure of eating, drinking, and conversing with whites as an equal for the first time in his life. But on the way there and back, black South Africans were consigned to second class, while white South Africans travelled first class, and Albert was told in no uncertain terms by a Dutch Reformed minister that he was not welcome to join them in worship. After feasting with dignity at Chennai, Albert gagged on the indignity that apartheid dished out to him, and he vowed to fight it. For the next ten years Albert fought for the right of farmers on the Umvoti Mission Reserve to own their own land. But 'rights' for the blacks were seen as 'privileges' by the whites, and those 'privileges' were slowly being withdrawn.

In 1948, Albert had the opportunity to visit the United States, and he was inspired by the power of the civil rights movement to combat systemic racism. So upon his return, Albert joined the African National Congress (ANC) - 'to oppose a system - not a race'. It wasn't long before Albert was elected as President of the ANC. And as President, Albert coordinated the ANC Defiance Campaign that defied government restrictions on the movement of blacks. The government reacted to the ANC Defiance Campaign with great fury. In 1952 Albert was deposed from his position, as Chief of the Umvoti Mission Reserve, and banned completely from being able to travel to any of the larger towns in S. Africa.

In 1955, Albert had a stroke. But he still managed to help organize the great 'Congress of the People'. The government invoked its anti-communist legislation, arrested twenty thousand congress sympathisers, and charged Albert with High Treason. After the trail, things did not get any better. The Pass Laws - enacted by the minority white government - to control the majority black population - were tightened up. And all opposition to the Pass Laws was prohibited.

In 1960 the ANC was banned. And Albert himself was banned from meeting more than one person at a time. Albert did not take the banning lying down. He responded to the banning by publicly leading his people in burning their pass cards. Albert also argued very strongly for economic sanctions against South Africa, on the grounds that he thought they were the only chance of a "relatively peaceful transition" for the country.

For most of his active political life Albert favoured a non-violent struggle against apartheid, but he was not a pacifist, saying "anyone who thought he was should try to steal his chickens!" However, in 1961, Albert was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent struggle against apartheid in South Africa. In 1967 Albert Luthuli died. Kader Asmal, Minister of Education, said of his old friend, "Chief Luthuli possessed a remarkable generosity of spirit, but was never tolerant of injustice. He was a Christian, with very deeply held beliefs, but of the kind that looked for its example in throwing the moneylenders out of the temple!"

 

Dorothy Day- The Woman Who Wanted To Change The World

Dorothy Day was born in Brooklyn in 1897. Her father tried unsuccessfully to get work.  So in 1906 her family had to move into a poor tenement flat in the South Side of Chic-ago. Dorothy said that her understanding of the plight of the poor dated from that point.

Even when John Day eventually got a job as a sports writer for a Chicago newspaper and the family moved into a comfortable house on the North Side, Dorothy didn’t forget the people living on the South Side, and used to take long walks through the derelict streets.

In 1914 Dorothy won a scholarship to study at the University of Illinois. But she proved to be more interested in reading radical social writers than studying pre-scribed courses. In 1916 her family moved to New York, and Dorothy decided to go with them in order to pursue her dream of becoming a radical social writer herself. And it wasn’t long before  Dorothy became a contributor to revolutionary papers like the New Masses and the Call.  Dorothy wrote passionately on the subject of women’s rights, free love and birth control. In 1917 Dorothy joined a demonstration in front of the White House protesting the cruel treatment of suffragettes who were in prison. And she got 30 herself days for her trouble.

At this stage of her life Dorothy had a series of affairs, got pregnant, and had an abortion. On the rebound from one of her affairs she got married. It only lasted a year. In 1926 Dorothy found herself pregnant again. But this time she was determined to keep the baby.

The birth of her baby proved to be a major spiritual turning point in Dorothy’s life. As a child she had attended church. And as a young journalist she had gone to late night mass. She had been left barren after her abortion and she saw the birth of her child as a miracle. In gratitude, Dorothy wanted to dedicate her life - and the life of her child - to God. However, her lover, the father of the child, was a militant atheist and opposed the idea. Dorothy felt she was faced with a stark choice. Either to go along with her lover. Or give up her lover for God. Dorothy chose what she was later to call ‘the long loneliness’ of living for God alone. On the 18th of December 1927, she broke off her relationship with Foster Batterham, and Dorothy and her baby daughter, Tamar Teresa, were baptized.       

Dorothy now set about the task of reworking her radical views in the light of her faith. She was helped in this process by Peter Maurin, a poetic French peasant- philosopher. In May 1933, five months after meeting Peter, Dorothy put out the first edition of The Catholic Worker – a penny-a-copy monthly newspaper, committed to advocating ‘the teachings of Christ’ with regard to the major social issues of the day.

Through The Catholic Worker Dorothy promoted ‘neutral pacifism’ during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). ‘We were not, of course, pro-Franco, but followers of Gandhi in our struggle to build a spirit of nonviolence. But in those days we got it from both sides; it was a holy war to most Catholics, just as world revolution is holy war to Communists.’ The editorial policy of The Catholic Worker was based on a ‘personalist philosophy’ emphasising the importance of people accepting responsibility for the welfare of society. So it came as no surprise that the Catholic Worker community opened a ‘House of Hospitality’ in the slums of New York. Its purpose was simply to practice ‘those works that sound a good idea in theory’ such as ‘housing the homeless and feeding the hungry’.

When the 1960's social revolution rolled round Dorothy was hailed as the ‘grand old lady of pacifism’. Crowds of ‘wanna-be-revolutionaries’ sought her out to ask for her advice. But they usually got more than they bargained for. Dorothy was uncompromising in her call for personal morality, voluntary poverty, radical hospitality and pro-life activism.

‘What we would like to do is change the world - make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And to a certain extent, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the poor - the rights of the worthy and the unworthy poor - we can to a certain extent change the world.’

No other newspaper ever had more editors in prison for’ crying out unceasingly for the rights of the poor’ than The Catholic Worker. Dorothy herself was last imprisoned in 1973 for taking part in a banned picket line in support of farm labourers. She was 75.

Dorothy died in 1980, aged 83. ‘After a lifetime of voluntary poverty she left no money for her funeral. It was paid for by the archdiocese of New York.’

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – ‘The Man Who Stood By God.’

In 1906 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born into a very respectable family in Breslau.  When he was six, Dietrich's father was appointed as Director of the Psychiatric Clinic at the University of Berlin. So Dietrich grew up in the capital of Germany. Dietrich's great-grandfather was Karl von Hase, a famous Protestant Professor of Church History in Jena. And Dietrich was brought up as a dutiful young Lutheran.  His family were probably actually more Prussian than they were Protestant, but Dietrich developed a passion for religion that transcended his devotion to tradition. 

Of the eight Bonhoeffer children, Dietrich was the only one who decided that he wanted to study theology. And study theology he did.  To begin with Dietrich went to the illustrious University in Tubingen. Then he went to the celebrated Union Theological Seminary in New York.

Dietrich was very much influenced by the ideas of the world-renowned German Protestant theologian Karl Barth whose series of lectures he had attended as a student. Dietrich was a theological prodigy. Barth himself commending his early brilliant academic work. So it was hardly surprising, that the theological whiz kid was appointed as a lecturer in theology at the University of Berlin at a very young age.

From 1933 to 1935 Dietrich served as a pastor for two German-speaking churches in London. During this time he formed a close friendship with Bishop Bell of Chichester. Dietrich told him of his fears about the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. He was particularly worried about the fact that so many German Christians seemed to embrace Hitler as some kind of messianic figure who would save German Christianity. Dietrich had already joined the Confessing Church that opposed the Nazi Party. But he felt the Confessing Church did not go far enough. He had begun to speak out against the persecution of the Jews. But try as he might, he could not get the Confessing Church to support his protests.

The Bishop affirmed Bonhoeffer, and, as the leader of the Ecumenical Movement, promised the young activist the wholehearted support of his organisation for the struggle. In 1935 Dietrich returned to Germany to start a theological seminary under the auspices of the Confessing Church. In 1937 the government shut down the subversive Finkenwalde centre. But Dietrich continued to train his students underground. In 1939 Dietrich was called up for military service. He refused to take an oath of loyalty to the Fuhrer, and found himself in a head-on confrontation with the authorities.

Reinhold Niebuhr, the American theologian, invited Dietrich to New York to deliver a series of lectures. When war was declared Dietrich was tempted to stay on, but he felt constrained by God to cut short his stay in the US, and return home to Germany to face the future - for better or worse - with his people. When he arrived home, his brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi, invited Dietrich to join the resistance movement that was conspiring to bring down the Nazi Party and put Hitler on trial.

For years he worked for the Abwehr, against the Gestapo. Passing on information to the allies through Bishop Bell, whom he met in Sweden. And smuggling Jews out of Germany into Switzerland. In 1943 Dietrich was arrested - charged with 'subversion of the armed forces' - for encouraging students not to do military service.

Though a pacifist, Dietrich eventually came to the conclusion that the only way they could bring the Nazi Party down - and end the madness - was to assassinate Hitler. So Dietrich got involved in von Stauffenberg's famous attempt to blow up the Fuhrer. It failed. And Dietrich, along with his co-conspirators, was sentenced to death. On April 9, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed. He had sought to 'stand by God in his agony.' 

If possible read “The Cost of Discipleship” by Bonhoeffer


 Clarence Jordan – ‘The Race Mixing Communist.’

Clarence Jordan was born in 1912, and brought up in the state of Georgia. In the deep south of the United States, he grew up in a Christian tradition which preached grace, but practiced disgraceful prejudice.

The young Clarence couldn’t abide this blatant misrepresentation of the gospel, and determined that he would find a way to flesh out the gospel more faithfully - a way that would reflect Christ’s love for all people equally: black and white alike!

Clarence studied Agriculture at the University of Georgia, and the New Testament at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and came up with the idea of developing a working farm that would demonstrate New Testament values, such as ‘koinonia’, or ‘community’.

So, in 1942, long before the civil rights movement really got going, Clarence started Koinonia Farm, as his attempt to develop counter-cultural, multi-racial community slap bang in the middle of the Klu Klux Klan Heart Land!

Koinonia Farm was like nothing the locals had ever seen before. Clarence, and his wife Florence, and their friends invited both blacks and whites to join them, as equal partners, in their enterprise. Private income was contributed to a common purse, and personal property was considered common wealth. So, right from the start, the locals referred to them as those ‘race-mixing Communists!’ Clarence and Florence tried to explain that they weren’t Communists, they were Christians. But it was hard to convince anyone of this when most of the local Christians wanted nothing to do with them. Sunday after Sunday the folk from Koinonia would turn up for worship at one local Church or another, only to be turned away.  Because the group from Koinonia were black and white, and, for the most part, local Churches were ‘For Whites Only’! This made Clarence even more determined to confront the Churches with their hypocrisy. He began his own translation of the New Testament, setting the story of Jesus in 20th Century, and staging the disputes Jesus had with the Pharisees and Sadducees between Jesus and the First Church of Gainsville in Georgia.

As the Chatanooga Times says, Clarence’s Cotton Patch Version  ‘set off explosions in the mind.’

In the Cotton Patch Version Jesus calls his mission ‘the God Movement’, and explains that the purpose of the God Movement is ‘to help those who have been grievously insulted to find dignity.’(Lk. ch 4 v19)  Jordan’s Jesus confronts the Christians in his town, saying, ‘It will be hell for you, you phonies, because you tithe your pennies, nickels, and dimes, and pass up the more important things in the Bible, such as justice, sharing and integrity! You addlebrained leaders, you save your trading stamps, and throw your groceries in the garbage!’(Math.ch23 v23-24) 

As you can imagine the ‘addlebrained leaders’ were not amused with these remarks. So they organised a total boycott of Koinonia Farm. During this time local people were forbidden to sell Koinonia any farm supplies, or purchase any Koinonia farm products. Christians from all over the country, who sympathised with what the folk on Koinonia Farm were trying to do, tried to break the boycott, by running poultry feed and trucking out chickens and eggs.

The Klu Klux Klan then got in on the act, with drive-by shootings and dynamite bombings. But the folk on Koinonia Farm stood firm. They were pacifist. And refused to fight fire with fire. But they were also steadfast. And refused to be run out of town. In spite of constant death threats Clarence continued to affirm his faith in Christ and Christ’s call to inclusive multiethnic community.

When he died in 1969, Clarence was still one of the most hated men in his county, but he left us a legacy of tough love that we would do well to heed if we want to try to develop inclusive multiethnic communities in an increasingly racist society.


Jose Maria Arizmendiarretia – ‘The Co-op Priest.’

Jose Maria Arizmendiarretia was born in 1915 on a farm about thirty miles from Mondragon, Spain. Being brought up in Basque country Jose grew up Basque - gritty, proud and independent. Being brought up Catholic in Basque country meant Jose grew up Catholic Basque - well grounded, well educated and passionately progressive. When he was thirteen Jose left his village of Marquina and went to seminary in Vitoria. At seminary he immersed himself in progressive catholic social teaching, in particular, the work of Agustin Zaubikarai.  

From 1936 to 1939 Spain was plunged into the Spanish Civil War. For the Basques, 'La Geurra Civil' was a battle for autonomy and democracy against tyranny. Most of the Basque clergy supported the Basque patriots. Jose wrote patriotic articles with Agustin Zaubikarai, who was the director of Eguna, during the war. As a consequence Jose was arrested and imprisoned. He expected to be executed, along with his cellmates; but he was given a reprieve, and he was released at the end of the war.

After the war Jose went back to the seminary. In 1941, at the age of twenty-six, he was assigned as a priest to Mondragon, where he was to work for the rest of his life. At that stage there was no indication of the extraordinary impact he would have. Jose was a modest man, with no great ambitions. He was known more for his piety than his capacity to accomplish anything of any significance.

Because of his interest in social issues, Jose was assigned as a counsellor to 'Accion Catolica'.  But there wasn't a lot of 'accion' in Mondragon at the time. Unemployment was a major problem in Mondragon, so Jose tried to get more students enrolled in an apprentice training school run by a local steel company. The management blocked this move, so Jose set up a community managed training school.

The self-financed, self-governed apprentice school, which Jose started in 1943, was a great success; and, in 1948, Jose organised the League of Education and Culture, which, in turn, developed a comprehensive educational programme, which now provides comprehensive community education to approximately forty-five thousand students. This programme, with its emphasis not only on technical, but also on ethical education, was the foundation upon which the Basques were able to build a remarkable co-operative movement.

In 1952 eleven students passed their engineering exams at the University of Zaragoza. In 1954 five of those students decided to buy a small bankrupt factory and turn it into a worker-controlled co-operative. By the end of 1958 the co-op had 149 employees. Their success inspired a whole range of co-operative enterprises. Including large machine shops, appliance manufacturers, technical services, research and development organisations, a chain of department stores, and even a worker-controlled bank. Today there are now more than 170 worker-owned-and-operated co-operatives, providing 21,000 workers with good jobs, serving over 100,000 people in Mondragon.

To begin with the co-ops operated informally along democratic lines, but Jose knew that, for them to be truly durable democratic organisations, they needed to develop formal democratic principles and procedures. Fascist-influenced Spanish laws made this very difficult to do. So Jose spent a lot of his time finding ways for the co-ops to break with the old rules that governed corporate structures, and make new rules that would help them develop more innovative and more responsive participatory co-operative structures.

Jose Maria Arizmendiarretia died in 1976; but his legacy lives on in Mondragon as what many consider the best, practical, alternative to both capitalism and communism.


 Simone Weil – ‘The Red Virgin.’

Simone Weil was born in Paris, on February 3 1909, into an affluent Jewish family. Simone’s elder brother Andre made sure that his younger sister got the very best education that she could. And Simone, a precocious student, made the most of her opportunity, graduating, with almost perfect marks, in 1924, at the age of fifteen.

In 1928 she began her study in philosophy, fascinated by mathematics and mysticism; and, in 1931, was appointed as a teacher of philosophy at a secondary school for girls in Puy.

Simone was determined that she would never be an ivy tower academic, so right from the start the so-called ‘Vierge Rouge’, or ‘Red Virgin’, combined her growing interest in radicalism with a growing personal involvement in the plight of the poor.

‘I have the need move among (them),’ she wrote, ‘mixing with them, and sharing their life ... so as to love them just as they are.’

To begin with Simone visited people, listening to their stories, and telling others of their concerns through a local journal. But upon reflection, Simone felt that this was pretty superficial, so she decided to take a year’s leave from her privileged position at school to immerse herself as fully as she could in the life of the poor.

She took a job as an unskilled labourer, then as a milling machine operator for the car manufacturers, Renault, moving into a small room near the factory, and living at the same standard of living as her companions in the workshop. Since childhood Simone had suffered from severe headaches and she found the excruciating level of physical exertion and psychological stress that went with being a wage slave almost unbearable. But she stayed with it till the end of the year.

The next year she returned to teaching philosophy, but during the summer holidays, Simone took time out to spend a few weeks on the frontline with the republicans who were fighting for their lives against the fascists in Spain. For someone with a well-developed sensibility, like Simone, the affliction in war was appalling.

It ‘makes God appear absent, more absent than (the) dead,’ she said. ‘A kind of horror submerges the whole soul. If the soul stops loving, it falls into something which is almost the equivalent to hell’.

Soon the war engulfed France. In 1940 Simone, with her Jewish family, fled the advancing German invasion . While in southern France Simone met a Dominican priest, by the name of Perrin. The two became good friends.  Perrin encouraged Simone, who said ‘I always adopted a Christian attitude’, to become more explicit in her implicit love for Christ. And she says, that as she prayed, ‘Christ himself came and took possession of me’. As a consequence of this experience Simone plunged herself more deeply into the work of the resistance, which was, for her, ‘Christian love for one’s neighbour.’

In 1942 Perrin was arrested by the Gestapo, and Simone fled to America. But she didn’t stay there long. She was called upon to serve the French Government in exile, and went to England to work for them.

Simone was commissioned to write a document on the reciprocal rights and responsibilities of the citizen and the state, later published as The Need For Roots.  In 1943 Simone died. An illness she was suffering from apparently aggravated by her refusal to eat anything more than was available to her compatriots in occupied France.


Dom Helder Camara- ‘The Red Bishop.’

Helder Camara was born in 1909 in Fortaleza in the North East of Brazil. He was the eleventh son in a family of thirteen children – almost half of whom who died of influenza.

His father, Joao, was a guard in a local company and his mother, Adelaide, was a teacher. His father was not very religious. But the young Helder was very much influenced by an order of priests who served in his hometown. By the age of four, Helder was “playing church” and saying he wanted to be “a Lazarus Priest” when he grew up. In 1917 Helder took his first communion. And in 1923 entered the Diocesan Seminary. There he studied philosophy and theology. And developed his formidable debating skills.

In 1931, at the tender age of 22, Helder was ordained a priest. At his ordination, he was commissioned to “speak for humble people”. And this call was to become his vocation. Helder was sent to Ceara. Right from the start of his ministry he advocated human rights He immediately set up a Legion of Work for men in his region. And two years later, with the help of some local maids, set up the Organisation of Feminine Labour for women.

For Helder, education was a critical component of both formation and transformation. So, just like his mother, he launched himself into teaching and training teachers. A task at which he excelled so much that he was invited to be State Director of Public Instruction.

In 1936 Helder moved to Rio de Janeiro where he took up the position of Director of the Teaching of Religion and worked to reform the teaching of religion in the state education system. And after some time he became editor of a magazine called “Catholic Action.”

In 1952 Helder became auxiliary bishop in the diocese of Rio de Janeiro where, three years later, he became auxiliary archbishop. At the same he founded the National Bishops Conference of Brazil, and developed the General Conference of the Latin-American Bishopric for the foundation of the Latin-American Episcopal Council (CELAM).

Over the next 12 years Helder got increasingly personally involved in the struggle of the people living in the favellas - the slums in Rio de Janeiro - and used his position as vice-president of the Latin-American Episcopal Council to advocate on behalf of the poor.

In 1964 Helder was appointed Bishop of Olinda and Recife, back in the North East of Brazil, where he had originally come from, one of the poorest parts of the country. So he moved into a couple of rooms at the back of a church in downtown Pernambuco.

Within a few days of his taking up his office, there was a military coup in Brazil. The democratic government was overthrown and many of the leaders of Catholic Action were thrown into prison along with members of congress, union organizers, and journalists.

Helder spoke out against what he called the “reign of terror ”. When questioned about his courageous stand, he answered testily: “I am trying to send men to heaven, not sheep. And certainly not sheep with their stomachs empty and their testicles crushed.”

The military promptly branded him “The Red Bishop”. But Helder replied - in a famous statement that was picked up, passed on, and copied endlessly, until it cried out from notice boards in community households all over the world - “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist!”  Helder always insisted he was Christian - not a Marxist.

Helder worked on preparations for the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) which ran from 1962 to 1964 and which introduced the greatest range of reforms in the church since the Protestant Reformation - including base ecclesial communities.

Helder was only five feet tall. But during the 1970’s he became a huge beacon of hope for people around the world who supported a radically compassionate spirituality and opposed oppressive political structures – both secular and religious.

In 1985 Dom Helder Camara retired & in 1999, at the age of 90, he died.

 

Desmond Tutu - “The Voice Of The Voiceless”.

Desmond Tutu was born on October 7th 1931 in Klerksdorp, South Africa. His father was a teacher and his mother a domestic worker. They nurtured the young Desmond in a culture of respect that stood in stark contrast to the intolerant culture of the day. ‘I never learnt to hate’ he said.

When he was twelve, Desmond moved with his family to Johannesburg. He attended Johannesburg Bantu High School. Matriculating just in time to graduate as a ‘black’ into the recently-constructed, ‘white’-cont-rolled, ‘apartheid’ system. He wanted to be a doctor, couldn’t afford the tuition, so Desmond became a teacher instead. A set of skills he was to use effectively in working for justice and peace the rest of his life.

In 1955 Desmond married Leah with whom he has four children. In 1957 Des-mond decides to become a priest. ‘It occurred to me that if the church would have me (it) could be a good way to serve my people’. So in 1958 Desmond began his training for ordination at St. Peter’s Theological College in Johannes-burg. In 1961 he was ordained, and became a chaplain at the University of Fort Hare, one of the only good quality universities open to ‘blacks’ in South Africa - that served as a creative think tank for the politics of dissent.

From 1962-66 Desmond studied theology at King’s College in England. While he was away, Nelson Mandela, and seven other leaders of the African National Congress (A.N.C.), were tried for treason, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment at Robben Island for trying to overthrow the government. On his return, Desmond resumed his post as chaplain at the University of Fort Hare, using his lectures in  theo-logy at the Federal Theological Seminary as an opportunity to reflect biblically on the ‘black’ struggle.

From 1972-75 Desmond worked as an Associate Director in theology for the World Council of Churches. Then, in 1975, Desmond was appointed the first ‘black’ Dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral, Johannesburg, And from this moment on Desmond began to emerge as an eloquent spiritual advocate for ‘equal rights for all’.     

In 1976 Soweto, a black township to the southwest of Johannesburg, erupted in protest when the students were forced to use Afrikaans in schools. Police retal-iated with ‘tear gas and gunfire’. Weeks of boycotts, marches, counterattacks and violent clashes around the country left more than 500 people dead, thousands arrested, and thousands more seeking refuge outside the country’. In response, Desmond penned a brilliant open letter to the Prime Minister, John Vorster, that was to become a model for Christian resistance. That same year, Desmond became Bishop of Lesotho and, two years later, Secretary-General of the South African Council of Churches - which gave him the opportunity to work with the churches against the regime. Desmond denounced apartheid as ‘evil and unchristian’ and called for the abolition of internal passport laws and the cessation of forced deportation of ‘blacks’ by ‘white’ authorities to so-called ‘homelands’.

During this time Desmond developed a reputation for being able to be a strong but gentle Christian anti-apartheid advocate, who could work for reconciliation by talking to people on both sides of the argument.  The United Democratic Front (U.D.F) is formed, out of a coalition of more than 600 organizations, with more than 3 million members. And Desmond became a leading spokesperson ‘God’s dream is that all of us will realize we are family. In God’s family there are no enemies.’ He said over and over again, ‘when we recognize our interdependence, and start to live as brothers and sisters, then we become fully human.’

In 1984 Desmond is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of ‘the cour-age shown by black South Africans in their use of peaceful methods in the struggle against apartheid’. At the award presentation the chairman of the Nobel Committee said, ‘Some time ago television enabled us to see this year's laureate in a suburb of Johannesburg. A massacre of the black population had just taken place - the camera showed mut-ilated human beings and crushed children's toys. Innocent people had been murdered. Women and children mortally wounded. But, after the police vehicles had driven away with their prisoners, Desmond Tutu stood and spoke to a bitter congregation: “Do not hate”, he said, “'let us choose the peaceful way to freedom”.’

The Nobel Committee asked the prize be regarded ‘not only as a gesture of support to him and to the South African Council of Churches of which he is leader, but also to all individuals and groups in South Africa who, with their concern for human dignity, fraternity and democracy, incite the admiration of the world".

Desmond was installed as Johannesburg’s first black Anglican bishop in 1985 and then Cape Town’s first black Anglican bishop in 1986 – the first black leader of South Africa’s 1.6 million Anglicans. As media restrictions strangled free speech and organizations like the UDF were effectively banned, Desmond used his position as a leader of a middle-or-the-road multiracial church to increase his criticism of apartheid.

In 1988 the headquarters of the South African Council of Churches was bombed - and 21 people were in-jured. It was later revealed it was bombed under secret orders from P.W. Botha, the President of South Africa. But after a stroke in 1989, hard-line apartheid President P.W. Botha resigned, making way for a more moderate F.W. de Klerk to negotiate with Nelson Mandela the terms and conditions of his release. .  

In 1990 Mandela was released and restrictions on banned organizations like the A.N.C. were rescinded. In 1991 a National Peace Accord was signed and nearly a thousand political prisoners were released. In 1992 an overwhelming majority of white South Africans voted ‘yes’ for change in a national referendum. In 1993 it was agreed to set up a ‘Government of National Unity’ to facilitate a transition to multi-racial democracy. And, in 1994, with  the A.N.C getting 63 per cent of the vote, Mandela was elected President.

In 1995 Desmond was asked to chair a Truth and Reconciliation Commissionin that would ‘investigate human rights abuses and political crimes committed by both supporters and opponents of apartheid between 1960 and 10 May 1994’. The commission was empowered to ‘consider amnesty for those who confess their participation in atrocities and recommend compensation to survivors and their dependants’ Desmond said at the time ‘I hope that by opening wounds to cleanse them, and stop them from festering.’   

In 1996 Desmond retired as Archbishop to devote himself to his work on the Commission. As chair of the commission Desmond heard 20,000 testimonials and received nearly 4,000 applications for amnesty. He said ‘we had the most devastating revelations of ghastly atrocities. We could describe them as monstrous, even demonic. But even these torturers remain children of God, with a possibility of being able to change’. 

In 1998 the Commission issued its interim report in which it criticised apartheid as a crime against human-ity but also criticised the A.N.C. for human rights abuses. Desmond said ‘we witnessed the ability of vict-ims to forgive their torturers, and of former torturers to transform their lives.’ Though flawed, the Commis-sion has become an extraordinary example of how a nation can process the pain it has experienced through injustice without doing injustice in return. A way Timor Leste hopes might help them heal their wounds

Since he stepped down from the Commission, Desmond has set up his own Peace Trust, become a patron of the Sabeel Center for Peace in Jerusalem and continued be ‘a voice for the voiceless’ in challenging everyone from Robert Magabe Presi-dent of Zimbabwe (he ‘seems to have gone bonkers in a big way’) to Thabo Mebeki current President of South Africa (‘You should not think those who disagree are disloyal’). Nelson Mandela says of Desmond Tutu ‘Sometimes strident, often tender, never afraid and seldom without humour, Desmond Tutu's voice will always be “the voice of the voiceless”.’       

 

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