March 12: Light in Rutba

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
   and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
   and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
   and his glory will appear over you.
Isaiah 60:1-2

You will be glad to note that, technically, the Sunday of Lent are not fast days; they are considered feast days, and thus, you do not have to observe your fast on Sunday. We don't have that luxury; since we are practicing the fast that God chooses, we can never cease the work of justice.

Instead, each Sunday we will focus on one positive and inspirational example of a person who is actively working for justice. 

The simple promise of this Scripture is that, when the world is at its darkest, those who do God’s justice will shine brightest. 

When we work for God’s shalom, we are covered by the Lord’s own glory. Our way is enlightened; our steps are made sure and steadfast. 

And our testimony becomes a beacon of hope for others. 

One of those people whose testimony has become an inspiration to me is Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, founder of the Rutba House in North Carolina, a New Monastic house where Christians live in community together. Jonathan is a powerful writer and speaker, and has been instrumental in leading the fight for racial reconciliation, peace, and economic justice for many years now.

But it’s his story about what happened in 2003 that has made the biggest impact to me. In the early days of the Iraq War, Jonathan and his wife, Leah, traveled to Baghdad with a Christian Peacemaker Team to show solidarity with the Iraqi people. As he later wrote, he believed “that the way of Jesus called us to interrupt the unjust war our country was initiating.”

As the team was driving a highway outside of Baghdad in multiple cars, shrapnel caused one of the cars to veer off the road into a ditch, causing injuries to the Americans inside. Jonathan noted that immediately Iraqis rushed to their aid, helped the victims out of the car, and rushed them to a doctor in Rutba.

The doctor said, “Three days ago your country bombed our hospital,” he said, “but we will take care of you.” He sewed up their heads and saved their lives. Jonathan says that when they asked the doctor what they owed him for his services, he only said, “Please, go tell the world what is happening in Rutba.”

I have heard Jonathan tell this very story in person. He always concludes by saying that this story is a modern-day version of the Good Samaritan parable which Jesus told. In that parable, it’s not a neighbor who saves the victim; it’s a foreigner, an enemy in fact. 

Jonathan concludes, “The gospel of Rutba is that hope lies in the ‘enemy.’”

All of Jonathan’s subsequent writings and work has the glow of the gory of the Lord. Here is a story of light in the midst of darkness, of shalom in the middle of war.

Arise and shine, people of God! Your light has come!

Prayer: God, thank you for the witness of all those who work for peace in the midst of war. May our souls be nourished and strengthened by their example. Teach us to be peacemakers, too. Amen.