Hope in the Waiting

Written by Tara Sanders // Photos by Emily Howard

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On Sunday morning, July 8th, it felt like the whole world was holding its breath as 12 members of a Thai soccer team and their assistant coach were being rescued from a flooded cave after being trapped inside for several weeks.

I had heard murmurings about the situation during this time, but the severity of it didn’t hit me until I read about the details.

Twelve young boys, ages 11-16, and their 25-year-old coach became trapped while exploring the caves during rainy season. The caves quickly filled with water and the boys sought higher ground as the water levels began to rise. Stuck in there with nothing more than a bike ride’s worth of supplies, the boys went without food for days and drank water that was dripping off of the limestone rocks.

The threat of death was very real, and logistically it was possible that they may not all make it out alive.

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Thankfully, that deep breath taken around the world was released with a rush as news broke forth on July 10th that all of the boys and their coach made it out alive. Eight of the boys were rescued by a team of Thai and international divers on Sunday and Monday. On Tuesday, the last four boys and their coach were led out of the cave. I can imagine the joy and relief that came from groups of friends and family watching on TV and the warm welcome the boys received when they made it back up to the surface.

According to an article written by the Washington Post, journalists began to flood the area as news of the story brought intrigue and watchful eyes from all over the world. It seemed that for a few short weeks the world was united by the hope that these young men would make it out of the cave alive.

While writing this, I’m realizing that there have been so many times when I have felt exactly like those boys-totally stuck. Mind you, I have never been stuck in a cave (though I have been spelunking), but I have been stuck in life in some very difficult circumstances where the chances of coming out of it seemed slim and my hope was waning. It seemed like there was no way out, no way of escape, and nothing to do but pray, hope, and wait.

IMG_1034Can you relate?

There are times when we feel like the water is rising up all around us. We are closed in on every side and unable to make it on our own. Those moments become an opportunity for God to show us how faithful He truly is.

But how do we hold on to hope in the waiting?

One of my favorite scripture verses of all time is Jeremiah 29:11.

“For I know the plan I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

It may seem a tad trite to quote that verse right now, but I have held onto these words so many times through so many trials because it’s not simply about God prospering you, it’s about God being aware of our situation and working in the midst of our waiting. Something that tends to get lost when this verse is shared is that this word from the Lord came to the Israelites when they were still in captivity. They hadn’t been freed yet and it wasn’t clear how they would get out. But the Lord said he had an idea, thoughts if you will, and that the plan was a good one.

As those boys sat in that dark cave, not even sure if anyone knew they were there, I’m sure many thoughts and fears arose from the possibility of never getting back out. All the while, there were teams of people on the outside working on their behalf and thousands of people who didn’t even know these boys pitching in to help.

Isn’t that how it is with God sometimes?

A friend once told me that “what we see isn’t really what’s going on.” What she meant was that we see the situation in front of us, but God sees the whole picture.

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This past Sunday, the 12 boys learned that one of the divers, a Navy Seal, Saman Gunan, didn’t make it out of the cave alive during the rescue efforts, when his oxygen supply ran out during his dive. In photos released by the Thai Public Health Ministry, the boys can be seen bowing their heads in prayer and some of them crying as they paid their respects to him.

He took a risk to save a group of boys he didn’t even know. Him, and so many others, selflessly gave of their time and resources to ensure the boys stayed alive, safe, and would eventually make it out of the cave.

Jesus laid down his life for us. He sacrificed it all so that we could have eternal hope. Not a hope that wains with life’s ups and downs, but a sturdy foundation that we can always lean and depend on no matter what our circumstances may be.

Isaiah 43:1-2 says:

But now thus says the Lord,

he who created you, O Jacob,

    he who formed you, O Israel:

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;

    I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,

    and the flame shall not consume you.”

We have no guarantee that we will not face high waters or even fire, and those things can come in many forms-sickness, grief, shame, worry, anxiety, and troubles of every kind. We are, however, assured that God is aware and cares deeply about our suffering and that He always walks with us.

It Is For Freedom. . .

Written by Amber Crafton // Photos by Ancy Samy

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Freedom. It is the heartbeat of our nation, a heartbeat that began centuries ago and has been maturing and weaving itself into the fabric of modern society ever since. On this day we celebrate the bold and historic declaration by a handful of audacious men and the colonies they represented, the declaration of the self-evident truths that God created all people to be equal and that God created all people to be free. They declared that day that no person or government had the right or authority to oppress equality or freedom, and we have spent the last 242 years fighting, at home and abroad, however imperfectly, to defend that declaration and prove that freedom really can work in this fallen and broken world.

IMG_0755Our founding fathers were not the first to proclaim that self-evident freedom, yet it was no less revolutionary for them than it was at Mount Sinai when God laid the framework for an Israel that was essentially self-governing, or in 1215 when the Magna Carta was signed, or even still today in warring and developing nations around the world, as well as here at home. But if we were created to be free, why is it so revolutionary to declare and defend our freedom? My guess is that it’s simply easier to choose the Lie—a counterfeit freedom—than to choose Truth. You see, the Lie offers us something in exchange for our fealty; it teases us with promises to satisfy that deep-down longing we sense but cannot identify, that longing that tears at our happiness and tells us we are incomplete and not enough. The Lie tells us we will be happy and, by extension, free when we are Number One and have it all. Becoming Number One, however, requires oppression because, by definition, Number One cannot be shared. So we must either trample on others in order to be and have it all or find ourselves trampled upon, damned to being and having nothing at all. According to the Lie, that is.

And it is a lie. Because being and having it all is nothing but a prison, a self-imposed slavery to dissatisfaction, insatiable striving, and isolation. Because there is no Number One, not among humankind, anyway.

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However, that is the Lie we believed all those eons ago, in a garden, by a tree, conversing for a moment with a Deceiver, and it is Truth who has come to us every moment since then and gently but boldly revealed the Lie to us, identifying our chains and naming our longing to be free, not just in body but in spirit. The Old Testament is full of promises from God to send a Messiah, a Liberator who would make His people free indeed, and in Luke 4:18–19 Jesus stood up in the synagogue and declared Himself to be that Liberator as He read from the prophetic text of Isaiah 61:

The Spirit of the Lord is on Me,
because the Lord has anointed Me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me
to proclaim freedom to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

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Jesus announced that he was the Messiah, the One they had been waiting for who would come to free them. They expected that freedom would be physical and political, so when it didn’t take that obvious form, the Jewish leaders balked. What they didn’t understand, though, is that physical and political freedom find their roots in freedom of the heart. As Jesus teaches them in Matthew 12:33–35, the fruit we bear in this life is an overflow of what is in our hearts, so that “a good man produces good things from his storeroom of good, and an evil man produces evil things from his storeroom of evil.” Jesus came to liberate our hearts first and foremost, freeing us to join Him in His ongoing liberating work on this earth. He knew that as hearts became free, they would eventually overflow with the fruit of freedom—minds, mouths, and bodies free to devise, proclaim, and build, little by little, until one day our own founding fathers would join that work, declaring that it should be the sole aim of Government to protect and defend the equality and freedom we were created for.

Jesus knew what those religious leaders refused to acknowledge: that over time, those who are called by His Name, who have been taught to obey all that He has commanded, would become a liberating people, who out of the overflow of the freedom in their hearts would be the vessels through which freedom could work its way out to physical incarnation in the world:

To break the chains of wickedness,
to untie the ropes of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free,
. . . to share your bread with the hungry,
to bring the poor and homeless into your house,
to clothe the naked when you see him.
(Isaiah 58:6-7)

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The work of Jesus—and the example He set for us—teaches us that freedom is not a monument. We cannot put it on our shelves like a trophy to remind us of how awesome and special we must be (the Lie). It is a reality we enjoy, certainly, but more than that, it is a movement to be cultivated (Truth). There are still people in this world who are not free; whether in spirit or in body or both, they are not free. And there is no justification in heaven or on earth for hoarding our freedom; we are created to spread freedom, and to be truly free, therefore, we must also be getting our hands dirty in the work of protecting, defending, and spreading freedom for others.

IMG_0774The Lie tells us that sharing our freedom will diminish it, that there is somehow not enough to go around. But Truth proves to us that the experience of freedom is multiplied as we exercise it on behalf of those still enslaved and imprisoned. Consider how much more freedom we enjoy now that slavery has been abolished, all men and women may freely exercise their right to vote, and civil rights continue to advance for those historically, systematically, and illegally oppressed. There is still much work to be done in this country, and around the world, but it is clear, historically and biblically, that we were created to be free together. It is the hoarding of freedom that diminishes it, keeping us enslaved to that insatiable striving and the dissatisfaction and isolation it breeds. The Lie of Number One is the wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing, and if we are not careful, it will destroy us, from the inside out, causing us to devour each other until none are left.

And herein lies the difficulty that comes with choosing Truth over the Lie: Truth requires something from us. The truth of freedom is that it exists in Christ alone. It is a reality He invites us into, to dwell in and enjoy safely and completely with Him, but He then calls us to partner with Him as He continues to cultivate it in the world. And God is clear that if we who have been set free indeed insist on hoarding our freedom, setting it on the shelf like a trophy to our greatness, then we are not actually free, but still enslaved to the Lie of Number One, and we should repent quickly and fervently and start getting our hands dirty in the fields.

Sara Groves sings in her arrangement of the folk song and Civil Rights anthem “Eyes on the Prize,”

IMG_0750The way is slow and we’ve so far to go
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.

When you see a man walk free,
It makes you think of Jubilee.

When you see a child walk free,
It makes you think of Jubilee.

When you see a family free,
It makes you think of Jubilee.

Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.

True freedom is a stunning and powerful prize to strive toward and behold, and our experience of it on this earth pales in comparison to what is promised us when Christ returns. Our freedom here is merely a foretaste of what is to come, and make no mistake: when that day comes we will celebrate an eternal Jubilee like nothing we could possibly imagine. But the work of freedom begins here and now, and it continues until that day comes. As the liberating people of a Liberating God, our hand is on the plow, whether we like it or not, and we must not turn back. For some this work will look like supporting or partnering with governments and organizations that go throughout the world to promote and defend justice, obliterate poverty, and end physical slavery and exploitation; for others it may mean using our own freedom to stand up for those in our own countries who are still being oppressed, whether systematically (policies that negatively affect entire groups of people) or individually (in stores, on the streets, in social groups, etc.).

We must keep our eyes on the prize. We must not grow tired and weary.

As we celebrate our freedom today, let us not take it for granted. The blood of Christ was shed to win us our spiritual Freedom, and the blood of our brothers and sisters past and present has been shed to defend and protect our physical and political freedom on this earth. Let us, then, renew our commitment to the gospel work of cultivating freedom—heart, mind, and body—among those still oppressed and enslaved, both at home and abroad, providing a foretaste of the world to come until Freedom’s work is finally finished and we are living in Jubilee forevermore.