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Finding Christ at the End of the World

The great letter writer Paul, writing to his friends in Philippi, said: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (1:21 NIV)

That verse stumps me. Because sure, I believe in an afterlife with God, and I know it’s going to be good. I get that in my head, most days. But I don’t want to die. Dying doesn’t feel much like gain.

And we live in a culture that isn’t helping me. We don’t really like to talk about death. We try to protect ourselves from the effects of aging, like wrinkles and hair loss. An increasing number of people each year use cosmetic surgeries in North America. We really really don’t want to die.

We have safe streets (especially if you’re white), free health care, low infant mortality and a high life expectancy. Death can be hard to face. We don’t much like the look of it. We try to avoid it.  

But I don’t want to die. Dying doesn’t feel much like gain.

And that’s a privilege denied many, I fear.  For too much of the world the opposite is true. For me, in my comfortable life, with my full table, safe streets, and high fences, death seems like the end of something good. For others, facing starvation, violence, pain and fear, death, to be with our good God in a good place, is an escape. A relief. A gift. The answer to prayer. The message of the Gospel has different shades and colours to it depending on your vantage point.

There is a family in my church who came as refugees to Canada from Burundi 10 years ago. One member of the family, Sarah, is almost exactly my age. And I love to have Burundian tea with her and to talk. This week as we were drinking tea, we were talking about the state of the world: hurricanes, floods, fires, bombs, and wars. So much bad news has been coming our way.  And of course, we talked about Burundi.

Sarah was telling me about some of the big steps the U.N. has recently taken to address the situation in her home country.

The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Burundi reported that they have reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed and continue to be committed in Burundi.  We’re talking about serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, sexual violence, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and enforced disappearances.

There are so many places where the end of the world seems near.

The Commission has recommended that the International Criminal Court investigate possible crimes against humanity. This is the most extreme kind of charge that the international community has. The commission also hopes that the government of Burundi, a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council, will cooperate. This hope has not yet been realized.

Sarah and I asked each other, “Is this what the end of the world looks like?” It certainly might feel like the end of the world if you live in Burundi.

There are so many places where the end of the world seems near. You could see how maybe, just maybe, thinking this was the end of the world might bring some hope. Hope for a way out of this mess.

And Sarah told me what her mother said to her when she was growing up in Burundi: “You think this is the end of the world? It’s not. Perhaps it’s the end of the world for those who have died. But it’s not our end of the world. That would be too easy. We have to keep living. Are you waiting around for Jesus to come back? Don’t. He’s here already. Go out and find him!”

I think Sarah’s mom is echoing Paul. In Philippians 1:27-28a Paul goes on to say: “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.”

The end of the world means that all things will be put right. We can and should look forward to seeing Jesus again. But meanwhile we wait. We’re not allowed to relax in our riches or succumb to our fear. Neither helps anyone. We need to see Christ working in this land now. We need to join him!

Just this week my church unanimously agreed that we would start the refugee sponsorship process to bring more of Sarah’s family to Canada.

What does “conducting ourselves worthy of the gospel of Christ” look like? It’s not a life slaving away earning our place in that beautiful forever. It’s about catching a vision of the good news: CHRIST came, God on earth, and he loves us, and he is working out a plan to make all things new. It’s a plan we’re a part of. It’s a plan we see coming.

Just this week my church unanimously agreed that we would start the refugee sponsorship process to bring more of Sarah’s family to Canada. We are excited and scared. We can hardly wait to see them. And we can hardly wait for the day when Burundi is safe.  We can hardly wait to see the Kingdom come. But while we wait we help, as best we can. And we hope.  

You have a chance right now to speak up for refugee resettlement, so that more families like Sarah's can find safety: 

Canada: Support Refugee Resettlement in Canada

United States: Support Welcoming Refugees to the U.S.

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