«FOR THE HEALING OF THE NATIONS: REPAIRERS OF BROKEN WALLS AND RESTORERS OF GOD’S JUSTICE Adventist Society for Religious Studies Presidential ...»
Andrews University Seminary Studies, Vol. 48, No. 1, 17-27.
Copyright © 2010 Andrews University Press.
FOR THE HEALING OF THE NATIONS:
REPAIRERS OF BROKEN WALLS AND
RESTORERS OF GOD’S JUSTICE
Adventist Society for Religious Studies
Presidential Address 2009
Washington Adventist University Takoma Park, Maryland Angela and God’s Healing Justice I will begin with the story of my mother’s childhood. Angela Löesching was born in 1931 in Eastern Europe to two blind parents—a father blind from birth and a mother who lost her sight as a consequence of the Spanish flu at the end of World War I. Together they raised Angela and her sister Victoria on their own, which meant that Angela had to grow up quickly; her parents could not even teach her to walk. When she was three years old, Angela would go to the neighbors to fetch the milk that her mother would then give her to drink as her main diet. Her father, a teacher of Esperanto, and her mother, a poet, also owned a small brush-making company. Eventually they purchased a street-corner shop that raised them out of abject poverty to survival levels.
As a seven-year-old child, Angela noticed that everyone in school had ironed clothes except for her, so she learned to iron so as not to appear different from the others. Academically, she was a gifted child, learning Hungarian, Modern German, and old Gothic, Esperanto, and Serbo-Croatian.
Her school planned to send her to Budapest to study at the University as an exceptional child, but World War II interrupted this adventure and she was sent instead to Austria with her family as a refugee during the Russian surges in
1944. During the seven-day train journey the Russians and Germans bombed the train several times. In one instance, God placed Angela in a position to save the entire train of refugees. The train had stopped in Mursko Sredisce, now a part of Slovenia, and while they were waiting Angela went to play in the woods nearby. A partisan woman with a machine gun approached and told her to tell the engineer to let another train go ahead of them. The train that passed by was bombed and as a result many perished. However, Angela and her fellow passengers were saved and continued on their journey to the refugee camp.
For the rest of the war, Angela was “safe” in the refugee camp situated deep in the Austrian Alps. However, the lack of food and clothing meant that the entire family was starving and freezing. One day, some of the refugee children, including Angela, went sledding and skiing in the Alps. Even though 18 Seminary StudieS 48 (SPring 2010) she was barefoot, she enjoyed the adventure. Kind people, however, took pity on her and gave her a pair of shoes.
In July 1945, the Löesching family was sent back to the former Yugoslavia, where they were settled for eighteen months in a camp for German Folksdojcers in Gakovo, a foul place not unlike the concentration camps of the previous war years. From a beginning population of 18,000 only 9,000 survived this death trap. They were treated with hatred and contempt physically, emotionally, and mentally.
During their internment, Angela was often seriously ill. She first contracted stomach typhus. Though she survived, her father died from the same disease.
Angela, just under fifteen years of age, had to prepare her dear daddy’s body by wrapping it in a sheet, putting it into a wheelbarrow, and taking it to a pit with 500 other bodies for mass burial. She even climbed down after the corpse to lay it out in an orderly manner. In the blackness of that night, she then had to struggle for several hours to climb up the wet, steep walls of the pit to avoid being buried alive. Soon after her father’s burial, she contracted an epidemic typhus, with excruciating headaches that would not stop for days. Her mum also suffered from typhus at the same time. Then her eleven-year-old sister Victoria contracted “water sickness,” swelling until she died in horrific pain after five weeks of suffering. During the last stages of her sister’s illness, Angela developed a third typhus called “Pjegavac,” or what is now known as Scrub Typhus or Boutenneuse Fever. This one was the worst of the three, and she had to go into isolation. Out of 361 patients only two survived; she was one of the two. On the night Victoria lay dying, Angela could hear her mother call for her to come and be with them, but Angela was delirious and could not stand up to go to her younger sister.1 The next day she had to pull herself out of bed to bury her sister, and then a neighbor who, out of desperation, had killed her newborn twins with needles and then committed suicide.
Not only did Angela survive disease, but three times she also avoided being sent to Siberia by sleeping in a chicken shed or inside the bread-baking oven or by hiding all night in the top of a leafy oak tree. All these things happened before Angela married my father, when she was just two months shy of seventeen.
My father shared his Christian faith with Angela and her mother and she became a Seventh-day Adventist. She found that somehow, miraculously, this Adventist faith was a balm to heal her open wounds; that faith, pregnant with hope and shalom-like leaves for the healing of the nations, soothed her open sores and bleeding wounds that were so deep that, even though now healed on the surface, they continue hurting yet today.
As I spoke to her today on her 78th birthday, my mum told me that because of that inability to comfort her mum and sister, in the moments of her dying, terrible feelings of guilt persist until the present time.
For the healing oF the nationS...
No, Angela’s life was not suddenly brilliant and rosy following her marriage and acceptance of Christianity. A year after they married, and six weeks after my mother delivered my sister, my father was called up to serve for three years in the army in an unknown territory more than 600 miles away on the Macedonian, Greek, and Bulgarian borders. This was 1948, the tensest time of the Stalin-Tito conflict when Yugoslavia refused Russian control of the Balkans. Angela was just shy of eighteen years old when she was left penniless with a newborn baby and a blind mother in the aftermath of World War II. So she took her newborn baby on her back, went to the kolkhoz of the Communist agricultural company called Ekonomija and, falling on her knees, begged for work so that the family could have some food. She worked with a small baby on her back until my dad returned from the service.
The Adventist Church helped her at that time by giving her milk for the baby and providing her with wood to burn during the bitterly cold winters.
Our church community, with all its faults, became the body of Christ. It
became in a small, but tangible way what Isaiah describes in chapter 58:
“a well-watered garden, a spring whose waters never fail,... a repairer of broken walls and restorer” of social justice. Indeed this became the Sabbath of delight for a broken young girl who experienced a community that acted as leaves for the healing of wounds—a community that practiced the fasting that was loosing the chains of injustice, untying the cords of the yoke, sharing food with the hungry, providing the poor with shelter, clothing the naked, spending itself on behalf of others, and satisfying the mental, emotional, and yes, even physical and material needs of the oppressed.
Why this personal story? I believe that our stories shape us and they give us theological center and meaning. If Angela could be healed out of the utmost despair and pain of the horrors of this sinful world—horrors that are almost unimaginable to my generation—and if she could persist in raising all three of her children (and four grandchildren) to work in the Seventh-day Adventist ministry today, then God’s restoration and reparation of the world are real. That is the point that I would like to share with you today.
role in the present age and that looking more closely at the biblical prophets Zdravko Plantak, The Silent Church: Human Rights and Adventist Social Ethics (New
York: St. Martins, 1998); idem, “Adventist Basis for Human Rights,” Spectrum 27 (1999):
16-29; idem, “A People of Prophecy: Recovering the Biblical Role of the Prophets,” in The Peacemaking Remnant: Essays and Historical Documents, ed. Douglas Morgan (Silver Spring, MD: Adventist Peace Fellowship, 2005): 21-34; and idem, “The Role of the Biblical Prophets: ADRA in the Midst of the Prophetic Community,” Adventist Development and Relief Agency International Reflections: A Journal for Study and Reflection on Development Issues from a Christian Perspective 1/1 (2002): 33-48.
20 Seminary StudieS 48 (SPring 2010) would give us a much-needed clarification as to how that prophetic role must be accomplished: less through our apocalyptic and time-line warnings and chart-ticking (in)securities, and more in the way that the biblical prophets accomplished their tasks—through imaginative visioning and social activism in the socioethical, political,3 and economic senses, especially as they fought for the poor, the alien, the widow, and the orphan, for the least of the social, political, and economic strata that suffered the worst injustices. Furthermore, I have made in several places a strong call for our two major theological tenets— the Sabbath4 and the soon coming of Christ—to become significantly more socioethically relevant, and have argued that the richness of this theological heritage should give us much greater interest in the “other,” whose human dignity, human rights, and human aspirations should be supported. Our Sabbatical attitude should include not only weekly Sabbaths that equalize us all before God, but also annual Sabbaths that specifically call for social justice and are a moral call toward that great jubilee year that not only the Levitical and Deuteronomistic texts point to, but that Jesus of Nazareth furthermore utilizes in explaining his mission in the inaugural messianic proclamation.5 The teaching of the Second Coming is indeed about the hope that we, in the time between the first and the last coming, proclaim not only by evangelism, but by occupying until Jesus returns and, as referenced at the end of his Olivet Discourse (Matt 25), by doing to the least of his sisters and brothers in social and moral terms what we would do if it were Jesus himself on the receiving end of those actions.6 Eschatological Living as Prophetic Living There is one further point with which I have wrestled for several years now and through which I have, I believe, found a more helpful and satisfying conclusion. So far, I have been calling for more imaginative prophetic living, and I continue to think that this is a special calling for any prophetic community, especially a remnant prophetic community.7 However, I also Political theology that is not politicizing or getting involved into party politics but a theology of the market place or what is also known by the phrase “public theology.”
Zdravko Plantak, “There Should Be No Poor,” Adventist Review 179/44 (2002):
See, e.g., Deut 15 and Lev 25. Also compare with Jesus’ announcement of “the year of the Lord’s favor” in his Nazareth manifesto in Luke 4:18-21.
A similar point was often raised by Mother Theresa, who claimed that she could never have worked in the slums of Calcutta with the poorest of the poor if she did not think that when she was washing the sores of the lepers or holding a dying child, she was actually doing this to Jesus.
For further discussion, see Zdravko Plantak, “A Prophetic Community Today:
For the healing oF the nationS...
now advocate for what I term “eschatological living.” The seer in the book of Revelation receives a vision of how the new world looks, directing our eyes to the lush garden with plenty of water springing and flowing freely and energizing the trees that give fruits in frequent cycle and produce leaves that are so therapeutic and homeopathic that they serve for the healing of the nations (Rev 21–22, see esp. 22:2). My difficulty with this picture was that I always thought of it in terms of the post-Eschaton and therefore did not try to reconcile it with the invitation to the moral community of Christ here and now. Yet eschatological living urges us to take seriously the aspirations
of the New Jerusalem and project it to the eschatological living of today:
that living now is informed by what is soon to come.8 In some way, as South African scholar Adrio König argued in his remarkable book, The Eclipse of Christ in Eschatology: Towards a Christ-Centered Approach, our view must reject on one hand “a completed and [on another] a one-sidedly futuristic eschatology in favor of an eschatology in the process of being realized.”9 He suggests that “full eschatological reality requires... a realized eschatology (‘for us’), an eschatology being realized (‘in us’), and an eschatology yet-to-be-realized (‘with us’).”10 König then unpacks what he means by this middle stage of “eschatology being realized” between the first and the second coming of
In the New Testament, God’s children are sometimes called strangers and pilgrims in the world (Heb 11:13ff.; 1 Pet 2:11). It is even said that their citizenship (Phil. 3:20-21) and treasure (Matt. 6:20) are in heaven, and that they aspire to a realm above (Col. 3:2). But this estrangement between God’s children and the world is due to the fact that God’s children are already (at least partly) renewed, while the earth is still old and “lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Our alien status on earth is therefore temporary.
It implies not that we are destined for some place other than earth, but rather that the old, unrenewed earth does not suit us yet. That is why the expectation of a new earth is a living hope for the faithful.11 Imaginative Visionaries and Social Activists for the Third Millennium,” in Exploring the Frontier of Faith: Festschrift in Honour of Dr. Jan Paulsen—Congratulatory Edition, ed.
Reinder Bruinsma and Borge Schantz (Lueneburg: Advent-Verlag, 2010), 139-155.