People of Just Love

Some Reflections on the Better Country

By Just Love Oxford Committee 2020-2021

 

Overall, our time as a committee has been filled with challenges and lessons. Coming into these roles, we did not expect that we would be hit with a pandemic or that we would spend most of our time  part of trying to ‘inspire and release every Christian student to the biblical call to social justice’ from behind our screens. Despite this, as a committee we have faced ups and downs and have grown because of those experiences. We also know that God has been faithful and the work that we have done is what he intended for us to do.

Below, we have composed some reflections of this past year on committee and some of our hopes as we long for a better country and approach (what is hopefully) the tail end of this pandemic.

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It has been an interesting year to be an American. There have been some really good moments (won’t lie, I shed a tear as Kamala was sworn in), but mostly it has felt like a lot of really terrible moments, all of which seemed to have coalesced on January 6th. This was just as Gabriel and I were deciding on a term theme, and the Hebrews 11 passage articulated everything we were feeling in the wake of the attack, not to mention processing a third lockdown, and the reality that we would have to do another entirely online term of Just Love. We had a lot of dreams and big ideas when we started on committee a year ago, nearly all of which have not been able to come to fruition. Something I’ve learned from this—but really, mostly just from being a person trying to become more like Jesus in this past year—has been how to process and feel and handle discouragement and disappointment. (I will say some things about this now but I’m not going to pretend I’m good at this, it’s just something I’ve started to notice a bit more). It has been so easy this past year to sink into disappointment, and rightly so! There has been good reason to be disappointed and discouraged. But rather than continue to drift into this state of numb hopelessness, I want to walk into love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). I am convinced the way to do this is to intentionally cultivate desire for the better country, the heavenly country. In the face of everything that is broken, we long for the better country the Lord has promised us—but this does not mean we just hang out and wait for it. Remember this passage comes in the midst of hearing stories about everything the patriarchs and matriarchs got up to as they waited for the heavenly country. Remember the prophets who “administered justice” (Heb 11:33) as they “wandered in deserts and mountains” (11:38) as they waited, and this can help us wait too.

I have listened to Jon Guerra’s album “Keeper of Days” every day this term. Here are some lines from the song “Citizens” which helped me think about the term theme:

I need to know there is justice

That it will roll in abundance

And that you’re building a city

Where we arrive as immigrants

And you call us citizens

And welcome us as children home

– Elizabeth

 

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For me, the underlying feeling of the past year has been one of waiting. The year plans were put on hold. And in the past year, I have found it easy to slip into a mindset of holding out or hoping in a time, not too long in the future, when things will be better. A mindset which keeps me going because in a few weeks/months it’ll be back to normal. Thankfully, albeit frustratingly, the past year has helped me learn this is not a way to live; as the proverbs say: “hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Prov 13:12). And in this lesson, I believe God has been growing me in two ways.

The first, is that there never really is a time of waiting – God is always moving. Despite the numerous negative effects of the pandemic, there have been many blessings too; the opportunity it opens for a green recovery, the fruitfulness of Alpha ministries online, and closer to home, the amazing generosity of the Just Love community in the recent fundraisers. Repeatedly I have expected spiritual stagnation, only to be reminded that God is still and always moving, in our churches, in our world – and in me, in my own walk.

The other lesson learned is one of readjusting my hope. I have said that it is no way to live by placing our hope in that change just around the corner, or the lockdown milestone when things’ll get a little better. But I have been learning that it is a way to live – the only way to live – to place our hope in that change coming when Jesus comes again. That there is much joy and hope and sustain to be had in “longing for a better country” and looking forward to the day when all will be made right and new.

– Jacob 

 

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A Place Called Earth By Jon Foreman 

Oh, how I long for heaven in a place called earth
Where every son and daughter will know their worth
Where all the streets resound with thunderous joy
Oh how I long for heaven in a place called earth
Oh, the wars we haven’t won
Oh, the songs we’ve left unsung
Oh, the dreams we haven’t seen
The borderlines
And here we are between all of our hopes and fear
Chasing down these stolen years
Reaching out for hands unseen
On the borderline, the borderline
Oh, how I long for heaven in a place called earth
Where every son and daughter would know their worth
Where all the streets resound with thunderous joy
Oh how I long for heaven in a place called earth
Jesus name still on her tongue
Questions buried in her lungs:
“Oh my father, why my son?”
On the borderlines, the borderlines
Oh, how I long for heaven in a place called earth
Where every son and daughter will know their worth
Where all the streets resound with thunderous joy
Oh how I long for heaven in a place called earth
I had a dream that I finally saw your face
Dancing in the arms of grace
Dancing through the joy and pain
On the borderlines, the borderlines
Oh, how I long for heaven in a place called earth
Where every son and daughter will know their worth
Where all the streets resound with thunderous joy
Oh how I long for heaven in a place called earth
Oh how I long for heaven in a place called earth

My last year has been filled with Sehnsucht. The English translation of this is longing, yearning, nostalgia or desire. It is a sentiment I’m sure many others will be able to echo in this time. At a personal level, I long to see my father who lives in Germany, and I long to know my worth as a child of God in the midst of struggling with my mental health in the hardest term of my degree. At a local level, I long to see our friends on the street who are sleeping rough through the cold winter lockdowns to find shelter, not only physically but also emotionally, in the arms of the Father who loves them. At a global level I long to see apathy turned to action concerning climate change. Focusing on Hebrews 11 this term has taught me that these “levels” are really just socially constructed. They a way to try to conceptualise the holistic beautiful reconciliation God’s kingdom will bring and we have a part in bringing to fruition. Recently, I was walking through Port Meadow and I discovered the song “A place called Earth” by Jon Foreman. I could not help but join the song and cry, gazing out onto the expanse of water. It speaks so much to that feeling of nostalgia for what the world was like before the fall, and what it will be like when everything is renewed. It is relieving to know that it is right to feel this yearning, and that there is fulfilment for it. That gives me hope.

– Marie-Louise

 

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I think the theme of longing aligns well to the general mood of this term, or at least my own general mood.  I am longing for a lot of things.  I long to return to Oxford, to hug my friends, and to do such mundane things as go out for coffee.  All of us in Just Love are longing for an end to the suffering we see around us: COVID, mental health illnesses, climate change, loneliness, unemployment, homelessness… and so many more injustices, many of which just seem to be getting worse.

The longing that we have been thinking about this term has reminded me repeatedly of Romans 8:22-23: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”  The whole of creations is groaning.  The whole of creation – including ourselves – is profoundly yearning for God’s redemption and healing.  These verses remind me that longing for God’s kingdom, feeling heartbroken and desperate for justice is an intrinsic part of this now and not yet state of existence, where God’s kingdom has not fully come but is continually breaking in.  Leaning into lament, humbly bringing our fears before the Lord, asking for his intervention, and renewing our trust and commitment to His kingdom’s justice is what we are called to do as his disciples.  So, I suppose if this year has taught me anything, it has given me a baby step in the lifelong direction of learning that truth.  And to acknowledge the privilege that we have as his children to participate in that ‘breaking in’ of his Kingdom, albeit in humble ways.

I am so excited to see the lessons you learn as a Just Love community as you continue to minister to each other and to our city.

– Gina

 

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When I look back over this past year on the Just Love committee, one of my main take-aways is learning how to seek God’s justice through prayer. During a year when I was frustrated at how I felt like I couldn’t get my “hands dirty” for Jesus’ justice, with us all being cooped up at home, God has taught me that prayer is the primary work of those aligning their mission with God’s. In the past, I have wrongly felt at times that in order to pray about something, I needed to sort of “tidy up” my emotions about it beforehand, especially if there was pain and anguish involved. In praying for Jesus’ justice throughout this year, God has repeatedly shown me that as I bring my sorrow and pain about injustice in the world to Him, He is right there with me, mourning, weeping alongside us. What a beautiful thing to have a compassionate God! 

During one of our prayer evenings this term, a member of our Just Love Oxford community shared an image for us. She was reminded of Pentecost, with all those disciples cooped up in that upper room in Jerusalem. I am sure that before the Holy Spirit wowed the disciples that day, their time in that upper room was one filled with both the hills and valleys of human emotions. But God was using that time to prepare them for that powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit; God had been preparing them for their mission all along. I have been thinking about this scene a lot. My prayer is that our Just Love community is able to take heart from the story of Pentecost. Throughout this past year, when we have felt cooped up and unable to do as much in terms of physical outreach, God has been preparing us. I am really thankful for how, as a Just Love community, we have together really pressed in to prayer this past year. The work of prayer is never in vain. Rather, it is through this honest communication with our Father that we come to know both His compassionate heart for all of His creation, and that we become more like Him. It involves bringing our hearts, our thoughts, our feelings, and, as many times this past year, our upset about the state of the world, to the loving embrace of the Father. Prayer is a process through which we learn to see with God’s eyes and trust in Him. There is no right way to pray – prayer is no checklist. But it does involve a continual returning to God’s presence, learning to see with His eyes, to trust in His power and plan. Through prayer, God lifts our eyes to that heavenly city (Hebrews 11:16), and allows that longing, that desire for the heavenly city to transform how we act here on earth. Just Love, I want to encourage you to keep pressing into God’s justice through prayer. From our posture of prayer, God transforms our hearts and will give us vision and equip our hands to serve Him each and every day.

– Madeleine 

 

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Making the decision to be a part of the Just Love committee last year was a significant milestone for me. It signified me engaging in the Christian community and finally being able to live out the university experience I wanted to have when I first started university. I had hope that I could end my academic experience on a high.

If I have learned anything from this past year its that sometimes life won’t meet your expectations. I had expected that this academic year would be different (and it was but not how I would have planned it). I will always have plans for life that might get diverted and this will often lead to disappointment. That however is only if I trust and believe that my plan is better than anything the Lord has promised. This term as we have focussed on Hebrews 11, we have been remined that God promised the patriarchs something. Although they did not see it come to fruition, it did not mean that it didn’t come to pass. They longed to see what God had planned but it probably took longer than they thought it would. They welcomed the promise from afar and looked towards the promise God had made for them instead of longing for what was before. Despite our plans sometimes being diverted, God is so faithful that he never breaks a promise. We might not see that promise in our lifetime, but it will come to pass. As we wait, we can long for what is to come even if it is from afar.

– Beulah

 

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I first found out about Just Love from Hannah Sowter, a Mathematician at Somerville who graduated in 2019. She was the Local Coordinator for Just Love back then and I have many fond memories of Homeless Outreaches with her. Among many great things, she’s warm and welcoming and so passionate about working for God’s kingdom. Her personality is also a good way to describe how it felt being on committee this year and getting more plugged into Just Love than I had expected to be a year ago. While COVID has brought on many challenges, it also brought opportunities. We had the chance to re-think how to do things digitally and to totally revamp what Just Love did for a year. Although I can’t wait to go back to normal, I like to think that we did try to make the most of the new circumstances. And getting to work alongside really inspiration people has been such a joy and a privilege. Sometimes COVID made it feel like Just Love was solely made up of the committee, but I was surprised again and again by how active and supportive our community really is. And how big it can be! I’ve really enjoyed getting to know more people who want to love God and love others through Just Love. I’m very excited to see what the new committee will do and how they’ll keep pursuing Just Love’s mission. How amazing would it be if more and more students decided to show God’s love to the world through their pursuit of biblical justice? I know brothers and sisters have prayed that I would become convicted and aware of injustices around the world and in my life. And I pray the same for you too as you read this. Let’s try to see the world more and more as God sees it: very aware of the brokenness, but full of hope, for the best is yet to come.

– Ilona 

 

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The idea of ‘Longing for a Better Country’ means several things to me. We’ve all spent the past year desperately longing for our disease-stricken country to ‘get better’ – but even beyond this, so many of us have been starkly reminded of the pervasive injustices of poverty, racism, climate change and more which we long to see our nations and others freed from. We long to see our nation bear the image of God’s Kingdom, where justice reigns and all things are restored to their right relationships – and this is the same Kingdom on which the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 fixed their sights. The act of longing first requires us to acknowledge that things are not as they should be. In this past year I’ve had to learn to lament: to cry out to God in the face of injustice which I am powerless to fight against, and to repent of my failure to act where I could. Lamenting is not the failure of faith but its essence, as we acknowledge our world’s desperate need of a Saviour and cry out to the one who is making all things new. Lament, faith and obedience all require the Holy Spirit to align our hearts with the Father’s, like a compass pointing towards God’s promised heavenly city, as He enables us to participate in the restoring and renewing of all things made possible through Christ. For me, this year has not been the year of ‘doing’ I expected, but it has been a year of ‘longing’: a year of seeking God’s coming Kingdom in prayers of lament, intercession and contemplation, and in learning with humility from scripture and from fellow Christians. And God has shown His faithfulness by teaching me and others so much about living and longing according to His purpose for all things. As Easter draws us to reflect on Christ’s resurrection and promise of new Creation, I am filled with hope that God will continue to transform His people, in Oxford and far beyond, into faithful seekers of a better country.

– Gabriel 

 

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We have all felt so privileged to be a part of this committee and , more importantly part of this wonderful community that cares for God’s heart for justice. As we pass on to our incoming committee we are excited to see the great plans that they have for Just Love Oxford.

 


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