On this independence day in Jamaica, I am in the USA, spending time with children and grandchildren - the latter having been born here are now American citizens. Last night I read a bedtime story to my first grandchild. It was a about Joseph and his jealous brothers and how, having been sold into slavery, he became a blessing to them, according to God's will and purpose. So out of (forced) migration came a wonderful story which has impacted western civilization like no other, and none more so than the culture of these United States, where both the Jewish and Christian influence is so strong.
But this morning, at 4:30 am when the Lord woke me up to read His Word, one I had no idea or recollection of Jamaica's Independence. And two I protested as I really wished to sleep, in fact circumstances dictated that I needed to sleep. But I was obedient and got up and was led to read, I am quite serious, in a way that only God could engineer, the story of Joseph. And the following passage struck me:
" Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king if Egypt. And Joseph went out from Pharaoh's presence and traveled throughout Egypt. During the seven years of abundance the land produced plentifully. Joseph collected all the food produced in those seven years of abundance in Egypt and stored it in the cities. In each city he put the food in the fields surrounding it . Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure.
Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, " It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father's household". The second son he named Ephraim and said, " It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering"
Genesis 41: 50-52 NIV
Amazingly Jamaica and American share a common history as while the former is peopled primarily by people of African descent persecuted and sold into bondage as slaves and shipped to the " The New World", so too was the USA founded by people fleeing religious persecution in Europe. At least in the first instance, and then to be followed by people from all over the world; some fleeing from war, others like the Irish from poverty and hunger, and still others seeking a new and more prosperous life, thus enabling this great country to be one huge melting pot of different cultures. So too has our culture been blessed by people from India, China, Lebanon, Israel, Germany, the UK and many Americans who have been " smitten" and found a permanent home there.
Further, as mentioned in US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton's tribute to Jamaica, many people from my country have made significant contributions as migrants and descendants of migrants,
as were Joseph and Ephraim and Manasseh, to this country and to the wider world. She highlighted the work of the much celebrated former Secretary of State Colin Powell. But perhaps Marcus Mosaiah Garvey, who not only was a great pioneer of the early civil rights movements and provided inspiration for the late Martin Luther King Jnr, but also inspired many of the African leaders and thus, with great poetic justice, leading to Independence from the same colonial masters who sent his forebears to a foreign land. And did Marcus Garvey suffer in all of this! No doubt the God of history who allowed Joseph to be fruitful in the land of his suffering was doing a " mighty work" in and through Marcus Garvey.
This matter of suffering for the gospel has pervaded my readings while I have been in this country.
One passage places suffering in the following context:
" Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into out lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows...........
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were underpressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on our selves but on God who raises the dead. he has delivered us from such a deadly peril and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. The many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted to us in answer to the prayers of many"
2 Cor. 1:3-11 NIV
The other in this context :
" Therefore, since through God 's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.....
But we have this ministry on jars of clay to show that this all surpassing-power is from God and not from ourselves. We are hard pressed on every side but not crushed.; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed."
2. Cor. 4:1-9 NIV
" Endure hardship as a discipline......
My son do not make light of the Lord's discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines those who he loves
and he punishes everyone who he accepts as a son.......
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on however it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."
Even though these passages are drawn from a New Testament experience, we can well imagine the sufferings - to the point of feeling that he was about to die - that Joseph endured. And how much he endured when persecuted, by the very wife of his daughter's father Potiphar. Yet he was never abandoned. Further, how much the discipline meted out to him by His Father, the God of Jacob, led to a harvest of righteousness and peace literally and metaphorically in the land of his suffering.
One of great disappointments in my country, is that despite our history as an enslaved people rescued in our land of suffering by the mighty hand of God - through the church inspired by the gospel of Christ which brought so much freedom - is that as a people, in large measure, we have turned away from the very God who rescued us. The Christian culture that inspired a Marcus Garvey, and a Colin Powell, that inspired the music of Bob Marley even though he was a Rastafarian - eventually to be baptised shortly before death - and the many other aspects of national life including our current world famous athletes, is changing. For the worse. So now the counter culture which has no foundation except the promotion of hedonism, selfishness, the pursuit of power, chaos and violence, now produces world the now infamous "Dudus", and Bounty killa, and shottas and the like.
No doubt the church rooted in the Judeo-Christian ethic, can find much to identify with in the Joseph experience and the call for suffering by its members - in a foreign land and whose citizenship is in heaven - so that we may become like Manasseh. " Fruitful in the land of my suffering". I pray God that on this day of Independence the church may regain its rightful place through suffering, so that our leaders in politics, in business, in the media, in the entertainment industry and the professions and the common man and woman may truly celebrate our common heritage. A people rescued from Sin and death unto everlasting life in and through Christ's suffering on a cross in a far away land, but which gospel and promises thereof, began when a people, whose father was Abraham, were sent into exile in Egypt and and set free by the mighty hand of God. In the same way that Christ was raised from the dead for our sake, by the mighty hand of God. Not just for Jamaicans and Americans, but for the whole wide world, who were once in exile from a loving and compassionate Creator. On account of Sin. Amen