“Corpsman! Corpsman! Corpsman! Corpsman! For God’s sake, corpsman! Corpsman! Corpsman!”
The above is the opening line from the Oscar-winning movie, “Flags of Our Fathers”. The movie tells the story of the battle of Iwo Jima, during the Second World War, and in particular the raising of the American flag, as captured in the iconic photography of Joe Rosenthal. It is a poignant, striking and powerful slice of cinematography, and nobody except for the most hard-hearted could fail to be moved by the brutality of war and the disastrous effects it has on the lives of both those on the frontline and their families and communities.
Following the lives of those men who were treated as heroes for their part in the raising of the second flag on Iwo Jima, the movie centers around the story of John “Doc” Bradley , a corpsman. For the uninitiated, myself included, the corpsman was the trained medic, the person responsible for the patching up of the wounded before they were able to be evacuated from the frontline. A thankless and extremely dangerous responsibility, the corpsman was often a prime target for the Japanese, who knew that by killing him they would cause another ten soldiers to die before they could receive medical attention for their injuries. The corpsman would be running from foxhole to foxhole, stemming the flow of blood from fresh wounds, calming the injured soldiers down, calling for the runners to bring the stretchers needed, all the while trying to escape injury himself.
In the work we are involved in, there is also a desperate need for corpsmen. Corpsmen who will walk and stand with hurting, broken people in their crises, bringing peace into the trauma, stemming the tide of destruction that sin and Satan have wrought in the lives of those created in God’s image, those who despite their infinite worth have been beaten, bruised and battered by life and its injustices. Corpsman who understand the effects of childhood trauma, of drug and alcohol addiction, of personality disorders, of educational inadequacies, of family and community breakdown, and who, in understanding, are prepared to dive into the mess of mankind and bring hope, healing and wholeness to those who are “sat upon, spat upon, ratted on”. And corpsmen who will point people to the place of healing, whether that be the doctor’s surgery, the psychiatrist’s office, the addict’s group, the prayer ministry room or the family meal-table.
But where are the corpsmen? Where are the people called, equipped and enabled by God in the fields often wrongly deemed as less spiritual than the traditional missionary/pastor/apostle/evangelist roles? While grateful for those who have sacrificially come to provide counsel, training and much needed support and encouragement in these areas, we still cry out for corpsmen on the ground, in situ ready for the times of desperate need, the crises, the times when the body lacks the understanding it needs to serve our students as fully and deeply as God desires. Is our understanding of God, His ways and His mission so lacking as to limit the call to “the spiritual” ? Or are there other reasons why the call to go to the ends of the earth with the good news of the Kingdom of Jesus often seems to go unheeded?
As Jesus looked out over Jerusalem, seeing a people oppressed, downtrodden and directionless, he called his disciples to pray for workers. That prayer is still being prayed today, that God would mobilize His body to release workers of all kinds into the harvest field. Will the “corpsmen” hear the call and come?
“For God’s sake….”
Hardware stores in Bangkok have been having a field day recently, playing on the fears of many residents to sell materials guaranteed to flood-proof one’s house. many of the purchases made were unthought-through panic buys which would have had little bearing on the flooding potential of the houses in question, but at least brought a little peace of mind to those who shelled out hundreds and thousands of baht to protect their real estate. One local estate had the obligatory wall of sandbags, but also had wrapped the entire outer wall in plastic sheeting (leaving a gap for the expensive cars to drive in and out, of course- and therefore for the water to find an entry point!). No matter that in flood areas the water was coming up into the houses through the drains, and therefore the result of the total encasement of said estate could well have been an unintentional community swimming pool. At least people thought they were ready.
One of the most disappointing and frustrating aspects of the work of The Well has been the attitude of some churches (and especially their leaders) to the people we are seeking to reach with God’s love and healing. A few times now, we have been told that the church “is not ready” to love, serve, welcome, bless and rejoice with the folks we are working with and amongst.
Just last week my wife was asking a local church to partner with us in providing gifts and food for a small party for ladies working freelance on the streets. The reply was that while they could help, the church “was not ready” to host the party or embrace the ladies working on their doorstep.
Over this Christmas, we celebrate the inbreaking of King Jesus and His Kingdom into this world, a world that, by and large, was not ready. Accustomed to the silence of God for 400 years since Malachi, the arrival of the Messiah in the shape of a helpless, defenseless child was unexpected, unwelcome and unrecognized by those that were not ready or willing to have their lives turned upside down.
However, there were those who were ready, those who listened and obeyed, those who were attuned to what the Father was doing- Mary, Elizabeth, Anna the prophetess, Simeon, the star-gazers and the shepherds were in the vanguard of those welcoming in the new thing that God was birthing in His Son. Later there were others who joyfully embraced the way of Jesus, the way of the Cross, the way of The Master who became the servant.
The tragedy was that those who should have been ready (indeed, who thought they were ready, and thought they could ensure that others were as ready as they) who were the most unready, and who excluded themselves and others under their influence from entering the Kingdom and joining in the party. So unready were they that instead of opening the door, they shut it in peoples’ faces, bolting and chaining it up for good measure- if they couldn’t enter, they made sure that nobody else could either.
And us? Let’s get up close and personal for a moment. Are you ready? Am I? It’s too easy to throw up our hands in horror at the attitude of the church, to criticize the arrogance of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. But what about you? This Christmas, are you ready to echo those beautiful words of Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.” - the very words that opened her heart, her womb, her future and her plans for God’s heart, God’s future, God’s plans to be birthed through her into a dying world? Are we ready to listen to what the Father is saying, to see what he is doing, and to do it with Him? Are we ready to say “Lord, I am ready; help me in my unreadiness”?
The world is waiting, in eager expectation- for His sake, let’s do all we can to be ready! And let’s pray for our churches, for our families, our communities, that we would be ready to serve up the kingdom feast that Christ has made ready to those for whom it has been prepared.
This week has seen the passing of Steve Jobs, the creative mastermind behind Apple. Tributes have been flowing in from around the world, focusing on his business acumen, his innovation, his team ethic, his value to humankind. Observers have been surprised at how many people have Facebooked, Tweeted, blogged and e-mailed, quoting Mr Jobs at length as if his very words held the key to life itself.
This very same week, another man who had inspired an outflowing of musical creativity also died. Bert Jansch, a folk guitarist whose unique style influenced the likes of Paul Simon, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young and many others, passed away. His passing was marked without fanfare, without presidential comment, without television specials interviewing anyone who knew him to glean the detailed trivia that feeds the insatiable appetite of the doting public. But which man had most worth?
Before we rush to answer,we should check our hearts. How much have we bought into the cult of celebrity, the concept of “value added” that defines a man by his productivity, his popularity or his bank balance? How much do we play by the same rules, judging each other by what we can or can’t do, or what we have or have not achieved, even within the community of followers of Jesus?
Outreaching amongst freelancers in Bangkok’s Chinatown area earlier this week, my wife met a woman, six months pregnant, who was touting for customers. She gets one customer a day if she is lucky, and picks up 400 baht, 100 of which goes to the owner of the seedy hotel where she rents the room. How much do you think she is worth? A girl we are helping is dealing with the trauma of having had three abortions, the last one at seven months. How much were the lives of her unborn children worth? And how much is she worth? Last year, 2,000 fetuses were found in a Thai temple, the victims of backstreet abortions- they were worth $16 each to the woman who took them from the illegal clinics to the temple,and were a small part of the estimated 300,000 illegal abortions carried out in a year in Thailand; but how much were they really worth? And what is the worth of the lonely, frightened girls who feel they must resort to such desperate measures? And of the “doctors” performing the abortions?
Again, before quickly answering, we need to pause and reflect.We all know the stock Sunday School answer- in God’s eyes, all people are equally precious, loved by Him, redeemed by the blood of His Son- but in our everyday lives, how do we flesh out that belief? Do we play the fame game as much as the next man? How much does our use of time, of our money, our attention reflect the value that God has placed on every sinful, broken, marred and damaged person? How much do we see the image of God despite the external packaging? And how can we break free from the pandering to the values of this twisted, broken world in which we live, that perverts worship to idolatry of the successful, the talented, the powerful, the beautiful and the rich?
And we need to answer the hardest question: When we use the standards of this world to define the worth of people, what worth are we really attributing to Jesus, the one who:-
“..grew up before God—a scrawny seedling, a scrubby plant in a parched field.There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look. He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand. One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum. But the fact is, it was our pains he carried— our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures. But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we get healed. We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost. We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way. And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on him, on him.” ?
May we be continually renewed in the ways we attribute value and worth to others, transformed and not conformed, equipped to live a life that truly sees people as Jesus sees them, as we gaze upon the face of Jesus in worship!