He worked 14-hour days, brawled with everyone around him, cursed like a sailor, would sometimes gamble away his earnings—virtually everything he had worked for—and then face the chastisement of his family. His only day off was Sunday because the factory was closed. He would spend those Sundays carousing with his so-called friends, drink himself into a stupor, and then try to sleep it off so he could turn around and do it all again.
He was 10 years old.
Robert Raikes, the publisher of a local newspaper, witnessed the hostility around him and was overcome by the plight of young children that he observed. Since Sunday seemed to be the only day available to reach out to these children, Raikes started a program to serve them with Bible teaching and character development. Other communities began to see what Raikes had done and began to emulate his program.
Within 20 years over 200,000 children across England were involved in this new “Sunday School.” Just 50 years later, the number was in excess of 2 million. Education, which had been primarily reserved for the middle and upper classes, was now changing the face of lower class England in the mid-19th century.
Searching for Hope
In 1965 I stood in my front yard as a 5-year old child watching smoke rise from fires being set just 3 miles from my home. South Central L.A. was in flames, rioting was rampant, and I learned that there was a racial divide. There was an invisible curtain between the white middle class community where I lived and the predominantly black communities of Compton and Watts.
Two weeks ago I went for a drive to get out of my COVID-19 quarantined home and was just 12 miles south of that house I grew up in. This time I was 60-year-old man in Long Beach. My car was suddenly surrounded by thousands of peaceful protesters, then later that night my television beamed the protest into my family room as violence overcame peace, stores were looted, and buildings burned.
"He exulted in those tribulations to start and accelerate something that gave hope. What is our hope-giving action for today?—@BradDupray"
In the 55-year gap that occurred between these two events, I would like to believe that my understanding of racial equity has changed. The peaceful protest brought hope that times had changed. The violence brought sadness that times are the same. But are they? I wish I knew the answer. One thing I do know—the church’s response makes a difference. Just take a look at the work of pastor Martin Luther King Jr. His call for the church to lead with peaceful protests focused on systemic change served to push our country another step forward.
My mother, who was born during the Great Depression, said that the closest thing she could compare to the quarantine of COVID-19 was the night-times of World War II. As a young girl living on the West Coast, she would endure the “blackouts” where everyone in the Los Angeles metro area was required to cover their windows at night so potential Japanese bombers couldn’t see the lights of their targets. Hearing the zero bombers fly overhead as searchlights scanned the sky was frightening for young and old alike.
A recent meme circulating on social media had a picture of Doc Brown from Back to the Future giving instructions to his young apprentice Marty about the time-traveling DeLorean, “Whatever you do, Marty, don’t set it to 2020!” Yes, this has been a very rough and turbulent year, but if we don’t learn from our problems, then we have missed an opportunity. The Apostle Paul wrote: “We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint” (Romans 5:3-5, NASB).
So I ask myself, if someone with the mindset of Robert Raikes lived in 2020, observed the challenges, and searched for hope, where would he look? Fortunately we have people like Robert Raike all around us—men and women who look to the gospel as the answer to “the sin which so easily entangles us” (Hebrews 12:1) and offer up solutions for change.
Do I have the answers? No. But I recently ran across something which I think will help us find the solutions.
Making Needed Change
When we were just dealing with one issue that upset our church-methodology apple cart, a nationwide quarantine, my friend Todd Clark from The Slingshot Group put together an acrostic. He desired to help us use the pandemic as a means to “exult in our tribulation” and seize it as an opportunity for systemic change with how we operate as a church in the “new normal.” Todd’s ideas can also be applied to how we also make comprehensive changes as the church addresses issues of racism and its inherent ugliness. What can the church do to advance these solutions another step forward?
This is an opportune time to stop and see how we have been operating as the church and what we can change. Note how the letters in this acrostic do not spell anything (our perception of how an acrostic should work), but instead it uses the shape of each letter to remind us how we can invoke change.
"What will we start or accelerate? This is where real change can take place." —@BradDupray
V—What will change quickly? What will drop down and bounce right back up again? A realization that the church is the people and we can be the church and still meet together in the electronic age, without the use of buildings.
U—What will come back slowly? Productive change can take time. What systems or events will be reintroduced, but need to be addressed methodically and with deliberation? Weekend gatherings. Small groups. Ministry events. Peace and understanding.
L—What will not come back? We have the opportunity to simply stop doing church programs that are not working. We have the opportunity to correct racial divides by reaching out to our neighbors for open discussions of what creates those divides and what we must stop doing that has been intensifying the problems.
J—What will we start or accelerate? This is where real change can take place.
Robert Raikes looked at the world around him and jumped on that “J.” Slavery was in the process of being abolished. Children were subject to abusive work environments. Disease was running rampant. It was a grim world. But he exulted in those tribulations to start and accelerate something that gave hope. What is our hope-giving action for today? What will we start or accelerate so real change can take place?
I wish I was smart enough to give you the answer. That’s your job. Get busy. Be creative. Start. Accelerate. Persevere. Build character. Hope does not disappoint!