I looked out at the people gathered before me; they had grown silent, waiting for me to begin to speak. I realized that I was about to step onto dangerous terrain. I looked into the face of a woman who had been trafficked into Italy to work in the sex industry. She had since married and now had a job, but still she carried the scars of her past. I looked at other younger women and felt certain that some of them, having been trafficked into the country, were still working the street. I saw men, some of whom had known discrimination and exploitation since arriving in Italy. Many of these people had left their native Nigeria because of crushing poverty brought on by where they were born, who their parents were, or their Christian faith. Many of them had been lied to about the opportunities that awaited them in Italy. These were people who had a lot to forgive. And I was preaching on forgiveness.
I stood on dangerous terrain, and I knew I must proceed carefully. To trivialize forgiveness or to gloss over the injustices they had suffered would ring hollow in their ears and bring no healing in their lives. I must talk boldly of the forgiveness that God has extended to us and the consequent demand that we extend that same grace to others. But I must also speak of the role of truth-telling in the process of forgiveness. When you are talking with people who have a lot to forgive, you must proceed more slowly, giving attention to the sometimes brutal texture of life.
They reacted to my preaching, echoing what I said. As I stood there preaching, I realized that they knew more about forgiving others than I did. They had more experience at it. They were living testimonies to the power of God in our lives to make us evermore into the image of God’s forgiving Son Jesus. I learned some things about forgiveness that day.
Debbie and I took a young woman to the train station after the service. She been trafficked into Italy, abused, and exploited. Now she is free, living with and working for a wonderful Italian family. She asked me as we approached the station: “If someone has sinned against you and you have forgiven them, do you still have to greet them when you see them on the street?” I replied: “Yes; but unless they have admitted what they did and have repented, keep your distance.” For her, forgiveness is no theological concept. It is a daily discipline.
As you pray:
-Ask that God will continue to give the people in our churches the power to forgive those who have wronged them.
-Please remember two of our Nigerian pastors who are having significant family and mental health struggles.
-Ask that God will open the door for many to participate in the European Baptist Federation’s Anti-Trafficking Network conference being held in Vienna the end of November. Visas and finances are always issues.
-Ask for a generous response to the World Mission Offering being collected in churches this month and next month. Our ministry and the ministry of our International Ministries colleagues depend upon the success of this offering.
May God bless you,
Jim (along with Debbie, Ben, and Luke)