When I last visited Hands of Compassion School (HoC) in Ndola, Zambia, back in 2010, a bore-hole was being dug in order that the school could have its own water supply. I remember the afternoon well. All the students were quietly getting on with their work when suddenly the atmosphere changed and there was an energy, life and vitality that were not there before. The reason for this change in the atmosphere was that water had been found and was spurting up into the air like a fountain – everybody, staff and students, rushed out of their classrooms and there was dancing for joy at the sight…..while the engineers, with their rain-coats, were desperately trying to plug the hole. Life and energy had come from an unexpected place and at an unexpected time.
In the reading we heard Jesus saying, ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ Christian faith is all about life and energy. Why did Jesus come? Not primarily to establish churches, not to give us rules, but to bring life. Everything else, our churches and our codes of conduct, need to be assessed by the extent to which they enable the life which Jesus brought, to flourish and be passed on. ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’
As we have heard in this service, that wonderful school in Chipulukusu is transforming the lives of many young people. And its strong Christian foundation – and the school is open to all in the community, not just Christians – but its strong Christian foundation is fed, watered and has its roots in the life that Jesus came to bring. It’s all about opening up the possibility of life to young people who may not otherwise be able to experience it.
But as we know, the life that Jesus brought can only be found and deepened through self-giving. ‘I am the good shepherd, ‘we heard in our reading, ‘The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.’ Life for the Christian isn’t about accumulating possessions, it isn’t about seeking self-fulfilment, it’s about putting the other, the other person, the stranger, the refugee and the poor before ourselves. When we try to do that, then we find a life and an energy that we did not know existed, coming from unlikely places. This is the vision on which the school is founded and these are the values that we would like the children to discover. But all of this turns the thinking of the world upside down, because our economies and society’s values encourage us to think that accumulation, acquiring, getting and grabbing are the routes to life. The life that Jesus brings is a bit like that bore-hole that brought life , energy and joy from an unexpected place and at an unexpected time.
Today we give thanks to God for 15 years of HoC and we look forward to the future. HoC and the school at Chipulukusu is well into its teenage years. Think back to when we were teenagers….if we can’t think that far back perhaps we can think back to our teenage children, nephews or nieces. Teenage years are often not easy for anybody. The struggle of those years is aptly expressed in the best selling guide for living with teenagers which has the title, Get out of my life……but first take me and Alex into town. In teenage years, the relationship between parents and children changes, and often it’s a struggle for both parents and children……but the key is to hold one’s nerve and both maintain the relationship and let it change as something new emerges. Such struggles are signs of growth, life and energy. As patron, I have little to do with the day-to-day running of this very special project, but I thank God for the work and commitment of Wendy and of the trustees who give so much of themselves for the sake of the project. It is now well-established, well-respected locally and moving forward into an exciting new future.
‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ I ask everybody here to pray regularly for this wonderful project which has done so much to bring life and energy to young people who may not otherwise find it. If you would like to be involved with it in any way, please speak with Wendy, Philip, chair of trustees or any of the trustees. The experience of everybody involved has reflected – and will continue to reflect – what the gospel tells us and what that bore hole teaches us, namely that life and energy comes from self-giving and it is to be found in unexpected places and at unexpected times.
Reading: John 10.7-16
Preached at St. Paul’s, Beckenham on 3rd June,2015.