The work of transformation continues to challenge all that we do as churches. This involves the work of seeking justice and working for abundant life for all.
The Cambridge online dictionary defines transformation as ‘a complete change in the appearance or character of something or someone, especially so that that thing or person is improved’. There are many nuances to the term transformation. These range from biological, linguistics, mathematical to physics. It is not the purpose of this short reflection to dive into all those nuances.
I would like to stick to a simple definition of improving something for the better. In this case, transformation that will ensure dignity for all the created and that includes the environment or nature.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) says, ‘The world is undergoing important social transformations driven by the impact of globalization, global environmental change and economic and financial crises, resulting in growing inequalities, extreme poverty, exclusion and the denial of basic human rights. These transformations demonstrate the urge for innovative solutions conducive to universal values of peace, human dignity, gender equality and non-violence and non-discrimination’. Solutions that also call for environmental protection or climate justice.
Jesus Christ announced his mission statement as having come to preach the good news to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, recovery to the blind and set at liberty those who are oppressed (Luke 4:18). This in short is what he termed as having come so that ‘they may have life and have it abundantly’ (John 10:10). Just before the ascension, Jesus commissioned his followers to continue this mission of spreading goods news and setting the captives free.
The Church of Jesus Christ has therefore existed in different expressions to continue the mission of Jesus. The mission however has not been easy. The past has been blurred with histories of the unholy marriage between slavery, colonialism and other vices. For example, one would not understand how the Church in Canada was found complicit in a genocide of Indigenous people. Here genocide is the intentional destruction of a particular group through killing, serious physical or mental harm, preventing births and/or forcibly transferring children to another group. The term has been applied to the experiences of Indigenous peoples in Canada, particularly in the final reports of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Children were forcibly taken to church-run residential schools in order to kill the Indian out of the child. Furthermore, there are sad stories of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
The situation is made even more complex with recent discoveries in Canada of unmarked graves of children near the sites where residential schools were operated by church institutions.
Several injustices continue in this world and the church cannot afford to be silent or inactive. The Church should be in dialogue with affected communities to seek ways and means of working towards transformation. These will include issues like racism, not being able to seek refuge, gender discrimination, poverty, war, basic access to education, human rights abuses, police brutality and other aspects of neocolonialism and imperialism.
Working for transformation towards peace, justice, reconciliation, dignity and abundant life for all is very much the call of the Church. If the Church has to live up to its saltiness, it has no choice but to participate in God’s mission of justice, peace and transformation in the world, through its various ministries and partners in their contextual response to God’s invitation of partnership. “It is not that the Church of God has a mission in the world, but that the God of mission has a church, and people’s movements, non-governmental organizations and temples that can facilitate appropriate transformation. How is your Church community living out this call?
—Rev. Dr. Japhet Ndhlovu
Executive Minister for the Church in Mission Unit
United Church of Canada
Rev. Dr. Japhet Ndhlovu got his Phd in Practical Theology from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.