Sunday, May 26, 2013

Your old men will dream dreams

I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten
And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.

I want to thank Wayne Zcshech for his message at our church tonight, in particular for giving me a fresh perspective on this passage from Joel.

Much of my young adult Christian life was formed in the Charismatic movement of the '80s. We understood Joel's vision in terms of the spiritual gifts, or 'charismata' that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, and that they were ordained for the church on the day of Pentecost. Peter opens his appeal to the crowd by quoting this very passage from Joel on that day in Jerusalem.

Wayne's sermon today challenged me to release this passage from the narrow confines of my charismatic experiences. It made me feel small and selfish, but in a good way - I am pre-occupied with my own, small world and my own experiences. I don't doubt that Joel's message relates to the kinds of spiritual gifts that I looked for as a young Christian, but it also relates to a more universal truth - that our ability to dream dreams can die, and that God is the One who re-awakens it.

Joel's passage was not even the main text for Wayne's message - in fact, it was so incidental, that I could have easily missed it. Wayne's message was about his experiences of living as a missionary in the Ukraine for twenty years. He explained how this part of the world had been ground into the dust by a succession of dictatorships and war, from Stalin to the Nazi Occupation to the collapse of the Soviet State. Millions died. Then there was Chernobyl. The result, according to Wayne's observations, was an inter-generational malaise in which you did everything you could to survive and the golden rule was never to stand out from the crowd. The only management style known was bullying.

In 1991, Ukraine got its independence. But, as Wayne noted, the Soviet Empire was not designed to be carved up. Recession followed as the old networks, supported by centralized planning, fell apart. It fell particularly hard on Eastern Europe because concepts of innovation and initiative had been tortured out of its people.

They had lost their ability to dream dreams.

So Wayne, an Australian Christian, set about creating a church in a small town 90 km from Kiev. They managed to purchase a building, but the critical issue was that its small congregation was 100% unemployed. How could they even heat the building, or bring food to the church? Wayne set about creating industry - by setting up bio-gas and bio-diesel enterprises, and by growing mushrooms. The latter provided employment for about 35 people until the business failed (Wayne didn't give us the details, but we got the impression that any kind of business would be treated with jealousy, suspicion and never-ending bureaucratic meddling). Wayne was also instrumental in setting up the first Ukranian Cricket ground and training facility (curiously, for the many Moslem Pakistanis who capitalized on the Ukrainian education system).

What I found riveting was not just Wayne's account of his successes and failures, but how he saw the Spirit of God bring life to his adopted town - not just in a kind of euphoric religious experience, but in giving men and women the dignity of meaningful work and a sense of being able to build for a better future. 

As he mentioned this, I remembered Joel. Joel starts with the years the locusts have eaten. His immediate audience is a people who, because of prolonged calamity, oppression and disaster, had lost hope. When it seemed that the only path was a long, weary trudge into oblivion, the Spirit of God awakened in this small community the ability to dream dreams.

(Edit: It's Wayne, not Mark)

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