Costly Discipleship – by Sheryl Johnson
By Sheryl Johnson
Sheryl, KAIROS’ Fundraising Assistant, is attending the WCC Assembly on behalf of the Global Ecumenical Theological Institute. In this blog she reflects on her experience in Busan and, inspired by the many examples of prophetic and challenging witness, asks how churches in Canada can deepen their own discipleship.
I’ve had a hard time figuring out what to write about while at the WCC Assembly. One of our professors warned us that the experience would be like drinking water from a fire hose, and in many ways that describes my experience well. So much going on, so many choices to make, so much diversity, so many people to meet, so many issues, so many concerns, so many perspectives. Some days I wonder if I am learning anything as I flitter from one issue to another, one conversation to another, one thought to another.
But then a thought emerged. During the closing worship service we had a very prophetic, bold sermon. A costly sermon, you could say – a sermon that took risks and named oppressions that sometimes do not get so much air time, particularly some that have been perpetuated by and through the church.
After the sermon, during the prayers of intercession, I looked up from my bulletin to the stage and saw a group of about a dozen men in black suits seemingly tackling someone amidst shouts in Korean. Time seemed to slow down and I was so confused. My first thought was that the preacher was being attacked by the men in suits.
Soon it became clear that the men in suits were security and that they were removing a protestor who had gone to the front of the room to yell “repent” in Korean. I had a hard time catching my breath as the prayers continued as if nothing had happened.
All of this took place less than an hour ago. As my heart returns to a normal pace I realize that what I have learned here – and maybe more than learned, what I have felt here – is the costliness of the discipleship I believe Jesus calls us to.
As we arrived in Busan on the first day of the Assembly hundreds of protestors greeted us with signs with messages such as “No WCC; only Jesus” and “WCC is satan devil” while singing, preaching, and handing out flyers. Many police were present. The crowd of protestors has been smaller as the Assembly has continued, but nonetheless present. I realize, though, that it has been easy for me to block some of it out as most of the protestors’ signs and shouts have been in Korean. Perhaps their primary concern regarding the WCC’s inter-religious dialogue has seemed, to me at least, hard to relate to and perhaps also easy to dismiss.
During the Assembly, we heard many stories about the prophetic and challenging witness of many Christians, including the WCC itself; Korean students who have attended despite their friends being part of the protests; Indigenous peoples who have quite literally risked their lives to protect their land and their rights; our preacher in the closing service whose activism in South Africa cost him his hands and an eye, lost in a letter bomb; the WCC’s difficult work on issues of racial injustice and violence, providing critical intercessions on behalf of those oppressed in many situations around the world. I could go on and on.
But I am left with questions about how to deepen the cost of my own discipleship, and how we as churches in the land called Canada can do the same. Will we be so brave when the consequences are so high? Will we be willing to pay the price of lost friends, lost comfort, lost privileges?