Spirited Reflection: Bearing witness to the light
I returned to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the spring of 2013, 17 years after my arrival in Canada as a refugee. The goal of my trip was to see my mother, whom I hadn’t seen in 21 years. I also wanted to turn a gloomy page of my life marked by successive deaths in my family during my absence.
Among my most powerful memories, there were young evangelical Christians who displayed a vibrant and effervescent faith that fascinated, awed and attracted me. On the other hand, something unimaginable literally broke my heart.
My nephew is a doctor who provides free healthcare to those alleged to be “child witches”1 in a small community centre in Kinshasa. He took me to visit some of these child-martyrs, victims of the so-called “revivalist” churches’ crusades against witchcraft. There I met a 10-year-old child who had been thrown out of his family home in the middle of the night following allegations by a pseudopastor that God had revealed to him that the child was a witch. Before he was rescued by community centre staff, the child spent almost a year experiencing the cruelty of life on the street. The story of this child continues to haunt me.
It grieves me deeply that some churches bear false witness, distorting and denying the light and life of Jesus by attacking children in this way. I am grateful that my nephew was reaching out to these vulnerable children and witnessing to the true light of Jesus.
The story of the presentation of Jesus tells us of the faithful witness of Simeon and Anna.
Mary and Joseph presented baby Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem 40 days after his birth, in accordance with the Law of the Lord, consisting of three essential elements: the consecration of every firstborn male, his circumcision on the eighth day as a symbol of the Covenant between God and Abraham, and the sacrifice of a pair of doves or two young pigeons.
The wonderful story of the presentation of Jesus tells of a solemn moment involving two pious and Spirit-filled individuals. These two people represented a contingent of Jews who were awaiting the consolation of Israel by the coming of the royal Messiah who would bring justice and peace for all.
The first was Simeon, a righteous man moved by the Holy Spirit, who held in his arms the child who ended his long wait. The second was the prophet Anna, a devout woman of prayer who relied completely on God. These two individuals affirmed Jesus’ identity and revealed his mission. Simeon saw in Jesus the “salvation that God prepared in the sight of all nations” and the Light that would make God known to the nations of the world. Anna lived a life of contemplation and worship of the God of Israel. When she saw Jesus, she broke forth in praise and told everyone that he would be the redemption of Israel.
We live in a cruel world that is full of uncertainty. Many of the world’s people live in a state of extreme vulnerability, like the Congolese child. They are waiting for liberators “to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and recovery of sight for the blind, and to set the oppressed free.”
Within this reality, many voices bear false witness to the light. They project evil onto innocent children as in the Congo or onto dark-skinned immigrants as in the West, rather than reaching out in love and compassion and welcome.
Jesus is the light for revelation to all the nations. He is the light that guides us through the night (moments of uncertainty); prevents us from falling or being misled; helps us find the path; and dispels our fears, worries, anxieties. He is the life that offers abundant life, justice and peace for all. He is the one who lovingly embraces the vulnerable and marginalized.
Like Simeon and Anna, may we be faithful witnesses to the true light of Jesus.
Jean-Calvin Kitata was a well-known Mennonite Brethren pastor, journalist, and broadcaster for the Church of Christ in Congo. He came to Canada in 1996 to study broadcasting but was unable to return home due to a coup d’état and the violence that followed, particularly against journalists. Kitata gained refugee status and was eventually able to bring his wife and children to Canada. Now, as Peace and Justice Coordinator for MCC Québec, Kitata assists other newcomers to Canada and spreads the message of the gospel of peace.
This reflection is excerpted from Gifts for Another Way, Epiphany Year B Resource for Justice Seekers, available through KAIROS.