Just for a moment, imagine you’ve been pouring your life into blessing the people of one of the world’s poorest countries. To do this, you started your own micro finance project, offering loans to local business owners with the hope of lifting them out of poverty. It’s your love of Jesus which moved you to do this, and which sees you speaking about the coming Kingdom as you work alongside people in their need.
Then one day, a massive fire engulfs the central market of the city you love and serve in, the place you grew up. 28 people are reported dead. They either burned in the fire, or were so desperate they committed suicide at the thought of the loss. Many more are injured, and the 50,000 businesses operating in the area will never be the same again.
You are a community figure head, and people look to you amid the loss for guidance – they want your faith. But they also see you as the provider, the one who gave them a loan, and so they come to you with their stories of poverty, begging for help.
And you long for the Kingdom to come.
This is the story of Claude Nikondeha, the founder and chief organizer of Amahoro Africa, a network of African leaders who are committed to the tangible manifestation of justice, mercy and goodness in their local context. He’s also one of the key note speakers at this year’s Surrender Conference, happening in Melbourne in March.
“We are not saved for ourselves, and we live in a much bigger story, bigger than just our personal salvation. It isn’t about my salvation, it’s about our salvation,” says Claude.
The theme at this year’s conference is The Kingdom Next Door. It’s a call to see what God is doing in your own neighbourhood, particularly among the poor and marginalised, and get involved.
“Following Jesus is making the world a better place. And the world starts with my household, my community, my city, my country, my continent. It’s about bringing God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven,” says Claude.
But when disaster strikes, the gap between the now and the not yet becomes more acute. Director of Surrender, Dusk Liney, says Surrender is seeking to encourage people to embrace this difficult tension, and not be overwhelmed.
“When you work in areas of disadvantage, the longing for heaven on earth becomes stronger, but so does the realisation that it’s not here yet. So it’s about learning to live in the tension.”
Dusk has been in touch with Claude, who despite the chaos of life since the fire at the end of January, will be coming to speak at the conference.
Joining him at the conference will be Alexie Torres-Fleming, who works in the Bronx where she grew up. Alexie “escaped” her hometown after being told to get educated and get out, but she returned years later, to set up a community based development program- Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice.
The organisation seeks to transform the lives of young people in the Bronx through political education, spiritual formation and youth development.
Dusk says these speakers will call Australians to take action in their own backyard, to seek out the disadvantaged, to see what God’s doing and be a part of it.
“There’s disadvantaged areas in every community. When you’re in a more middle class suburb, it’s definitely there, but the difference is you have to find it.”
“Unless you spend time in your neighbourhood, it’s so easy to miss the undercurrent of people who are struggling. It’s about finding them.”
Surrender Conference is happening at Belgrave Heights Convention Centre, 15-17 March.
Featured image: Surrender Conference 2012More