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  • Tim Smith

Bridges Over Troubled Water

Offering Hope in Storms

It seems, from a brief look at the news or social media, that many share the feeling that this will be 2020 too. Un-inspired, anxious, jaded, weary, apathetic, even depressed, hopeless or fearful might describe some common feelings. While we hold great hope for the positive impact that the Church, the Family of God will effect this year, our hope is neither naive nor idealistic. Christ, embodied in His Family, has always brought the greatest change in the most difficult times throughout history. Yet, this hope has always been contextualized, aware of and meeting the specific needs and challenges of the cultural moment. Connected. A bridge over the troubled water of the time.

In a recent webinar, Jed Medefind, president of the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO), outlined 7 major world trends understood to be affecting us as we enter 2022. From the ‘rippling effects’ of COVID-19, to isolation, anxiety and depression, to virtualization and screen-time to polarization and tribalism, Jed shared statistics and impacts relating how we are experiencing these trends so far. In his opening remarks, laying foundation for the webinar, Jed made a stirring statement:

“Virtually every force, crisis, or trend for good or for ill in our world tends to affect vulnerable children most of all, particularly those growing up outside of safe healthy families. Our world has always had great difficulties. God has intended the family to be a place that helps absorb those difficulties and mitigate the impacts of challenges. When the care and protection of family are missing, the impacts of even seemingly minor things tend to be amplified in the lives of these children.”

Visiting some of the statistics collected regarding the impact/trends of the last 2 years, Jed summarized: “Vulnerability is up and protection and supports are down”. Worldwide, for example, we are told that already more than 1 million children have lost a primary caregiver to COVID, more than 1.5 billion children and teens have had their education disrupted, and 11 million vulnerable girls are expected to never return to school. In North America, there has been great disruption to the child-welfare system. Since 2020, reporting of needs took a nosedive by the hundreds of thousands yearly, though actual cases of risk were assumed to have greatly increased. Some children were returned too rapidly to families while others remained stuck in care situations longer than necessary. Professionals have been overtaxed with the combination of greater needs and keeping up with pandemic protocols.

Even before the shift in our world nearly 2 years ago, vulnerable young people and families have been part of every community across our nation. And, over the past decade, Jed exposed, isolation, anxiety, depression and loneliness are being experienced at unprecedented levels across our communities. Each of these realities are linked in research to increased screen time on one hand, as well as to a host of negative health outcomes on the other. “Vulnerability is up and protection and supports are down”.

Vulnerability is two-dimensional, involving an increase in exposure to risk, and a decrease in ability to cope. Clearly both of these have been magnified over the past 2 years. And the primary contributor to empowering one’s ability to cope - connected relationships - have seen immense new levels of challenges. At the heart of this key resilience factor is the family, as Jed described, designed to absorb inevitable difficulties and mitigate the impacts of challenges. For those for whom safe, healthy family care has been disrupted, true holistic hope will still come in the form of family.

The Church, everyone in whom the Spirit of God lives, embodies Jesus the Son of the Father in our world. Family of our Abba, the Church is a relational entity, designed by God to absorb difficulties and mitigate challenges for those experiencing vulnerability. We are all, in the words of Andrew Murray, finite, broken and gifted. And it is precisely this natural relatable nature that places the Church as a vital bridge for God’s love to meet each one of us in the storms, and give us hope and strength to reach the other side. Throughout history, the Church has become known as a community leader in coming alongside the vulnerable with hope. Now is the time to receive encouragement and challenge to live into who we are once again.

In the first century, Paul encouraged the Church in Rome to receive and live in faith, hope and joy:

“Since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. 2 Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.
3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” Romans 5:1-5 NLT

Undeserved privilege, confidence, joy, endurance, character and confident hope that will not disappoint flow from how dearly God loves us. They are experienced through Him filling our heart with His love through His Spirit.

Paul prayed for the Church in Colosse to: be strengthened with all God’s glorious power so they would have all the endurance and patience they need, and be filled with joy. Colossians 1:11

For the Church in Corinth, Paul prayed: that God would keep them strong to the end, noting God’s faithfulness to do what He says, and that He had invited them into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. On this basis, Paul challenged the Church to live in harmony with each other and let no divisions be in the church but instead to have one mind, united in thought and purpose. 1 Corinthians 1:8-10

Throughout the last 2 millennia, we the Church have needed ongoing challenge and encouragement to remember who and whose we are, to remember God’s promises and to receive from His Spirit tangible, contextual hope. This hope empowers us to live and offer life, connection, family, in practical, embodied ways in our communities. “May they experience such perfect unity” - family - “so that the world will know”. John 17:21

How might we, the Canadian Church, journey together through 2022 as a bridge to hope for the most vulnerable in our neighbourhoods?

On January 26th, 52 years ago today as I write, Simon and Garfunkel released the album Bridge over Troubled Water, containing the now iconic song by the same name, written by Paul Simon. I wonder if it might be an anthem of hope and a call to be bridges this year, a half a century and 2 years of pandemic later?

When you're weary

Feeling small

When tears are in your eyes

I will dry them all

I'm on your side

Oh when times get rough

And friends just can't be found

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will lay me down

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will lay me down

When you're down and out

When you're on the street

When evening falls so hard

I will comfort you

I'll take your part

Oh when darkness comes

And pain is all around

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will lay me down

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will lay me down