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  • Writer's pictureLara Strydom

Unity Beyond the Struggle

1 Corinthians 12: 24

“But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

Unity: a phrase used by politicians, coaches and pastors alike. A phrase that should mean a lot to us, but has lost meaning throughout the years as we see leaders “talk the talk” without “walking the walk.” The truth is that many of us have become disillusioned to the idea of unity as it seems to just be another flowery word people throw around during times of upheaval.

And so we begin to wonder, is it only important in times of crisis? Are we going to have to wait for the next pandemic until we see unity strike up again? Does unity actually exist or is it just something we talk about to make people feel better?

These same questions ran through our minds as this pandemic began to take its toll. We knew we needed unity, but what was it supposed to look like? It dawned on us that we as the church have spent a lot of time talking about the importance of unity, but little thinking about what it actually looks like to carry it out on the practical level.

Yet, as we made the call for help for the million meal drive, God slowly began to reveal to us person by person what it is that makes for unity.

Pastor Gift Mngenela from the Evanton Beverly Hills church was one of many who took out the time, energy and effort to help us distribute food parcels to our in-need communities. While we were so appreciative of his help, we couldn’t help but wonder: what was it that made him so willing to come out here? Pastors like Mngenela are facing their own unique challenges due to the pandemic, both personally and within his community. And yet he still chose to come out and serve communities of people he has never even met before. Why?

When we spoke with Mngenela, he began to recount his journey with Judea Harvest. He spoke of how he was struggling to start a church in his area, but that Judea Harvest gave him the structure and training he needed to improve it.

“Judea Harvest came to me at a time where I was thinking that no one was looking out for me,” Mngenela said.

The more we talked to Mngenela, the more it seemed that he was stirred to help out not because it would be considered “the right thing to do”, but because he had once experienced what it was like to have someone take on his burden like it was their own.

What drew him out wasn’t some kind of balancing act in which he weighed the pros and cons of choosing to help versus not choosing to help, but was rather his decision to empathize with the adversity these communities were facing.

Of course, he could of chosen to not help out with the million meal drive, and he would of totally been justified in that most people would reason that this technically isn’t a group he is responsible for. But you see, what real unity looks like is going out of the way for the people no one expects you to go out of the way for. Because in the moments when a complete stranger offers you a helping hand for something they have almost nothing to gain from, it sends and inspires a message so simple but so powerful: you matter. The value of them helping you is not in them fulfilling an unsaid expectation or enhancing their reputation, but is rather in the fact that you as a person are filled with an inherent value and are thus worth the sacrifice. Unity means loving like Jesus did.

John 15:13

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

The heart of unity starts with sacrifice. It starts with sacrificing our comfort zones, our routines and our unsaid notions and ideas of who we are “supposed” to be helping. As the body of Christ, we cannot let our sacrifices be confined to just certain groups of people, but have to have hearts that are willing to make sacrifices for all people whenever they need it, whether we are officially obligated to them or not.

But the question remains: how do we get to that point? How do we get to that point where we are willing to make those kinds of sacrifices for people that aren’t already in our schedules or within our designated areas of ministry?

In answering that question, we are taken back to the story of Pastor Mngenela in that he had an ability to remember not only how difficult it can be to feel forgotten, but to remember the transformative power that comes when someone proves that feeling wrong by going out of their way for you. Pastor Mngenela had empathy.

He understood the bigger picture behind all of this and understood that helping out could have an impact that goes beyond just that one day. But the thing about empathy is that you have to choose to feel it and choose to act on it. You have to choose to think back on your own experiences and own hardships and then consider what it would have meant to you if someone had gone out of their way to help you during those times. It is only then that we can understand just how important our sacrifices may be, as we consider where we would be had no one gone out of their way for us during our most desperate times.

Our prayer as we continue to pursue unity beyond this pandemic is that we would ask God to make our hearts more like his. That when someone in the body of Christ is suffering, that we would take on that suffering as well because God has given us eyes and given us hearts that truly allow us to see the inherent value in everybody.

“It’s so amazing to work together because that’s unity and unity is power,” Pastor Lucas Ngobeni from Hammanskraal’s Jesus Christ Center said.

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