First and foremost a very happy New Year to you all!
To kick off the new year, I bring you this message originally written by the Archbishop of York John Sentamu for the i newspaper:
This new year, why not light a candle rather than curse the darkness?
You may not have heard of Lou Xiaoying. One of the poorest of Chinese poor, she eked out a living by recycling rubbish. Among the garbage she raked over, it was commonplace to find babies, often deserted as a result of the government’s one-child-per-family policy. Xiaoying rescued 30 of them, nurturing them in her own home until they were well enough to be cared for by family and friends. She and her husband raised four themselves.
She said, “The whole thing started when I found the first baby, a little girl back in 1972, when I was out collecting rubbish. She was just lying amongst the junk on the street, abandoned. She would have died had we not rescued her and taken her in. Watching her grow and become stronger gave us such happiness and I realised I had a real love of caring for children. These children need love and care. They are all precious human lives. I do not understand how people can leave such a vulnerable baby on the streets.”
Xiaoying’s story eventually became public via the internet; an exemplar of how one unknown and seemingly powerless individual can work wonders.
As Mother Teresa said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
Another little known heroine from the past was Octavia Hill, whose work in the Victorian era helped shape Britain today. Shaken by London’s poverty, she pioneered social housing, campaigned for the preservation of green spaces and co-founded the National Trust, among many other projects. Numerous individuals have made a difference against the odds. In the face of fierce opposition, William Wilberforce campaigned to end slavery, among many other causes. Marie Curie was a lone Polish scientist who developed the practical use of X-rays, despite the prejudice in her day against women scientists. A man who used his entrepreneurial ability to benefit humanity was Nicholas Winton. On the eve of World War II he organised the rescue of 669 mainly Jewish children from Czechoslovakia, finding them homes here and organising Kinder transport for their journey. It took 50 years for his work to become widely known.
Nelson Mandela endured 27 years in jail for his opposition to apartheid, then forgave his enemies when he was released, avoiding a bloodbath. Then there’s my mentor, Janani Luwum, whose statue stands on the West wall of Westminster Abbey. As Archbishop of Uganda, he protested against President Amin’s violent rule and was murdered. He had said, “I am prepared to die in the army of Jesus”.
Many of these did what they did, not because they expected fame or even success, but because they believed it to be right, little knowing the impact they were going to have then, and on subsequent generations.
When things are dire, remember the proverb, “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”.
Standing above the rest of humanity is another figure, about whom these words were written,
“He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant. He grew up in another village, where he worked in a carpenter shop until he was 30. Then, for three years, he was an itinerant preacher.
He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a home. He didn't go to college. He never lived in a big city. He never travelled 200 miles from the place where he was born. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but himself.
He was only 33 when the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied him. He was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for his garments, the only property he had on earth. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave, through the pity of a friend.
Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race. I am well within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned--put together--have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that one, solitary life.”
(Attributed to James Allan Francis)
The astounding Christian story began with God pitching his fleshly-tent in the world we thought was ours, via a baby dependent for his very survival on others. Later he called for allegiance from the entire human race. His claims were paramount, life-changing and are now as urgent as ever. So take courage my friend, and light that candle. You can do it.