How would you explain Mark 10:13-16 to a child soldier?

First Kill Your Family - Child Soldiers of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army by Peter EichstaedtOne of the privileges of teaching in a place like Redcliffe is that you are constantly challenged with new questions and new contexts. A student recently wrote a paper entitled, ‘Child Soldiers in Northern Uganda and Mark 10:13-16’.

I am so familiar with hearing this biblical text read out in the context of a child’s baptism that it was a shock for me to have it juxtaposed with something so abhorrent. But this is precisely the point of trying to engage the Bible with the realities of this world. How should I be reading this text in the light of the experiences of these children? More importantly, how might those children who have been robbed so violently of their childhoods encounter Jesus? What obstacles would they need to overcome in order to experience these life giving words?

Here is the biblical text followed by an excerpt from the website for the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers

13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16, NIV)

“I would like you to give a message. Please do your best to tell the world what is happening to us, the children. So that other children don’t have to pass through this violence.”

The 15-year-old girl who ended an interview to Amnesty International with this plea was forcibly abducted at night from her home by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), an armed opposition movement fighting the Ugandan Government. She was made to kill a boy who tried to escape. She saw another boy being hacked to death for not raising the alarm when a friend ran away. She was beaten when she dropped a water container and ran for cover under gunfire. She received 35 days of military training and was sent to fight the government army.

The use of children as soldiers has been universally condemned as abhorrent and unacceptable. Yet over the last ten years hundreds of thousands of children have fought and died in conflicts around the world.

Children involved in armed conflict are frequently killed or injured during combat or while carrying out other tasks. They are forced to engage in hazardous activities such as laying mines or explosives, as well as using weapons. Child soldiers are usually forced to live under harsh conditions with insufficient food and little or no access to healthcare. They are almost always treated brutally, subjected to beatings and humiliating treatment. Punishments for mistakes or desertion are often very severe. Girl soldiers are particularly at risk of rape, sexual harassment and abuse as well as being involved in combat and other tasks.

Why is the Gospel of Mark neglected in most of the Bible and Mission literature?

In preparation for the lecture ‘Mark and the Mission of God’, I was surprised by the distinct absence of this Gospel throughout the Bible and Mission literature. There seems to be much greater emphasis on Matthew, Luke and even John concerning Mission theology and not so much on Mark. To say that Mark is not used at all would be a fallacy, as a smattering of references can be noted. But even the mighty Bosch in Transforming Mission only cites four references from this Gospel.

Could this be the product of previous generations of scholars not taking Mark seriously, by relegating it behind the later Gospels, whose writers rework, edit, mould, and shape some of Mark’s original writing? Or is it that the concept of Mission is so intrinsic to Mark that it is often missed by in-depth exegesis? Do we miss the wood for the trees? Often it can be the cursory reading of a book that enables the reader to see the overall big picture. In their The Biblical Foundations for Mission Senior and Stuhlmueller write,

One of the first things to be noted about the Gospel of Mark is that it faithfully transmits the basic content and thrust of the kingdom ministry of Jesus. Given the mission implications of this motif, we should not overlook this fundamental datum before turning to Mark’s particular emphasis. (p213)

Perhaps with the emphasis on form, redaction and other critical methodologies or the rush to find the ‘historical Jesus’, we have missed the basic premise that Mark was more missionally minded than we first thought.

Mission and Mark 13

The other morning we were looking at Mark’s Gospel and, in particular, chs. 11-13. Chapter 13 involves some hotly debated views on what precisely is being referred to. Is it the destruction of the temple, or the second coming, or both?

Regardless of one’s views on this one thing is clear from what Jesus says. In whatever context they find themselves Jesus’ disciples (whether the apostles, Mark’s original audience or the church today) should get on with the missionary task he gives us:

And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. (13: 10, ESV)

Why community is vital for evangelism – a missional reflection on Mark 3

In a lecture on Mark’s Gospel today we were reflecting on Jesus’ words in 3:33-35:

33. “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.
34. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35. Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (NIV)

Bible and Mission Intern, Mark, made a shrewd observation by prodding us to think about what this might mean in a context where someone professes faith in Christ and is shunned by their family and community as a result.

Just what is our responsibility towards those whom we are seeking to reach? Surely at the very least it should mean that the church offers a family and community to which the new believer can be embraced. The image of church as family is a powerful metaphor; perhaps like no other it conveys the intense and necessary community that can make all the difference.

Modern martyrdom and the Gospel of Mark

The other morning I was teaching an introductory class on Mark’s Gospel. It makes sense to me that Mark wrote his book for a community of Christians under pressure and persecution, like the church in Rome.

His positioning of Jesus’ glory and suffering are skilfully and starkly juxtaposed in a way that must have comforted and encouraged the church as they sought to make sense of their experiences and remain faithful to their commitment to Jesus.

In this light we also considered the assertion of Todd Johnson (in his article on ‘Martyrdom’ in IVP’s 2007 Dictionary of Mission Theology, edited by John Corrie) that every day 400 believers are killed for their faith.

Unlike most lectures at Redcliffe, our Gospels class runs in concentrated form from 9am to 1pm. It was midday when I brought up Johnson’s statistic. Since we had begun our lesson fifty of our brothers and sisters in Christ had lost their lives as a direct result of their Christian confession.

We took some time to pray. Perhaps you might take a moment to do the same. Also, you may want to visit the website of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, “a human rights organisation which specialises in religious freedom, works on behalf of those persecuted for their Christian beliefs and promotes religious liberty for all.”