The work of peace and justice can be slow, tough, and lonely work, even within a so-called “historic peace church.” As Minister of Peace and Justice for Mennonite Church USA for 7 years I found that encouragement was desperately needed among those “in the trenches” as well as those of us who were leading the struggle. Many of those working for peace and justice in the churches felt isolated and with little support. And when the broader social and political climate continued to support war, violence, and injustice, it became very discouraging. Whenever we gathered with people engaged peace and justice or met them in our travels everyone was encouraged just by being with like-minded believers who shared in a common work.
We were often encouraged by the letters that came with donations that supported our peace and justice work. “Your work is favored by the Lord”. “Thank you for grounding and prodding us to honor Christ through a peace and justice witness in Mennonite congregations.” “We appreciate your efforts to keep us “awake” to peace and justice issues.” ”Thank you for your attention to peace and justice and keeping it at the forefront of our churches’ mission.” These letters lifted our spirits and gave us needed encouragement to keep on keeping on.
In our biblical text Timothy returned from a visit to Thessalonica with encouraging words for Paul and Silas. The believers continued steadfast in their faith despite their suffering. Paul further encouraged the Thessalonians in his letter to the churches. There was mutual encouragement among the leaders and disciples. They were strengthened together to carry on their work.
Everyone needs an encouraging word every now and then, particularly those who are swimming upstream or going against the grain. The Thessalonian believers were part of a misunderstood, persecuted, minority faith within a pagan empire living against the flow of their culture, which is becoming more the case for faithful Christians in our increasingly secularized, postmodern Western culture today. Mutual encouragement is essential for survival in our world.
Who has been an encouragement to your faith recently? How have you encouraged others to “keep the faith”? Have you thought about writing a letter of encouragement to a struggling believer or congregation?