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11 October 2013

The weak things of the world

The weak things of the world

Malala Yousafzai

“One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.” It’s a simple enough assertion. Who’d have thought a teenager advocating for the right of girls to be educated would pose such a threat to men with guns? 

One year ago the Taliban decided to silence Malala when she and her girlfriends were shot – Malala nearly fatally. They did silence her. But merely for a moment. Nine months later she returned to a worldwide stage at the United Nations Youth Assembly. A year on and she is awarded Pakistan's first National Youth Peace Prize and is this year’s Nobel Peace Prize nominee.
 
Back with a vengeance, so to speak. But here's the thing: there is no vengeance. She speaks with gratitude for people’s prayer for her recovery, with a stoic determination to advocate, a desire to be educated, and a hope for peaceful dialogue with the Taliban. The content of her message and the quality of her character shone in this week’s Panorama on the BBC. Overcoming evil with goodness. A peace-builder in word, tone and deed.
 
Her father is similarly outspoken, speaking to Western journalists and urging his peers to educate their daughters, thus directly defying the Taliban’s edict. Father and daughter are brave champions for two Millennium Development Goals: achieve universal primary education and promote gender equality and empower women.
 
The Taliban’s ban is part of a broader crisis across Pakistan with regard to education. The country has neglected to build a robust education system due to “leakage” in the tax system and the misappropriation of funds. In her UN speech, Malala rightly referred to many human rights activists for education, peace and equality across the world. The stories documented for Exposed 2013 remind us of their bravery in challenging poor governance in various countries. Each story highlights ‘the power of the powerless’.
 
Writing to a minority in a powerful empire, the apostle Paul expounds on God’s preference; He chose the weak things of the world, the lowly and despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are (1 Corinthians 1:27-31). Paul broke new ground in the believers’ self-understanding: conversion created a position before God that stood diametrically opposite to one’s secular status. While citizenship defined the ethics and allegiance for Roman citizens, the sons and daughters of God have roles assigned by Him and exercise a measure of faith in their vocation (Romans 12:3-8).
 
Paul’s ‘weakness’ theme is both realistic and visionary. 

‘Realistic’ as the social make-up of the first century Christian community would have included freedmen, labourers, slaves, and recent immigrants. Restricted opportunities for, and discrimination against non-citizens were permanent features of the Roman judicial system.
 
‘Visionary’, as human weakness is the showcase for God’s power. In first century civic life and its judicial bias towards those of superior social status, people of lower status sought the help of a patron who could speak out in court on their behalf. Christ-followers are assured of divine advocacy amid powerful worldly structures and spiritual forces. Although socially, numerically and politically weak and experiencing hardship, they are part of a kingdom where ultimate power is defined and located (Romans 8:26-39).
 
One hope, one mission, one faith in one Lord who overcame evil. It’s a clear enough gospel. The realisation of God’s reign takes place in the midst of human weakness. The victory “through him who loved us” celebrates Christ’s lordship, love and faithfulness.
 
As Malala reminds us: "The pen is mightier than the sword." And so is prayer. Next week, thousands of prayer vigils are planned across the world for the coming of His Kingdom. In the midst of corrupting forces a counter-cultural re-formation of righteousness, integrity, grace and love is taking place that will have its sure reward. Shalom.
 
Marijke Hoek is co-editor of Carnival Kingdom and Micah’s Challenge