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Why the Hard Places Matter

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Life is full of different seasons, and the same is true for the organisations. At TEAR, we are excited to be entering a new season through the start of a new strategic plan. Core to this strategy is a renewed and sharpening focus for our work to be prioritised in “the hard places”.

Throughout Scripture, we see that God leads his people into “hard places” so that the Kingdom of God can be revealed. This is expressed literally through the lives and work of the Old Testament prophets, the ministry of Jesus, and the early church. It is also expressed figuratively in the Bible through the metaphor of light. As people who follow “the light of the world”, we should also be people who radiate that light into darkness in ways that reveal the Kingdom.

The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

Isaiah 9:2

For any of us who have been deep into a cave and experienced total darkness, we can recall the amazing power of even one small torch as it lights up the darkness. The most powerful darkness cannot overcome even the smallest light. I think this is a powerful metaphor for the impact of our partners who are working in “hard places”.

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Programmatically, TEAR sees a priority for “hard places” as a call to support projects where the impacts of poverty and injustice are at their most oppressive worst. We have a variety of evidence-based ways to help inform our decisions about how to prioritise our work (such as poverty indices) – but numbers only tell part of the story. Our real insight into the local context comes through the voices of our local Christian partners. Perhaps it is not surprising that a priority to work where poverty and injustice are at their worst means a significant amount of our focus in the coming years will be in places of conflict (Afghanistan, South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, Pakistan, to name a few).

It is only as we prayerfully consider how our own hardness of heart, the pursuit of present day idols and a tendency to selfishness, contributes to darkness, that the Spirit of God can be at work in our own personal transformation, creating the foundation for truly restoring relationships.

In terms of our work here in Australia, being committed to the “hard places” could be likened to the biblical themes of Amos. This means challenging the way our society and systems are cruel to the poor, build inequality, put people in slavery, and destroy creation. Speaking up for indigenous justice and creation care are central priorities in our new strategy and remain some of the hardest, but most important, work our nation has to face.

Coming back to the metaphor of darkness, and considering its very personal implications, Ephesians 4:18 speaks about how darkness impacts the most important ‘hard place’ we all need to seek to change: our own hearts. Changing others can seem much easier than being willing to allow God’s Spirit to work change in ourselves.

It is only as we prayerfully consider how our own hardness of heart, the pursuit of present day idols and a tendency to selfishness, contributes to darkness, that the Spirit of God can be at work in our own personal transformation, creating the foundation for truly restoring relationships.

Perhaps the greatest irony is that in choosing to prioritise “hard places” we are not opting for a season of depression. We don’t believe we are like the mythical Sisyphus who was doomed to push a rock up the hill only to watch it roll back over and over. We believe deeply in a more hopeful narrative that is shaped by our reading of Scripture and which directs our work towards restoration and all things being made new.

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Where people face the extremes of poverty and injustice, your gift can bring hope.

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Matthew Maury is TEAR Australia's CEO.