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Archbishop Justin gives Radio 4's Thought for the Day

Tuesday 23rd December 2014

The Archbishop of Canterbury reflected on his recent visit to Ebola-stricken Sierra Leone in a Thought for the Day on Radio 4's Today programme this morning.

Archbishop Justin visits a centre for children affected by Ebola in Tintafor, Sierra Leone, 16 December 2014.

We love our villains dramatic and we love our heroes convincing, but the trouble with villains is that they’re often routine-type of people. A few weeks ago, travelling overseas, I met people who I would definitely class as villains. I don’t mean ‘villain’ in the sense of a comic book ‘jokey’ kind of way, but people whose lives seemed to have been overtaken by a commitment to things that are wrong, even a commitment to evil.

The particular characters I’m thinking of were, for want of a better expression, war lords. They commanded irregular militia groups, and had done so for some time. Remorselessly effective in their own area of expertise - pillaging, rape, and torture - they were noticeably lacking in areas that are needed to be anything but a villain. There was no empathy, an absence of compassion, a tragic fixation towards their own advantage.

It was a very chilling meeting. I came away deeply disturbed, not by what they said, but more by the absence of remorse for the thousands who died and the tens of thousands who’d been chased from their homes by their actions.

Last week, I visited Sierra Leone very briefly, far too briefly in fact. The purpose of the visit was to meet and talk with faith leaders who have been among those leading the struggle against Ebola. What a difference! Living their lives at risk, passionately and deeply involved in the people around them, they demonstrated a love and a reaching out to the grieving, to the ill and to the frightened that was utterly inspiring. The orphans of Ebola are being cared for, not least due to the generosity from this country. All those I met spoke of that.

What made the difference? The war lords claimed to be Christians, but left no space for Jesus in their lives. On the first Christmas, the shepherds, kings, Mary and Joseph, took the decision to allow God to take the central space in their lives; God who gave them every choice and freedom by revealing Himself space for in the form of a helpless baby. We still remember them for their joy, their generosity, their sacrificial self-giving. King Herod refused space in life for anyone except himself and we remember him for his cruelty.

For me, in all the busyness of Christmas there is one essential: that I gaze again at the reality of Jesus, God himself, in human and helpless form, who comes to rule and reign in this world, not by force but by love, and that seeing Him, I give Him His rightful place in my life.

Read more about Archbishop Justin's visit to Sierra Leone



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