Bishop's Message

Redemption Woods

Wounded animals, abused children, damaged environment are being redeemed here by God’s grace

“Those whose lives are wasting away, those who are wounded and lost, those who have been the victims of evil, those who are exhausted and whose strength has ebbed away, and those who have lost hope are all invited to enter into God’s redemptive house. There they can find safety, love and space to recover and be healed. There they can become what God intends them to be – there they can be redeemed.”

WE SAW A MAJESTIC-LOOKING HORSE breaking into a graceful and powerful gallop up the steep grassy slope of a hill. His companion was not so healthy-looking and climbed the slope carefully and slowly; but he also made it. My wife and I watched them from nearby, outside the log cabin where we were staying. We were the guests of a couple who owned the place which was located on the beautiful Smokey Mountains on the Appalachian Range. eir vision was as beautiful as the mountains on which they were living. eir property covered a large area and included a number of log cabins and a retreat centre. e land was heavily wooded and the houses were connected by winding dirt tracks. e woods were quiet (except for the numerous bird calls) and the mountain air was crisp and refreshing. The horses there were rescued from dire circumstances – they were abandoned, abused or rejected. Some of them were brought to these woods in terrible condition, weak and wasted, in a hopeless state. But in the freedom of these woods, they began to recover, gain strength, and rediscover their dignity. Like the horse that galloped up the slope gracefully, some of them had returned to good health; others still had some distance to go.

Like the horses, there were other animals that were also rescued from various situations. ere was a peacock that came to these woods unable to sing, and in miserable condition. Now it has begun to sing in the woods. ere were also dogs and other animals, all finding new hope in these welcoming woods made hospitable by its Christian owners.

Children had also been brought in from abusive and grossly harmful and painful situations. e plan was to bring in more couples to live in these woods so that they could provide safety and love to needy children who would otherwise have no hope. is is the vision that made this place very special. It is a place of redemption. I greeted the morning in these mountains with the thought of a God who loves us and redeems us to be blessed by Him. is place is a clear expression of His redemptive love.

Call this place Redemption Woods. Wounded animals, abused children, and damaged environment are all being redeemed here by the grace of God. Is this not what God is all about for us? In Psalm 36 we read of the greatness of God:

Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep (vv 5-6a).

What a wonderful passage to be looking at in a backdrop that included sturdy mountains, vast skies and gentle streams. God’s majesty is matched by His deep and wonderful compassion.

O Lord, you preserve both man and beast. How priceless is your unfailing love (vv 6b-7a).

How God’s compassion redeems all His creation. We find safety in Him, and are preserved by Him. Indeed, Redemption Woods is an expression of what God is doing all around His world, redeeming hopeless beings and souls and setting them on a new path, blessing them with the newness of life.

Should not the church be like this – a house of redemption? In fact Redemption Woods is actually called Camp Bethel (the House of God). e church is a place that should be thick with God’s presence, a place where God’s welcoming and redeeming arms should be embodied in the community that worships in the church.

Those whose lives are wasting away, those who are wounded and lost, those who have been the victims of evil, those who are exhausted and whose strength has ebbed away, and those who have lost hope are all invited to enter into God’s redemptive house. ere they can find safety, love and space to recover and be healed. ere they can become what God intends them to be – there they can be redeemed.

Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light (vv 7b-9).

THE CHURCH IS CALLED to dwell in the shadow of God’s wings – those who come to such a church will find refuge in the shadow of God’s wings. ere they will be sustained by the love of God as it exists in God’s people; their wounds will be healed and their strength restored. There their souls will be fed by all the riches God has showered upon His church – the Word and the Sacraments, the hymns and the sermons, the holy stories and the rich history of God’s redeeming grace and mercy. There they can drink deeply from God’s fountain of life and river of godly delights. ere their souls can be remade and their stories re-written. There they can be redeemed.

Let our churches be God’s houses of redemption, where God’s hospitable mercy welcomes those who have been rejected, abused, forgotten, ridiculed, and left to die. Let the church be a hospital to the wounded, a nursery for the abused, a wide open space for the imprisoned, a place that gives dignity to those who have lost theirs, and a home for the homeless soul.

It is possible that we can forget this, and the more we forget or neglect this, the less we will reflect the amazing grace and the redeeming mercy of God. We will then fail to reflect the heart of God, and we will not be places of redemption. To be a house of redemption, we will have to go beyond merely playing church, beyond our obsessions with success and respectability, comfort and self-protection. We have to be a living and gracious community of Jesus, the holy and compassionate One. We have to follow God’s example in self-giving love, to be hospitable to those left behind by the human race.