In one of our training with a group of pastors and church leaders, a shocking question came up.
"How powerful is the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP) today that we should be wasting our time in meeting their demands?"
It was a sincere, honest question from someone who works with the church and is handling various ministries of the church. The immediate answer I gave, trying to put "peace and human rights advocacy" and the peace process between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the CPP-NPA-NDFP in biblical context, was the parable of the lost sheep.
Jesus told the parable of the lost sheep, where the shepherd had one out of his one hundred sheep missing. He left the ninety-nine which were safe and fed, while he looked for that one lost sheep who was probably hungry, exhausted, and whose life is in danger. In the context of the CPP-NPA-NDFP, there has been a huge decline in the number of their membership since the 1970s. As of today, there are still a few who continue the armed struggle to fight poverty, injustice, unjust economic and political systems, bureaucratic capitalism, imperialism, and feudalism. If they will be mapped in the Philippines population, they comprise a very little percentage of the whole population, where majority are also experiencing poverty, and many forms of injustices. It might be rational from a perspective of someone who is not experiencing poverty from day to day, to ask whether the demands of the CPP-NPA-NDFP is worth wasting time on. But, if the shepherd who has ninety-nine healthy sheep came back for that one lost sheep who was hungry, missing, and crying for help, how much more would the Heavenly Father listen to the cry of the people who are hungry, poor, helpless, homeless, landless, and hopeless? How could the church, as the Body of Christ, minister to the one lost sheep in the Kingdom of God?
After that encounter with church leaders, I realized that there is more purpose to what I am doing, more than just peace and human rights advocacy. That question from a church leader that challenged the advocacy I am doing, was only a way to dig further into Jesus' message of peace and reconciliation.
The Biblical Narrative of the Parable of the Lost Sheep
As Luke wrote it, Jesus was mingling with tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees and teachers of the law were the ones who challenged what Jesus was doing, "welcoming sinners and eating with them". In today's scenario, many church leaders ask, "what is the importance of the GPH-NDFP Peace Process to the ministry of the church?" It is more like asking, "What is the importance of peace and human rights advocacy? Is it more important than evangelism, discipleship, and worship?"
Jesus answered those church leaders who challenged him, with the parable of the lost sheep. He concludes the story with:
"I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent." - Luke 15:7
The Lost Coin and the Lost Son
Jesus further emphasized his point with the parable of the lost coin and the parable of the lost son. In all the parables, He reiterated the effort to search and find which was lost. And after finding it, there is rejoicing and celebration.
Jesus emphasizes the point of rejoicing when even a single one is lost and has been found. In all the parables, He concluded that there is rejoicing and celebration in the presence of the angels of God when one sinner repents.
Human Rights and Peace Advocacy as a ministry
In the societal context, it has been hard to connect peace and human rights advocacy as a ministry of the church. It has always been connected to civil society organizations and mostly left-leaning organizations.
As someone who grew up in church and handled various church ministries before, I have been asked a lot of times about what ministry I am doing right now. Being a full-time advocate for peace and human rights, it is hard for the "church people" to figure out which specific ministry my work belongs to. It cannot be categorized into evangelism, discipleship, worship, service, or witnessing. It is not even a work that is initiated by the church. But if I would be asked again, I can now say that my ministry is finding the lost sheep. It is not so much extravagant, nor is it holier than other ministries. But my ministry is finding the lost, the hungry, the helpless, and struggling individuals in the society, listening to their cry, and trying, in small ways, to feed them and draw them back to the Father.
Finding is a short, simple word, but in reality, it is a work of hard labor, focus, determination, and lots and lots of hoping. You will not find something that is already seen. You find something through thick forests, dark shadows, and deep holes. It is not easy being done alone. So, for church leaders and ministers, there is finding to do. Let's do it together, so that one day we could rejoice and celebrate over finding even one lost sheep.