Always Pressing In

Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen. But some went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the leading priests and Pharisees called the high council together. “What are we going to do?” they asked each other. “This man certainly performs many miraculous signs. If we allow him to go on like this, soon everyone will believe in him. Then the Roman army will come and destroy both our Temple and our nation.”

Caiaphas, who was high priest at that time, said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.”

He did not say this on his own; as high priest at that time he was led to prophesy that Jesus would die for the entire nation. And not only for that nation, but to bring together and unite all the children of God scattered around the world.

So from that time on, the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death. (John 11:45–53 NLT)

Each Saturday during Lent, we will explore a story or profile of peace in action: people who are acting as shalom-bearers in a world increasingly in need of God’s peace.
In his book, Heritage and Ministry of the North American Baptist Conference, Frank H. Woyke describes Walter Rauschenbusch as “a prophet of the Social Gospel movement.” A son of August Rauschenbusch, one of the NAB’s early leaders, Walter pastored a church in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City at the end of the nineteenth century, ministering there for more than a decade. It was at this neighborhood church, Woyke writes, where Walter developed the ideas that would propel him to the forefront of this movement.

For Walter Rauschenbusch, the Social Gospel was best understood as proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom of God here on earth, not just as a ticket into the hereafter but so that “life on earth” might be transformed “into the harmony of heaven.” In Christianity and the Social Crisis, Rauschenbusch writes, “No man shares his life with God whose religion does not flow out, naturally and without effort, into all relations of his life and reconstructs everything that it touches. Whoever uncouples the religious and the social life has not understood Jesus.”

Half a century after his death, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Desmond Tutu, among others, would point to Rauschenbusch as one of the theologians who helped shaped their views. But a more indirect line can be found much closer to his roots in the NAB: Chain of Love Homes in Brazil.

Thirty years ago, Ken and Jerilyn Bayer were NAB missionaries in Brazil, serving at Good News Baptist Church in the southern-most state of Rio Grande do Sul. One night, a boy they called Rusty showed up at the church as they were cleaning up from a quinceañera party, happy to help take care of any leftover food as everyone else busied themselves in cleaning up the church from the mess of the party. Rusty was a regular visitor at the church; he lived on the streets and was usually dirty, hungry, and high from sniffing glue. Rusty knew the church’s caretaker, who lived in the back, would always offer him something to eat and the use of her shower to clean himself up.

On this particular day, everyone was eager to leave, except Rusty. Ken eventually told Rusty he needed to leave so they could lock up the church. “You have to leave the front yard so we can lock the gate,” he added when they were outside. As it started to rain and they drove away, Ken and Jerilyn’s daughter asked where Rusty would sleep that night. “We don’t know,” said Jerilyn, “but he will find a place to stay.”

The next morning, when reading the newspaper, they discovered that Rusty had been shot and died; they had never even known his real name. (It would be another five years before they learned it was Amilton Renato Ternus.) Amilton was not the first child living on the streets to have been killed, but because the Bayers and the rest of the church knew him, it hit them differently. They all started to ask themselves how they could let something like this happen, how they could call themselves followers of Jesus but let one his children sleep on the unsafe and dirty streets rather than give him a warm bed, food, and shelter.

In the words of Jerilyn Bayer, “We had no peace.” So they decided to act. Out of this tragedy, they started Chain of Love to take in children like Amilton. Since it began in 1993, Chain of Love has cared for hundreds of kids, not only feeding them and giving them shelter, but also placing them in a familial-like setting, with full-time house parents to care for them. Chain of Love is dedicated to providing wholistic care for the kids in their homes, providing not only food and shelter but also supporting their physical, mental, educational, and spiritual well-being.

Walter Rauschenbusch once wrote, “It is for us to see the Kingdom of God as always coming, always pressing in on the present, always big with possibility, and always inviting immediate action.”

(You can find out more about Chain of Love by visiting their website:
Michael Benson is the NAB communications director.