When obstacles to freedom become the stepping stones to liberty

When obstacles to freedom become the stepping stones to liberty

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“I have great confidence in the future. God’s love will triumph over every obstacle, but it seems like [God] wants to try out every obstacle, or let it happen…so that nobody in the end will ever consider that it came from any place else” (Keating 1923-2018).

I found this quote from the recently departed Thomas Keating’s memorial struck a particularly chord, since it resonates with our own personal experience of the change process; how it seems to require incredible amounts of effort, resources and time, punctuated by its fair share of frustration, false leads and what may be perceived as failures.As we’ve searched for the right space to begin to establish quality, diverse and accessible education, our journey has been filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22,23) + hard work, head scratching and sometimes even heart break, as we’ve tried to take our next steps towards freedom.

When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up (Ex 17:12, NIV).

As we have tried to remain faith-full, trust and be obedient to whatever we are sensing from God at any given time, we have drawn inspiration and encouragement from biblical accounts of liberation like Exodus, for example, where Moses requires the support of others; including Aaron early on + Hur later in the journey (Ex 4:44ff; 17:12).

Then there are the plagues that punctuate the narrative; why did it take so many to liberate Israel? Although I recall hearing how Pharaoh’s heart hardened at Sunday school, its only as I’ve returned to the text over and over, on our recent travels around the UK, that I’ve realised Pharaoh’s heart hardens because Moses won’t compromise.

In my 40-ish years I’ve never noticed before how Pharaoh actually tells Moses to, “Go” just after the plague of hail and before the locusts (Ex 10:8ff). When Moses stipulates “We will go with our young and our old, with our sons and our daughters, and with our flocks and herds” Pharaoh responds “No! Have only the men go.” It seems Moses just wouldn’t compromise on freedom, since he knew what God called him to do at the bush in Exodus 3.

Rachel and I are confident of the levels of freedom that God seeks for South Africa, so we won’t compromise either, which means we face obstacles – or are they stepping stones?

In Ex 10:12, after the plague of darkness, Pharaoh once again summons Moses, and says, “Even your women and children may go with you; only leave your flocks and herds behind.” But Moses replies, “Our livestock too must go with us…We have to use some of them in worshiping the Lord our God” (10:26). Pharaoh was unwilling to let them go (10:27).

It is only after the final plague in Exodus 12:32 – when Pharaoh suffers personal loss – that he agrees to let the men, women, children, herds and flocks go. But even then Moses doesn’t settle for that, since he knew God also promised that Israel’s wealthier neighbours would facilitate their freedom with silver, gold and clothes – and they do (Ex 3:22: cf. 12:35).

Prior to researching what the world has to offer in terms of liberating education, a number of ‘experts’ were quick to inform Rachel and I that we may have to compromise on the ‘inclusion bit’ of our vision, or at least keep quiet about our innovative sliding fee structure, suggesting we should offer bursaries behind closed doors. “But that isn’t what God told me” I’d reply; when we dreamt about a sliding scale of fees facilitating quality education for the different socio-economic groups that form our ‘Rainbow Nation’ I also felt that we should be totally open and transparent about it. What is interesting about the Exodus narrative is I sometimes get the feeling Moses isn’t always totally open and transparent about why Pharaoh should let God’s people go. How my translation puts it – ‘Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness’ (Ex 5:1) – makes it sound like Moses is asking for a long weekend to worship (Ex 5:3), rather than total freedom. Pharaoh however, has his suspicions (5:4) – have a look for yourself and see if you get the same feeling as I do.

Having now seen a variety of innovative funding models first hand, in Europe and the US, Rachel and I are more convinced than ever of the need to be transparent about the cost of the levels of freedom God has revealed to us. That is something – like Moses – that we’re not prepared to compromise on. Interestingly, as we’ve feed back how we plan to contextualize what we’ve learnt after encountering liberating education around the world, no parents have questioned our proposal to establish an education system where the levels of diversity that facilitate the kind of quality required to equip our children for the 21st Century is made possible by the silver and gold of those who find themselves wealthier than their neighbours.

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