Sweat dripped into his eyes, momentarily blinding him. Crouched down on the warm, southern earth, heart pounding in his ears, he hardly dared to move. He could hear the faint yelp of a dog on the hunt and knew they were not far. His hope of survival seemed torn away from him with every step closer to home. Or what was once home. A home undeserving of its name. Certainly it was without the comfort a home should bestow. It was lack and cruel work. It was bondage in every sense of the word. And he faced it once more with the hopes of bringing his family out, or anyone out who dared dream of something more. For a brief moment, he had known the comfort of freedom. He had known security and rest. He had known what it was like to enjoy simply breathing. But it all seemed bittersweet because there were so many still enslaved. So many still starving, so many being beaten and worked to death. So many who had to know the way.
He had been approached rather apprehensively by a man known only as Abolitionist, who asked him with many tears if there was any way he’d return. They had to know. They just had to know there was a way to freedom. That the word that forever filled their hearts with passion and joy was a real, tangible thing. Would he go?
How could he say no? So after resting a while from his own harrowing escape, he reluctantly agreed to risk it all and go back. He had been given a large amount of cash to be dispersed among the slaves, and he had been given new clothes and shoes for the journey. He’d been given a map and directed to leave signs along the route so that other would know the direct way to freedom. He knew the houses they were safe in, and he ran with a surety for many days until his feet began to falter. He was tired, bone weary and afraid. He was unsure of himself. Unsure of the plan and ready to flee for safety. But something kept pulling him southward. It was the understanding of bondage, and the uncovering of freedom. He couldn’t keep it from them. His heartbeat in his ears reminded him of the rhythmic drone of complacency that comes on a man who has lost all hope. He couldn’t bear to leave them without hope. His passion for freedom drove him on for many days. He couldn’t stop now. Not so close to his goal. He had to press on. Despite his pain and weariness. Despite his own fear. Despite the nagging feeling of oppression that had burrowed into him. He couldn’t stop. Too much was at stake. Too many needed to know the way.
This is the story of a slave. A slave who found freedom. To many, the Underground Railroad was a myth that seemed to good to be true. To others, it was a beacon of hope and happily ever after that spurred them on in the face of intense peril. There were those who conducted it, who risked their lives to hide their passengers. There were others who offered large sums of money to help in the cause. And there were those who hopped the train for freedom and never looked back. But the Underground Railroad could never have been the catalyst that is was without the brave men and women who road the train both ways. Who entered into freedom, enjoyed its sweet embrace and then jumped the train to ride back into the south, risking their lives so that others could escape.
It occurred to me this week that this is the plan of Christ for His church. Not that we hop the train for freedom and never look back, but that we experience the sweetness of freedom and become so passionate about it that we run back toward those in bondage and risk our lives to set them free.
It is tempting to accept salvation and know freedom, and never again move toward others. Comfort is tantalizing, is it not? It surely is tempting to become complacent about the world around us that’s going to hell, chalking it up to a matter of choice and human circumstance. But I wonder, is it Christ-like? Surely, a God who is desperate enough to have us for himself that he’d live among us and die a criminal’s death does not give you the impression that he’d sit idly by while thousands die and go to hell. Are we not of the same stock? Made in His image? Crucified with Christ? Doesn’t His passion burn within us?
The men and women who risked their lives leading others to freedom did so out of a deep sense of love and moral obligation. Is there nothing left of God in the church? After all, God is love. While we may know the truth that sets men free, there are millions still living in bondage. Are we so weak-willed, and do we know so little of the power of God that we are willing to sit by while many die enslaved to sin? Where is our passion? Is it in things of this world? Is our hope so self-centered that we cannot see the desperate circumstances of our fellow man? By God, what will it take for the church to become passionate for souls again? What discomfort will shake us from our lethargy and awaken us to our mandate? Outside the walls of the church are masses dying in pain and torment. Gripped by fears and roaming about in darkness. Aimlessly.
We know the way, church! We know the truth that sets captives free. We know love and joy and peace and all the things of God that men crave in the deep recesses of their hearts. Why are we keeping it to ourselves?
You will die a slave to something. You will either die a slave to sin. Or you will die a slave to self. Or you will die a slave to Christ. One way or another, you will die. And each death will cost you something. Only one will give you life. How will you die?