July 13, 2010
A Life Dedicated to the Gospel
by Sarah Jennings, Crosswalk.com Family Editor
For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. Mark 8:35
Sometimes God asks us to faithfully follow Him in the everyday tasks, and sometimes He calls us to do something really big and really hard. This is the kind of calling I stumbled across when I read about a man named Peter Claver while researching Christian heroes of days gone by. While our lives are playing out in different times with different issues, reading about his courageous devotion to the Gospel is a good reminder to me of what it looks like to live for God instead of myself.
Born in 1581, Peter Claver's beginning reads like the typical story of a man growing up in 16th century Spain. He studied theology and joined the Jesuit order of priests. But in 1610, Peter left his homeland to become a missionary in the country we now call Colombia.
Columbia was the center of the slave trade in the New World during this time, and while church officials had openly condemned the injustices of the African slave trade, the industry continued to flourish. Peter's mission in this foreign land would be to minister to fellow foreigners, the African slaves.
Bought, sold and treated worse than animals, thousands of African men and women were shipped into the wealthy city of Cartagena to be sold to plantation owners. An estimated one third to one half of them died on the journey over, unable to endure the horrific conditions - conditions so putrid, it would make you feel ill if I described them in depth. By the time Peter Claver met them, these men and women were starving, dying, dirty, and mentally broken.
Peter Claver was known for boarding the suffocating ships immediately upon arrival with food and medicine, caring for men and women in a situation most would find unbearable.
But Peter's ministry did not end with meeting physical needs. He trained interpreters to communicate with the diverse array of African dialects, assuring each person of their dignity and worth as human beings created in God's image. After sharing the Gospel in their respective languages, he baptized men and women before they were sold.
While Peter Claver was powerless to stop the slave trade, he worked hard to defend African men and woman against their oppressors every chance he got. He visited their plantations to encourage them and exhorted the plantation owners to treat them well. He even assembled African slaves for worship services during Easter and did everything he could to fight for their freedoms and meet their needs.
Claver not only displayed Christ-like love to the oppressed but with God's grace he overcame personal shortcomings. Born with a timid nature, Claver displayed uncharacteristic boldness in his ministry. He endured hatred from the slave traders and societal rejection from the citizens of Cartagena. Even some Christians thought he was wasting his time, but Claver continued his work. He baptized an estimated 300,000 African men and women in his 33 years of ministry.
Claver ultimately became a societal force for good in Cartagena, and after his death, the "apostle to the slaves" was openly granted the respect he never received in his lifetime.
How can a man give up all that is familiar and comfortable to spend a life defending those few were interested in saving at that time? Claver was not holier than you or I, he simply followed God's leading in his life. His love for God and for those in need superseded everything else, and no doubt he enjoys many friendships in heaven.
Intersecting Faith & Life: Has God ever asked you to do something hard, something that felt impossible or threatened your reputation? What was your response? Ask God for the grace to do His will, even in the face of personal sacrifice.
St. Peter Claver", "Saint of the Day, September 9th," "Saints and Angels: St. Peter Claver"