I vividly remember a day many years ago when rumors were circulating in Montepuez that dangerous, armed men were coming.
Some of our friends, anxious and nervous, were fleeing our town to find refuge out in “the bush.” Thankfully, the rumors proved untrue and it wasn’t long before they were able to return safely to their homes.
That day made a big impression on me. It was a powerful reminder that the after-effects of war and violence last for many years. Our friends left behind food, possessions and sometimes even their own relatives in order to find refuge.
Lina Magaia’s book, Dumba Nengue: Run for Your Life – Peasant Tales of Tragedy in Mozambique, is disturbing. The book shares some about the background of the armed conflict in Mozambique, but mostly concentrates on sharing story after story of mostly unsuccessful attempts to survive violent threats or find refuge. It is staggering to realize that roughly the same number of people died in the Rwandan genocide as were killed or died from starvation in Mozambique’s “Civil War.” And while the tragedy in Rwanda was concentrated in a period of 100 days, Mozambique’s conflict lasted from 1977 to 1992 (and its effects are still being painfully felt in skirmishes and violence up until today).
With that background in mind, it should come as no surprise that the idea of refuge (or “nthawelo” in Makua-Metto) is a more powerful concept for our Mozambican friends than it is for me. When I think and talk about the idea of refuge it is symbolic and theoretical. But for many people here, when they talk about the concept of refuge it is something concrete, physical, and tangible – it connects with a specific time and place, certain smells and emotions.
Our friends’ experiences of refuge makes it easier for them to connect with that of David.
Here’s what Eugene Peterson has to say about David’s experience of and application of the idea of refuge:
“The books of Samuel give the story of David from the outside; the Psalms – the prayers of David – give the same story from the inside. In the word refuge we find the two stories intersecting. Over and over again in the Psalms we come across the word refuge… thirty-seven times... (twenty-five times as a verb, twelve times as a noun). David (and the traditions flowing out of David) provides the narrative context for spiritual meaning. The wilderness was a dictionary in which David looked up the word refuge. The meaning he found given indicated that refuge has to do mostly with God. A striking thing happened to this word refuge. Old Testament scholar J. Gamberoni has shown that it started out as a very physical word, a geographical word: a refuge is a place to run to. But in the Psalms it ‘lost all its physical and psychological elements associated with flight, gaining in return an exclusive reference to Yahweh in the sense of a fundamental decision for Yahweh over and above anything and anyone else, whether made once for all or actualized in the face of specific dangers and temptations.’ Reflecting the history of this word, in David’s prayer refuge refers to a good experience, but what got him to refuge was a bad experience. He started out running for his life; and at some point he found the life he was running for, and the name for that life was God. ‘God is my refuge.’” (Peterson, Leap Over a Wall, 78-9)
Our Mozambican friends understand that human beings have a tendency to try to find refuge in people or places that are unable to deliver on those promises. But the important witness of David is that in God we find real refuge and help in our time of trial.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Psalm 57 lately and how in David’s song he not only declares that God is his refuge but promises to announce to others the truth of God’s unfailing faithfulness. David does not keep his refuge a secret – instead he throws open the doors and invites all who will listen to take refuge together with him in God.
May Makua-Metto believers boldly share the good news of the refuge they have found in the God of David.
Grace and Peace,