This week, amongst the deluge of harrowing news emerging from Ukraine, I heard the story of two Scottish men who, at the very start of the conflict, drove to Poland to begin helping Ukrainians move across the border. On one occasion, passing a Russian convoy, they were held at gunpoint, had their vehicle ransacked, their possessions stolen, and two of their tyres shot out. They limped on for a further fifteen miles until locals found them two spare tyres, then they continued to the town of Sumy to help evacuate a student and six other people before the bombing there began. During their return journey to the Polish border, one of the men, on his wife’s birthday, called her from the road. Through tears she encouraged him, “Just go for it!”
Bravery is a quality of character and is relative. For some people, being brave means getting out of bed in the morning to face the day. For others, being brave means driving across a war-torn country to rescue stranded civilians. Both are equally as brave. And I was astounded at the foresight and bravery of these two Scottish men, however, these two men were not just brave. They were bold.
Bold is not a word we use very often, and there is a difference between being bold and being brave. So what is boldness?
Boldness is bravery expressed in the presence of others on behalf of someone or something. Boldness needs an object — usually a person or people group. It can be an organisation, institution, or even a nation. Boldness also implies there is something to be bold about — a subject. This can be a person, a cause, a law, or a guiding principle. So, to be bold is to be brave on behalf of someone or something in the presence of someone.
The two Scottish men were bold. Bold because they were brave on behalf of the civilians they rescued, and brave in the presence of the Russian soldiers.
The church is called to be bold too. We are called to be bold on behalf of God in the presence of the world. Sadly, on multiple occasions, the church has mistaken boldness for bolshiness — thinking ourselves as right and others as wrong, and justifying our own actions in the name of God — however, it is possible (and essential) for the church to be both bold and humble.
The church speaks on behalf of God. We assert that God’s creation is good, that the environment needs to be protected, and that every person is created in God’s image, is valued and precious, and of great inherent worth. We proclaim that God loves the world, including us, and that God wants us to be part of his plan to redeem it, restore it, and renew it. We testify that this communal, loving God came in the person of Jesus Christ, to pave the way to a relationship with God, so that God can make his home in us by his Spirit; with the purpose that we can see the world through God’s eyes; to be God’s hands and feet on the ground; to be witnesses to God’s love in word and action; and to invite others into God’s eternal relationship of love and trust.
We do all this in the presence of a secular world that is often apathetic and sometimes antagonistic; a world where people often put themselves first — before others, before the environment, and before God; a world controlled, directed, and influenced by money and power; a world where there is injustice, pain, and war.
We need to be a church that is bold in loving God, loving others, and loving the environment; a church that is not afraid to speak out on behalf of those that have no voice, to stand with those that are unable to stand on their own, and defend those that are unable to defend themselves. But remember, that bravery is relative. For some of us, being bold means being brave enough to face the day and trusting in God’s loving arms. For others of us, being bold may mean taking a stand. Like two, unassuming Scottish men facing a Russian convoy of tanks and artillery, love will win and break through in the end.
Today, wherever you are, whatever you face this day or the coming week, may God bless you with boldness. If you are able, may you be an advocate for the poor, marginalised, broken, and displaced, and may you be a protector of the environment — its flora and fauna. And if, because life is just too difficult right now, perhaps you can encourage others from the sidelines with the words, “Just go for it!”