On 14 June we celebrated a 100th birthday with a difference. The centenarian wasn’t there. He was already in a ‘far better place’ these past 42 years. John Bradburne was shot dead near Mutemwa on 5 September 1979.
He was such an extraordinary person that his name soon became known far and wide. In thanksgiving for his life, we celebrated the Eucharist with a Covid crowd of about 80 near the hut from which he was abducted. I recalled the times, fifty years ago, when we used to sit near this same hut while John regaled us with his observations on life. We shared a lasagne cooked by Dr Luisa Guidotti in a vain attempt to put some flesh on John who tended to live on lactogen and coffee – and chocolate when he could get it!
If you are unfamiliar with John’s story, he was an Englishman who lived through terrifying action during the second world war in the far east. On returning home, he sought to live out the inspirations he had received during his first 25 years of life. These led him to a monastery in the south west of England not far from where the G7 gathered recently. But the life of a monk was not what he was called to and he began to search again and came to discover his happiness in silence and solitude – a life he pursued for almost another 25 years – until he came to Mutemwa.
There he found he could combine his intense search for God with a profound service of the most abandoned and vulnerable of people – those living with leprosy. The last decade of his life were dedicated to these two goals which were really one. The world being ‘the way we have made it’, he soon became embroiled in jealousies, misunderstandings and open hostility – just like Jesus. And, like Jesus, he was killed.
The way he pushed out the frontiers of what it is to be human has attracted people ever since and so it was fitting that we celebrate his birthday into this world. This ‘world’ was not far away even at our celebration. Our particularly Zimbabwean world manifested itself: The technical people, who were to broadcast the event, were more than three hours late and when they did arrive made no apology to the people living with leprosy or anyone else. They just seemed to presume everyone would wait for them. Forty years ago I would have got irritated and impatient. Today I find I just accept it. ‘This is Zimbabwe, get used to it!’ Well, I have got used to it, me and all the people of the country. But am I proud of, at last, learning to ‘go with the flow’? I should not be. None of us should. The lack of accountability, the taking people for granted, is now a spiral of disrespect that has got out of hand. We have created a jungle of selfishness where the weakest are of no account. John gave his life ‘pushing back’ against this lava flow which is engulfing us. We have to break this spiral. Otherwise, it will break us.
20 June 2021 Sunday 12B Job 38:1,8-11 2 Cor 5:14-17 Mark 4:35-41