By Fr. Nelson Lobo OFM Cap
Panaji, August 8, 2019: Goa is gone to dogs is the common refrain we hear from not only Goans but also from foreigners. Frustrations and disappointments are seen on their faces. A kind of angst situation exists all over.
In moments of disillusionment one Goan takes a walk down the memory lane and sings “the Goa I knew is no more” RIP Goa. The other Goan feels this is the best time to pack up the bags take the avião of Emirates or British airways. The remnant of Goa thinks the best solution to the aches of Goan future is to take to the streets and social media.
People have explored political and social solutions for the problems and challenges affecting Goa and India. It’s time to adopt the biblical solution. Yes! There is a solution in the Bible. Bible is full of political, social and religious stories. Choosing the leaders and the government and their subsequent rise or fall in the Bible was solely directed by God. God is the director of both; religious as well as political drama. The kings were just the actors.
Sadly we try all the methods except the biblical methods. The secret solutions to any problem can be traced in the Bible. If only we had taken the Bible seriously, if only we had believed what it truly claims to be. The solution to Goan political woes and for that matter even Indian can be found in the book of prophet Nehemiah. Those who are passionate about saving Goa and even India must read the first chapter from the book of Nehemiah. To understand Nehemiah’s secret of rebuilding his country Israel we will have to sit in a time machine and travel back to about 2600 years.
Israel is devastated, ransacked and Jerusalem has fallen. The Jews are taken captives. Who are the enemies? Play the Boney-M CD and listen to ‘By the rivers of Babylon’ and you will know the enemies name. Yes the mighty Babylonians destroyed the famous Jerusalem. Nehemiah now is employed as a slave in a foreign land but not under the Babylonian King. How come? The Bible says “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Mt 23:12).
Babylon was swelling with pride. They thought they were invincible and impregnable. No army no matter how powerful is great before the God of Israel. Yahweh raised the Persian King and defeated Babylon without any warfare (in 539 B.C). The Persian king was kind to the Jews he allowed them to go back home. So being in the court of the Persian king as the cup bearer (his duty was to pour the wine in the King’s cup) he was eagerly seeking any news about Jerusalem.
Fortunately his brother Hanani was visiting him who updated him with all the information. The blow that really hit him hard was “Jerusalem is fallen, temple burnt and the walls are broken” (in 586 BC-2Kings 24). Hearing this sad news about his motherland he was devastated. Now the question is what did Nehemiah do to restore his land? He follows a four step pattern to save his land. If we follow the same pattern we too can save Goa and even India.
Remember who God is-The Jews were mesmerized by the military power of the Babylonians and the Persians. So they believed if their military power is so great their God also must be powerful. This belief tempted them to side their gods. Some who wanted to play safe and save their life decided to join their ranks. They crossed over, changed their boundaries, and took on new identity new ‘passports’ either of Babylonians or the Persians.
In this context Nehemiah is telling his people ‘remember who God is’. God reached out to His people so many times and yet people forgot who God is. Psalm 46:10 says ‘be still and know that I am your God’. There is no need to abandon your land or join your enemy. Exodus 3:4 tells us the true nature of God. He is the great “I AM” who saved the people of Israel. So God was their provider (Ex 17:2-6), He was their doctor (Num 21:6-9, 1kgs 17:17-22), He was their protector (1Sam 17, 2kgs 19), He was their way maker (Ex 14:21-29, Is 43:16-19), He was their deliverer (Ex 3:16-17; Judges 10:1-18; Jos 6:20-24).
We have a comparable situation in Goa. Those who felt that a particular government is very powerful they joined them to save their skin. Others thought it is better to shift the boundaries to a new land and take on a new identity, a new ‘passport’. To such Goemcho Saib says remember who God is.
I remember a rich elderly Goan lady (who is now no more) showing me a letter from Padre Pio (Italy). This said lady was working in Kolkata in the 1950s. The decision making time had come for her family. They had three options: London, Africa or back to Goa. She was confused. She wrote to Padre Pio. Padre Pio advised her to go back to her home, her motherland. She passed away in Goa.
Other states in India have seen so many natural disasters. God saved Goa. We forget that there were two dreadful plagues (cholera and malaria) one in Old Goa in 15th century (1543) and the other in Salcette in the 17th century. God saved Goa through the intercession of St. Francis Xavier in the first case and through the intercession of St. Sebastian in the later case.
Goans need to remember what God has done to this beautiful little land and to this tiny population called Goans. Without the handiwork of God it wouldn’t be called as the paradise of India or the Rome of the East. The second step in Nehemiah pattern is repentance.
Repentance-When he got the news of the devastation of his land from his brother Hanani he did not point fingers at his political or religious leaders. He sat down. The Bible says he mourned, fasted and prayed. O Lord he cried. I and my people have sinned. Have mercy on us. (Neh 1:4). We Goans have criticized and blamed the government time and again. That is democratic approach. We tried and we failed. Every government has failed us.
It’s time to explore the biblical approach. We need to confess, mourn, repent, fast and pray for our motherland. Prophet Isaiah had warned if you do not repent, if you do not walk in God’s ways you will be destroyed. People did not listen. They were taken into exile by King Nebuchadnezzar. Prophet Isaiah’s book is divided into two. First 39 chapters warn the people to reform their lives failing which destruction of Jerusalem was inevitable and the next 27 chapters comfort them that the comfort is on the way (Advent-comfort, comfort my people).
Many priests and activists had warned Goans not to sell their properties and houses to outsiders. Today we have become a minority in our own land. Time and again we were told to love and speak our mother tongue. We did not listen. Today in every nook and corner of Goa we hear different languages except Konkani. Goans were told not to give up their traditional professions. We did not pay heed. Today our traditional professions such as fishing, baking, plumbing, carpentry are hijacked by outsiders. We were warned not to fall for the pink note. We sold our votes for money. We need to repent before it is too late.
Remind God of His promises:
Does God need a reminder? Well! That’s exactly what Nehemiah did. After repenting He reminds God of His promises. “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.” (Neh 1:8-9).
There are dozens of promises God made to His people to protect them (1Sam 2:9; Ps 4:8; Ps 91:1-2). With all these promises God also assured them saying “so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). Jesus reiterates the same promise in Mark: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Mark 13:31). God keeps His word. If He did not love Goa He would have never sent St. Francis Xavier to Goa or raise St. Joseph Vaz and Padre Agnel from this land. The final step in this pattern is intercession.
The cup bearer in the court is expected to serve with a smile just like the air hostesses are paid to serve in the flight with an artificial smile. But after receiving the news about the fall of Jerusalem Nehemiah was crestfallen. He just could not bring himself to smile. The King notices it. When you invoke God He provides a breakthrough. God has already touched the heart and mind of the king. So the king inquires Nehemiah why is he in a sad mood today. Nehemiah thanks God for this opportunity to speak with the king. He says my people are suffering my motherland is destroyed and the walls of Jerusalem are pulled down.
The king asks “Is there anything I can do for you?” Nehemiah says give me leave so that I can go back and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. The king sanctions his leave. Nehemiah prays to God fervently before making another request. He requests the king to give him a letter (a symbol of security and recommendation) so that he can safely return to his home and also collect material to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. The king obliges. To rebuild our Goa we need to intercede with God the King of Kings.
Nehemiah was a layman, not a priest like Ezra nor a prophet like Malachi. Goa and India need people like Nehemiah who bring vision, daring leadership, prayerful approach, God’s involvement, an emperor’s (state) resources to accomplish the work of restoring Goa/India to its pristine glory once again.
Biblical approach is the approach to be explored in order to save our Goa/India. You may call it a desperate measure, the last resort. So be it. We finally acknowledge that without God’s hand directing the drama of Goa/India the actors (politicians) and we the people will continue the blame game.
Source: Renavaco, Goa