Jo Cox: Facing a Task Unfinished

In 1929, the China Inland Mission (now OMF) sent out a call for 200 workers. It wasn’t an easy sell as there had been a brutal Civil War: half their workers had fled the country and many of those who remained had been killed. In order to make the case to the churches for why people should go to such a dangerous place and risk their lives, Francis Houghton was commissioned to write a hymn. He produced “Facing a Task Unfinished”. It begins:

Facing a task unfinished
That drives us to our knees
A need that, undiminished
Rebukes our slothful ease

It was precisely these words that came to my mind on Friday evening as I found myself standing next to the Archbishop of Canterbury in Parliament Square. The causes that Jo Cox has laboured for over the course of the last 20 years have benefited millions of the world’s poorest people. In parliament, she gained a reputation for being perhaps the most articulate and effective advocate of Syrian refugees. We have lost Jo but the Syrian refugees are still with us and they are as much in need of advocates as ever. In fact, every cause that Jo has ever fought for – whether that be modern slavery or maternal mortality – is still with us. Francis Houghton continues that we bear the torch that fell from the hands of those who have given their lives. The hymn goes onto say:

Ours is the same commission
The same glad message ours
Fired by the same ambition
To Thee we yield our powers

The burden of this responsibility fell heavy upon me on Friday evening. When I was living in Cumbria and the vitriol aimed at local politicians used to really get me down, the local MP would always challenge me with the words “politics isn’t about us”. As I reflected on the plight of the Syrian refugees and the millions of others around the world who had a voice because of Jo, I was reminded of these words. Politics really isn’t about us. The Civil Rights movement endured – and achieved many of its goals long after Martin Luther King was assassinated. Those who fought alongside him carried on his fight. But to do so will take courage. As I walked home from work on Thursday evening in a daze, I thought “I had a lucky escape” not getting elected in 2015. Then I had a blazing row with myself for being such a coward. The words of Francis Houghton are again apposite:

From cowardice defend us
From lethargy awake!
Forth on Thine errands send us
To labour for Thy sake

On Friday, MPs went ahead with their surgeries less than 24 hours after the brutal murder of a dear colleague. They carry on despite the ongoing death threats they now receive on a regular basis. They carry on because they have to: because to do otherwise would undermine our open democracy. They do so because their 70,000 constituents depend on them. And they continue to speak up because millions of people around the world need their voice. It is incumbent on all of us who share their ambition and values to support them in this work.

In the words of Ted Kennedy:

The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.