rev._joaquin_willis_3.jpg"Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Also seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. – Jeremiah 29:5-7"

Prime Minister Winston Baldwin Spencer of Antigua and Barbuda, on Sept. 25, at the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly, spoke of the need for reparations to be paid by Europe for slavery, saying, “The legacy of slavery and colonialism in the Caribbean has severely impaired our development options. reparations must be directed towards repairing the damage inflicted by slavery and racism.” 
In the words quoted at the top of this column, Jeremiah urges the Jewish exiles to settle down in Babylon for the long haul, build houses, plant gardens and get married, to plant a new life there.

God over and over disturbs our faith as He pushes us into new wildernesses. Could this renewed reparations movement be another wilderness experience?  Many will live their entire lives, only to die in the wilderness, simply because we’re afraid to march toward our promised land.

The Jewish exile story is a tragic story of a disobedient people. The Jews were taken into Babylonian exile by the Assyrians because of God’s displeasure with their meaningless worship of tradition which, had become idolatry and for their allowing their society to become an unjust and ungodly one, as well as mistreating the poor.

According to this letter to the elders from Jeremiah (29:8b), the trouble was the false prophets’ deception of the people, telling them their time in Babylonian captivity would be short and they should not plant a new life in Babylon. The false prophets’ preaching gave the people false hope. Such preaching  would keep the people unsettled and soon their disappointment would lead to despair and, ultimately, this would make their condition even more miserable.

I applaud the 15-nation Caribbean Community bloc for having unanimously agreed to make a moral, ethical and, if necessary, legal case to get Britain, France and the Netherlands to meet their reparations demands. However, because we don’t know what will happen, we must continue building up their countries and seek prosperity in their current circumstances. 

As we grow in wisdom, God insists upon our learning obedience. He positions us all where we are needed and not where we are wanted. We should fear letting God down in our service more than our letting man down.

There are great challenges facing people of African heritage today: burgeoning unemployment, under-employment, high crime including murder and incarceration rates, chronic health conditions and an increasingly widening wealth gap between the rich and the poor. God is not pleased with this situation. Once again we are living in an unjust and ungodly society, mistreating the poor.  

For decades, leaders and scholars across the U.S., the Caribbean and Africa have unsuccessfully sought reparations from the former colonial powers for sponsoring, endorsing, kidnapping and enslaving and the selling of Africans.

Ezra (1:7-8) tells us in 538 B.C. that 70 years after Jeremiah’s message, King Cyrus did provide reparations. And Isaiah (44:28) had predicted, calling Cyrus by name, 150 years earlier, that Cyrus would be the one to set the Jews free. He gave back the Temple treasury, taken by Nebuchadnezzar. And the people then went back home and planted a new life, although it wasn’t easy.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, of St. Vincent and the Grenadines said, “Look, the Germans paid the Jews, there were reparations for the Japanese and the reparations by New Zealand for the Maori,” referring to the aboriginal people of New Zealand.

Jeremiah 29:1-14 stressed what Christ stressed in His day. We are to love our enemies, forgive them, even if they are our captors. And we are to do good by them, for God promises us deliverance in due season, saying, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

It’s time to plant a new life, letting go of the old life. It’s time to plant a new life, fearing God more than man.

The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door UCC in Miami’s Liberty City community. He may be reached at 305-759-0373 or