Due out in October this new film tells the true story of the network of spies established early in World War two in occupied France. ‘Spymistress’ Vera Atkins is commissioned to enlist courageous and resourceful women for the drop into dangerous territory, with the aim of building a resistance behind enemy lines. Virginia Hall and Noor Inayat Khan, both unlikely spies, risked everything as they undertook their vital roles.
There are lots of examples of covert agents in the Bible. Caleb and Joshua, once part of a twelve man spy network, drop into enemy territory at the start of the book of Joshua, in order to check out hostile territory. In the unravelling events Rahab takes up the spying mantle when she chooses to hide them from the enemy, and in doing so she goes down in history, her acts of heroism recognised as an expression of faith and dedication (Hebrews 11 v 31). Queen Esther also took on a kind of spying role when her cousin informed her of the secret operation to destroy her own people. Working covertly, prayerfully and courageously she got on with the job of righting that dark wrong, using her skills to change the course of history (Esther 4 v 13-17). In occupied Israel, Mary and Joe would risk their lives smuggling their precious tiny child out of Bethlehem to Egypt, escaping the horrors of Herod; and thirty years later another Mary, with her sister Martha, would regularly offer a covert hideout for Jesus whenever he needed to escape the pressure of the crowds and the danger of arrest. (Matthew 21 v 17 & John 11 & 12)
In a very different way, perhaps there is a sense in which we are all called to be agents in occupied territory from time to time, commissioned to do secret acts that speak of kindness and hope, scuppering the ammunition dumps of cynicism and despair wherever we come across them. It sounds as if I’m exaggerating, but it’s not always an easy challenge to stand up and speak up for truth and compassion and faith, when peer pressure would invite us to tread another path; or to remain silent when gossip, criticism and nastiness fill the airwaves. ‘It’s small things that change the world,’ activist Shane Claiborne once said. And we may often wonder whether small things are really worth it. But Jesus urges us that our heavenly father sees all the covert acts we do to challenge any negative status quo. And what about those ongoing faithful ‘ordinary’ tasks so many perform day in and day out, caring for others, those things which speak of grace and the wonder of the one who left heaven on a mission to serve.