I have seen a few things in my lifetime. I have witnessed suffering and had a little of my own. Nothing I have seen compares to what I have heard about today. There are some very sad stories in our sometimes ugly world. But even amongst the suffering, there are incredible stories of hope.
I heard today from two young women whose life experiences have allowed them to see and hear first-hand what I have only read about in newspapers. The first was Amy Orr-Ewing, Director of Programmes for the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics and Training Director for RZIM Europe. Amy has had opportunity to minister around the world, even smuggling Bibles into Taliban territory, her group placing one in the hands of a leading Taliban Imam.
The story that she shared that struck me today, however, was of an Anglican archbishop in Africa by the name of Benjamin Kwashi. He has the unenviable task of ministering in a particularly volatile region in Nigeria. You may have seen him in the news as Christians in the City of Jos were attacked and killed by Islamic militants on numerous occasions in recent years.
It is a dangerous place to be a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A few years ago, militants came to his house to find and kill the archbishop. Not finding him home, they instead brutalized his wife, Gloria, in unimaginable ways. He came home to find his wife in this state. She spent a number of months in the United States in recovery, including surgery to restore her eyesight. After her physical recovery, he asked her what she would like to do, was she willing to return to this dangerous place? Her answer was yes, there was work still to do. She returned to the scene of this brutality to continue to share the Gospel.
Some time later her husband was alone when, once again, the militants came to try to finally silence this leader of the church. They brought him into the yard to take his life. He asked if he could be allowed a few moments to pray to his God - his attackers agreed. In African style he raised his hands and began to pray loudly. He prayed for several moments and waited with his eyes closed for several more, expecting death. When he finally opened his eyes he found that he was all alone. His son came home just at that time and asked his father what had happened. He had just crossed paths with thirty armed militants who were running away in terror. What they had seen God knows, but the archbishop continues his ministry - there is hope in the darkness, and the church grows. Among other things, the Kwashis accommodate 50 orphaned children in their home whom they feed and educate. A further 150 children, housed nearby, are also educated in the compound.
Naomi Zacharias has worked for Coca-Cola as well as interning in the Executive Office of President George W. Bush. Her interest in global issues regarding children and women lead her to become the director of RZIM Wellspring International, an organization helping to equip organizations aiding women and children at risk around the world.
Naomi spoke of the plight of women caught up in the web of human trafficking, and the challenges of trying to help them. She has gone to places where 40-50% of the children are sold into the sex trade. She articulately speaks of the humanity of each of these people. They are not simply statistics, they are individuals, each with their own story, each worth redemption, and that we are all called to try to make a difference, even if it doesn't seem like we are making progress.
As C.S. Lewis said, “Sorrow turns out to be not a state, but a process." There are times when all that we can do is to be with someone in their pain; to hear their story - to help to restore their dignity. As Christians we must remember that, even when it seems dark, this is not the end, and there is still more of the story yet to be lived out. Our role is to love and to care and to share. As Naomi said today, "Heaven is the happily ever after but until then, we live in some very hard realities."
So, why persevere? Why keep fighting when it seems as though the odds are overwhelming? She gives two reasons for us as believers:
- We persevere because it's right.
- We persevere because people matter.
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