So this month I am wearing a new wristband. For those who know me, this is not typical. I am not one to jump on bandwagons (other than winning Philadelphia sports teams) or follow the latest trends in fashion. I was even late to the WWJD fad a few years back. This wristband is different. I got it at Urbana and it says “One with Them” on it. It has symbols of barbed wire and is designed to remind me of the suffering of persecuted Christians all over the world. To be really honest, I a wearing it because I realize that in many ways I am not one with them and that is a problem. I also have been wrestling with the question of who “them” is when it comes to persecuted Christians. Even as a Christian missionary, I find it all too easy to ignore these questions and to avoid pain and suffering all around me.
A few years ago I was sitting down to lunch with the man who is the head of our work in Pakistan and wanted to get to know him. He was young, deeply committed to our work and also pretty quiet. I knew that we had dealt with some really significant opposition to our ministry in Karachi right after the 9/11 bombings in New York and I was curious if he had ever dealt with similar things himself. As we chatted, I asked him if he had ever been in danger as result of being a part of CLC. He looked up at me and told me of a time that he had been praying before the store was to open. At that moment he was sitting near the plate glass window in the front of the store when a bomb went off in the street outside. The bomb blast was close enough that it shattered the entire window all around him. Amazingly he was not hurt at all.
After nearly 20 years in the CLC ministry, I have gotten to know many of my brothers and sisters who take great risks to simply show up to work every day. The act of opening the door to a Christian bookstore each morning in a predominantly Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist country is an act of courage. The interesting thing is that as I have gotten to know these brave people, I have discovered that they are not “super saints” or people that love and seek danger. Instead, they are pretty ordinary individuals with a heart sold out for God. What is common in all of them is that their calling supersedes their concern for personal safety. Some have confided in me that they can be fearful and worry about what might happen to them. They do take reasonable precautions and avoid reckless behavior and yet – they keep opening the doors every day.
With all this background and people who are close to me that have suffered and are in danger on a regular basis, you would think that I would have a special empathy for persecuted church around the world. Truthfully, I am just as quick as the next person to turn the TV channel or skip the news story when things are too harsh to absorb. Watching the calculated killings of Christians by ISIS or learning about the attack on a Christian college in Kenya becomes so much white noise in a world that calls me to pay more attention to a new pair of shoes or the next hot new “reality” show. I have become a part of the numb and apathetic majority if I am really honest with myself.
Now before you get the Kleenex out and join my pity party, let me share what God is calling me to this year. I am committing to be a better listener. That’s right, my first step is not taking any action at all except to change how I hear other people. As a “can do” person, I am really tempted to make this problem in my life simply another New Year’s resolution and find some kind of activity to assuage my guilt. At Urbana we were urged to listen to each other’s stories and that is what I will be doing more of this year. This wristband is a reminder to me that when I am tempted to turn the channel, skip the blog post or avoid a conversation, God is calling me to lean in and pay attention.