• Why I’m trying to love terrorists

    On Friday 13th November, all over Paris people were enjoying their evening. A series of terrorist attacks took place. 129 people were killed, 352 were injured. France, Europe, even the world, went into shock. I was in Paris at the time, celebrating mine and my besties birthday. Thankfully we had decided to have a night in, and the first we heard about the attacks was from concerned friends and family at home. As we watched events unfold on the news it felt completely surreal.

    My first thought was, were we safe? It didn’t take long for me to realise that the terrorists were hardly going to make their way up six flights of rickety steep stairs in an obscure apartment block just to get to us. Next, my thoughts turned to those in the places being attacked. I prayed for their safety, for the shooting to stop. Then eventually my thoughts widened to see past the fear of the barrel of a gun and I saw the person behind it. A person created in God’s image.

    The first terrorist attack I really remember was 9/11. I was in year 6 and had just starting walking home from school on my own. I remember walking in the door and my mum had the news on. I had this sense of dread in the bottom of my stomach, I couldn’t understand how anyone could do something so awful.

    Not long after my youth leader put this quote in front of us: ‘Terrorists?! When I see them I see people for whom my Jesus died. Period.’ It was from a bloke you might have heard of, Brother Andrew. This quote blew my mind. It made sense; of course Jesus had died for them too. I just hadn’t thought of it like that before.

    ‘Terrorists?! When I see them I see people for whom my Jesus died. Period.’

    So often in Christianity, and life in general, we see things in binary. The good guys vs. the bad guys. But Jesus died for all of us, because he loves all of us deeply. When he looks at the person behind the barrel of the gun, his heart breaks. God doesn’t draw the line at loving terrorists, and neither should we.

    That Friday I was challenged by this again. Being nearby made it all seem more personal, much harder. It’s so natural to want revenge, to want to hit back. But the Bible teaches that ‘perfect love casts out fear’, the best way to beat terror is with love.

    Those guys and girls involved with ISIS, and other extremist organisations, were created to be my brothers and sisters. Many of them have been brainwashed, but we’re called to love the ones doing the brain washing too. In Matthew 5: 44 Jesus says ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’, I’ve heard so many stories of people from the persecuted Church doing just that. They live in situations of continual persecution and terror and yet they respond with love, lifting their persecutors before our loving God asking him to heal their hearts and bring them back into the family.

    It’s not easy, and if you or someone you care about has been affected by terror then I can’t start to imagine how hard what I’m saying might seem, but that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to love terrorists.

  • It’s worse if you’re a girl…

    Imagine this. The room is dark, but you lie awake. Sleep slips further and further away from you as your mind churns round with anxiety. You are a teenage girl from a Muslim family in Algeria, and you have a secret. You have given your heart and your life to a man: a man named Jesus. You have done the unthinkable and become a Christian.

    Something I’ve recently realised is how privileged I am, and how much freedom I have, as a British woman. I grew up in a family; church; school and community where girls are viewed as equal to guys. Virtually no limits were placed on what I could do or aspire to because of my gender. For a long time I thought this was every girl’s experience. But now I know I was wrong.

    In a lot of societies being a girl puts you right at the bottom of the pecking order. You are more likely to be illiterate; more likely to drop out of school early; to be married off young; to face abuse; and more likely to be poor. In Islamic countries Christian women are further down the pecking order than Muslim women, and Muslim women who convert to Christianity are even worse off.

    One of the many things I love about Jesus is that he doesn’t leave women out.

    When Grace*, a girl from an Algerian Muslim family, became a Christian her parents pressurised her to go back to Islam. But she wouldn’t. Grace escaped from this when she married a Christian man, but knows that her story could have been so different. ‘Parents can impose their Christian daughter to marry a Muslim, something that is contrary to the Word of God… If the girl wants to marry a Christian and the parents refuse this marriage…the law requires that her guardian, who is the father, brother or uncle must witness to have an official marriage.’

    In Islamic societies the honour of the family is often directly linked to the behaviour of the girls and women in the family. If a girl converts to Christianity it is deeply shaming, not just because she has converted but also because she has effectively undermined the men governing the family. As Grace tells us, a woman ‘has so little rights except the right to exist, as long as she stays silent.’ Many of them will keep their faith a secret in order to avoid pressure, rejection and humiliation from their families.

    I’m a fairly outspoken person. I have my own opinions about most things and I love sharing them! True, this sometimes gets me into trouble, but I just can’t imagine not being able to have my own opinions, my own faith and not having a voice.

    One of the many things I love about Jesus is that he doesn’t leave women out. He shocked the people of his day by talking to them, hanging out with them, teaching them and sending them to share his good news: even the women who were at the very bottom of the pile, like the Samaritan woman at the well (see John 4:1-42).

    Grace’s story has made me realise the freedom I have to choose what I believe, I get to make up my own mind and not have it imposed on me by a male relative. The freedom to choose your own faith is a fundamental human right, a human right we know is violated for so many people – but it can be particularly tough if you’re a girl. I’m free to be the ‘me’ God created me to be, and so are you regardless of whether you are a guy or a girl. Let’s use that freedom to help those who don’t have it.

    Prayer points:

    • Ask God to give you the courage to use your freedom to help those who don’t have it.
    • Pray for Christian women and girls who convert to Christianity that God will protect them, strengthen them and give them wisdom;
    • Pray for the families of these new converts; that they will get to know Jesus too.
  • Jesus the refugee

    At Christmas we remember when the son of God, in all his glory, chose to make himself vulnerable and be born as a human baby. But Not just to be born, but to be born to a teenage mum who wasn’t married when she conceived. To be born into a carpenters family, not a rich one. To be born into the moos and bleats and horse poo of a stable. At Christmas we remember that God left the comfort and splendour of his heavenly home with the intention of showing us love. That cute little baby represents the start of a journey, one which ends in a painful death of the cross, but one in which we are rescued from sin, pain and eternal separation from our heavenly dad.

    The salvation story is one of life changing, universe shaking, power. But so is the way in which Jesus went about it. He didn’t grow up in a palace, protected from the tough stuff in life. Instead the bible tells us that ‘he was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.’ (Isaiah 53) He knew what it was to be poor, to be an outcast.

    He knew what it was like to be a refugee.

    The salvation story is one of life changing, universe shaking, power. But so is the way in which Jesus went about it. He didn’t grow up in a palace, protected from the tough stuff in life.

    This part of Jesus’ life often gets forgotten. But Jesus’ early childhood will resonate with many Christians around the world this Christmas. In the last few years, the UN announced that the number of people living as refugees has exceeded 50 million for the first time since the Second World War. Many of these are Christians fleeing persecution.

    After the well known Christmas story, after the angels, the star, the shepherds and the wise men had all gone home, Herod realised he’s been duped by the wise men and lost it. He ordered a mass infanticide and every boy between zero and two in and around Bethlehem was killed. His plan to kill the one baby failed, so he killed all the babies that fitted Jesus’ description. A whole generation of boys was wiped out. When ISIS invaded Mosul in the summer of 2014, Christians homes were marked out with a symbol – the Arabic for ‘N’. N for Nazarene- Christian. Like the baby boys of Bethlehem, they were marked out because of an association with Jesus, because like Herod ISIS are terrified of Jesus’ world changing potential.

    Incredibly Jesus escaped. Joseph was visited by an Angel in a dream, and told to take Mary and baby to Egypt, where they lived till Herod’s death. Many Christians escaped from Mosul and fled to Kurdistan. Though part of Iraq, Kurdistan speaks Kurdish, not Arabic, and has its own distinct culture.

    Many refugees feel like they are in a foreign country. Though they are now safely away from ISIS, many have seen terrible things and are traumatised. Then there’s survivor’s guilt – the confusion over why you got away when others didn’t. I can’t help wondering if Mary, Joseph and Jesus struggled with this too. Not only that, but some of those little boys would have been friends, or even relatives. As well as guilt, they would have had grief to deal with too.

    Like the refugees in Kurdistan, Mary and Joseph wouldn’t have known when they would be able to go home. In fact when they did return to Israel, it still wasn’t safe to go back to Bethlehem, and instead they went to Nazareth. For many refugees in Iraq, this is not the first time they’ve had to run. Many came to Mosul as refugees from Baghdad in the first place. They have no idea when they will be able to go home.

    In Matthew 25: 40 Jesus says that ‘whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ When I look at the faces of Iraqi refugee families in the news, it’s really not that hard to see Mary, Joseph and Jesus staring back. So this Christmas, let’s remember Jesus the refugee.

    Things you can do this Christmas…


    • That Christian refugees around the world will be comforted by knowing that Jesus knows what it’s like.
    • For God to protect refugees and give them hope.
    • For peaceful resolutions to the situations keeping refugees from being able to go home.

    Sources: Open Doors, UNHCR

  • Three lessons from three films

    I love a good movie. I love what we can learn from films about ourselves, about human nature and about God (It’s the geeky English Lit graduate in me). So here are three films I’ve watched recently, and three lessons that I learned from them.

    WARNING! This article contains spoilers.

    1. Seven Pounds

    This film was a disappointment to me, not because I didn’t love it, but because I picked it hoping for a feel good film along the lines of other Will Smith deep and meaningful’s like Pursuit of Happiness (one of my all-time favs). Seven Pounds is a beautifully sad film about grief, guilt, love and redemption. Ben is driven by the guilt of causing a road accident to donate his body parts to save other’s lives, even to the point of taking his life.

    Each person he donates to is carefully selected to make sure that they are a good person who deserves to live. Humanly speaking that makes sense. If you’re going to sacrifice your life to save the lives of others, you do it for people who deserve it.

    But ‘God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8 ). Jesus died for us while we were still far, far off, so that he could draw us close. And that is truly beautiful.

    True hope is life giving. True hope is not fragile but ‘strong and trustworthy’, a ‘good thing. Maybe even the best thing. And a good thing never dies.’

    2. Shawshank Redemption

    I know, it’s an old one, but somehow I’ve avoided it until now. Andy is convicted for a crime he didn’t commit and sent to Shawshank Prison where he has some horrific experiences. But he doesn’t let it beat him. He keeps hoping, making the best of what he’s got, and dreaming of freedom. He is told that ‘hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane’, but Andy decides that ‘it comes down to a simple choice. Get busy living or get busy dying.’

    Hope can be a fragile, risky thing, but that depends on what you put your trust in. Hebrews 6:18-19 tells us that ‘we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.’ Jesus came that we ‘may have life and have it to the full.’ But if we refuse to hope then we are giving fear the controls and ‘getting busy dying’.

    True hope is life giving. True hope is not fragile but ‘strong and trustworthy’, a ‘good thing. Maybe even the best thing. And a good thing never dies.’

    3. The Railway Man

    Based on a true story, Eric Lomax, a former British army officer, is tormented by memories of his experiences as a Japanese prisoner of war. After being told by a friend that the man who tortured him, Nagase, is still alive, he takes the opportunity to confront the past in the hope that he will have ‘justice’ and be able to move on.

    It’s implied that Lomax intends to kill, or at least torture, his tormentor in order to get justice. However Lomax is confronted by Nagase’s humanity. Instead of the monster of his memory, he finds a man who was also broken by what they both experienced and has spent his life trying to atone for his actions.

    So often in films the ‘bad guys’ are uncompromisingly bad, the only satisfying conclusion is for them to ‘get what they deserve’. This is an attitude which permeates our society. But the Bible calls us to love our enemies. That’s tough enough when the closest thing we have to an enemy is just someone who really irritates us. But what about someone who has pretty much ruined our lives?

    There’s nothing wrong with justice, God is just. But he is also merciful. It isn’t in the ‘justice’ of revenge that Lomax finds peace, but in mercy and grace of forgiveness. There’s a beautiful scene at the end of the film where Lomax holds Nagase while he weeps, and says: ‘While I cannot forget what happened…I assure you of my total forgiveness. Sometimes hating has to stop.’ Both men find peace and freedom from the past in an act of forgiveness.

    So to round up…

    God loves us absolutely and unconditionally. This means we can put our hope in God, who is an anchor we can depend on whatever the situation. Forgiveness is much better than revenge. God calls us to love our enemy and pray for those who persecute us because he loves them absolutely and unconditionally too.

  • Worth dying for

    We set out into the dark. Just two of us. To start with the street lights lit our way, the odd car passed us. It all seemed fairly normal. Until we reached the point where we needed to start setting out a trail for the rest of the group to follow. The sign- a candle in a jam jar.

    As we crouched at the junction, cradling a tea light, coaxing the flame into life, we wondered, what would anyone driving past think? Would they stop and ask what we were doing? What if someone else followed our trail and found the meeting?

    We turned down a quiet industrial road. Quiet until we reached a group revving their car engines, squealing and shouting. They watched, clearly suspicious of the large bag of clinking jam jars and where we were going on this road to nowhere in particular.

    It was so dark and so quiet. Every rustling of leaves, every possible murmur of voices. Was it a member of the group? Was it someone else? Or just an animal?

    Would they stop us?
    Would they follow us?
    Were we safe?

    We sat at the meeting location, a circle of logs in a field, hidden by trees.
    We waited.

    And waited

    Why were the rest of the group not coming? Had the candles gone out? Were they lost? Perhaps we should look for them.

    It was so dark and so quiet. Every rustling of leaves, every possible murmur of voices. Was it a member of the group? Was it someone else? Or just an animal?

    A light amongst the leaves. Was it a light? It came closer, four silhouettes. Was it our group? Or someone else? We sat there, the two of us. Alone. Vulnerable. Tension as our minds raced. To sit or to run? Eyes strained to focus on faces.

    Familiar faces.

    Another light. Another and another. Relief coursed through veins.

    We joined together, worshipping in whispers, sharing scraps of scripture. All of this risk to worship our Jesus, to share, to strengthen, to encourage each other. Then quietly we dispersed.

    We were never in any real danger. This meeting took place just down the road from the Open Doors office during our advocates’ weekend. But for a moment it felt real, and for so many believers around the world this is reality.

    Brother Andrew, Open Doors founder describes meeting with believers in Afganistan:

    “We rode in a 4×4 over very rugged mountain terrain to a clandestine meeting of
    Christians in the southern part of the country…After a gruelling number of hours we finally arrived
    at a nondescript house where the meeting took place.

    The windows were covered with blankets to hide their activities from prying eyes. There was no heat or electricity; candles and sunlight filtering through blanket cracks provided what light they had. Two women, wives of two of the men, sat in a darkened corner of the room shrouded in their burkas. For the next few hours we were transported into a world few have experienced…

    The primary purpose of this secret meeting was to baptize the 12 men and two women who had gathered there. The meeting began with singing some Psalms in Pashto led by a former mullah (Muslim religious leader) with a “hauntingly beautiful chanting voice.” He said he wanted to be a “mullah for Jesus.” As the meeting progressed each man gave a testimony to his Christian faith.”

    In the weeks and months after this secret meeting many of the group were martyred.

    I grew up in a rural village, less than a five minute walk from the village church which stands proud in the centre of the village. Every Sunday I rolled out of bed, grabbed a shower, and dashed, hair dripping, no makeup, to church. Nearly everyone I passed would have known me, known where I was going, known I was a Christian. All my life I’ve taken this freedom for granted.

    For so many believers around the world church is not something you roll out of bed on a Sunday to do. It’s something which has to be carefully thought through and prepared for. It’s something which could cost you your life.

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  • Who is your hero?

    Who is your hero? Maybe it’s a sports star like Ronaldo or Jessica Ennis? A pop star like Ed Sheeran? An activist like Martin Luther or William Wilberforce? A scientist like Einstein or a family member like your mum. What is it about them that you admire? What is it that inspires you?

    One of my heroes comes from the Bible. Other than Jesus, my Bible hero is Esther. She never used to be – thanks to illustrated children’s bibles I used to read I grew up seeing her as the ‘Barbie of the Bible’. In my mind she was an elegant blond, wearing a pink dress, who wins a beauty pageant and becomes a queen. It sounds more like a teen chick flick than the Bible. But I could not have been more wrong.

    The story of Esther is set in the midst of a tough time for God’s people. The Jews were living in exile in Babylon under King Xerxes. The king loses his temper and sends his wife, the queen, away. Not long later he regrets his decision, and so beautiful young women are gathered from all over the kingdom. They were to be given beauty treatments, and then would have spend a night with the King (where I’m sure you can guess what would happen). They were then supposed to live in the harem as concubines for the rest of their lives. Each girl ‘would never go to the king again unless he had especially enjoyed her and requested her by name’.

    Esther would not have had a choice about being part of this ‘beauty pageant’. In those days you didn’t disobey a decree from the king. Suddenly all Esther’s hopes and dreams were snatched from her. She was in a horrible situation, where the most probable outcome was to spend the rest of her life shut away in a harem.

    What amazes me is that even when she faces some awful situations, she still has dignity and holds her head high.

    The story isn’t too far from the reports we’re hearing of what happened to those kidnapped in northern Nigeria. The missing Chibok girls are said to have been forced to marry (or worse) with their captors, and many have been coerced into renouncing their faith.

    But Esther, having been through similar trauma holds her head high. The Bible tells us that she gains favour with those around her, including the king, who decides to make her his queen. She later risks her life to defeat Haman, the king’s advisor who plotted to wipe out the Israelites.

    The thing that amazes me most about Esther is not that she saves the Jewish people – though that is pretty impressive. What amazes me is that even when she faces some awful situations, she still has dignity and holds her head high.

    Why is that? I think there is a clue is in her reaction to her uncle’s plea for her to help the Jews- she fasts. Her response was to turn to God because she knew who she was and who He is. She knew that she was one of God’s people, and that she was precious and loved by him. I think that’s why, despite the circumstances around her, she could hold her head high.

    Through Open Doors I have heard about many modern day Esther’s. Women, and men, who face indescribable situations because of their faith. Real people who’s hopes and dreams are snatched away from them because of conflict and persecution. But they hold their heads high because they know who they are. They know that they are daughters and sons of the king of kings. And just like Esther, they are my heroes.

  • We support people who are beaten, tortured,
    imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.