Shrieks in the night
This wasn't the first time that someone's screams have interrupted my solitude. Back in December, when Ray and I were visiting his family in Bungoma, I awoke from a nap to the sound of shrieking children. It was after 10pm, so nothing could be seen from the window, but the sound was sickening. I couldn't go back to sleep. By the time I had gotten to the living room, my husband had already gone down the road with another guy to investigate. They came upon a confused child. His father had come home drunk, and in the midst of a spat with the wife, proceeded to beat her. The mother ran down the street to find refuge with family members while the kids ran the streets screaming because they didn't know whether to go with their mom or their dad. Thankfully, the man knew Ray and thought enough of him to listen to him when he requested that they resolve the issue in the morning when he was sober. I was so proud of my husband in that moment.
Unfortunately, as common as it is to hear the screams of the oppressed in the streets, it's uncommon for people to step in and intervene. About a month ago, in the Central African Republic, two Muslim men were dragged off of buses and publicly beaten and burned by men exacting vengeance on them for previous murders. One man, who had endured great injustice by one of the Muslims (his wife and children were murdered in front of him), even hacked off a piece of his victim's leg and ate it. According to the reports and pictures, there was a huge crowd surrounding the event. Some cried, others vomited, but no one stepped in to intervene. Though I understand why people don't involve themselves in situations like this, something about it doesn't sit well with me.
Promoting the wrong issue
In fact, allow me to use one more example; one from the States this time. Trayvon Martin. The one thing that bothered me about his case was not the color issue, though that's what perpetuated the popularity of the tragedy. Upon listening to some of the recordings of the 911 calls the night of the altercation, you can hear Trayvon calling for help repeatedly before he was shot. The callers on the other end were peeking out of their windows or running upstairs to hide in the closet as they called 911. I give them credit for trying to do something, but as they proclaimed to the dispatcher "I'm not going out there," a young man was dying. I have almost no doubt in my mind that had someone stepped outside when the verbal argument began, the situation could have been resolved. In many instances like this, just waiting for someone else to take care of the problem only serves to make things worse.
Self-preservation vs. a greater love
Now I know people will argue with me and say that "You're no good to anyone if you get yourself killed," but I would venture to claim that "If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for [Christ], you will find it" (Mt. 10:39, NLT). Sometimes I get the feeling that as Christians we feel like the life we live here on earth is of greater value than the eternal one Jesus offers upon salvation. Let me explain...
Hebrews 11 illustrates the incredible things some of the greats in the Bible were able to accomplish by faith. On the other hand, in verses 32-38, the author lists some of the horrible things the same people had to face in order to obtain that level of faith. There is one perspective that sustained them all on their faith journeys:
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (13-16)
Mastering the vertical perspective
As difficult as it is to say, these people knew that they couldn’t hold tightly to anything on this earth, including family. They understood that this life is temporary, and all that they did here determined their status later, when life really began. They had mastered the vertical perspective.
This perspective may sound radical and very difficult to swallow, but in all honesty, I believe it's just one manifestation of the love the world should know Christians by. Actually, it's the greatest manifestation: "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends" (Jn. 15:13). Many of us would lay our lives down for a family member or loved one, but what about the bum on the street who is being accosted by thugs? Would you step in if you saw a man strangling his wife (maybe not a common occurrence in America, but I just heard of it happening down the street from us the other day)? What an awesome testimony we would have as Christians if instead of stoning the sinners, we laid our lives down for them.
A word of caution
As I close, let me clarify that I don’t mean to say that wisdom and discernment should be discarded in life-threatening situations or that familial ties are meaningless. I’m just encouraging us all to reconsider our value for this life and to weigh whether or not we would place more value on our lives than someone else’s. Some tough thoughts I’m grappling with these days.