11 March 2012

The Politically Incorrect Human Rights Tragedy

If you’re caught driving on empty in an average American town, you may well find yourself wishing every church was a gas station.  Eighty-four percent of Americans view themselves as Christians (Barna); and at times Christians are seen as intolerant of minority faiths. Indeed, some U.S. troops have earned this unfortunate reputation through “blasphemous” acts against Islam. By publicly apologizing for the recent Q’uran burnings in Afghanistan, President Obama has joined Secretary of State Clinton and other leaders in advancing the perception of a more diverse and tolerant nation. In the so-called “clash of civilizations,” this is an important work. But one major infringement of religious freedom is largely left out of the media and political advocacy: modern-day Christian martyrdom.

Although seemingly ubiquitous at home, Christianity faces horrific repression in much of the world. Somalian refugee, former Dutch Parliament member, and self-described atheist Ayaan Hirsi Ali wrote “The War on Christians,” The article ran as the cover story of a February issue of Newsweek, breaking the media’s general silence on the issue. In it, she argues that “the severity of Islamophobia pales in comparison with the bloody Christophobia currently coursing through Muslim-majority nations from one end of the globe to the other.” While the media reports on isolated incidents of Christian persecution like the Christmas-day church bombings in Nigeria, Hirsi contends, they often ignore the larger worldwide trend.

In 2009, the nonpartisan Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reported 7 out of 10 people live where they could face government restrictions or societal hostilities based on religious beliefs. Christians faced persecution in more countries (130 out of 198) than any other religious group. For tens of millions, this means torture, rape, murder, imprisonment, and execution. (See Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide.)

In Silenced, authors Marshall and Shea write that blasphemy is a crime in most Muslim nations, punishable by persecution or death. In Pakistan’s legal code, Section 295-C calls for death of those who “defil[e] the name of Muhammad.”

Of course, not all Muslims adhere to coercion as a fundamental of their faith. The former prime minister of Indonesia, Abdurrahman Wahid, argues such blasphemy codes actually defile Islam. In the forward to Silenced, he writes, “Those who would punish others in God's name are guilty, of the Muslim equivalent of mortal sin—taking on the role of God.”

In spite of this, even Wahid’s “liberal” country of Indonesia has seen a nearly 40% rise in violence against religious minorities in 2011. Although the constitution guarantees religious freedom, Persecution.com reports, “In the last two years, at least 59 churches have been attacked, burned or vandalized.”

These brutal strikes against Christians are not purely Islamic phenomena. The FARC rebel group in Colombia often murders those considered a threat to their agenda, including pastors and evangelists. In 2007 and 2008, Hindus in the eastern Indian state of Orissa attacked Christians—killing 3,000, destroying 4,000 homes, displacing 50,000, and forcing thousands more to convert to Hinduism or be attacked at water sources.

Using what influence we have left, American media and political leaders must continue to advocate for human rights. That means condemning not just Islamophobia, but also Christophobia.
President Obama is not unconscious of this responsibility. In response to a Twitter campaign and extensive lobbying, the White House on February 23 released a statement which “condemns in the strongest possible terms” Iran’s reaffirmation of the death sentence for pastor Youcef Nadarkhani.

But what is desperately needed is a broader denunciation of religious persecution as a catastrophe for human rights. Last October, Georgetown University professor Thomas Farr called global persecution “a parade of horrors” and suggested how the federal government can improve its response: by mandating training on protecting religious freedom for Foreign Service officers, and “making explicit connections between freedom and counterterrorism…[since] religiously tolerant societies make poor breeding ground for terrorists” (emphasis mine). This kind of rhetoric is essential, he says, since “humanitarian appeals for the oppressed have failed.”

The very mention of “tolerant societies” bespeaks political correctness. Yet, when applied to a taboo topic, these words could be revolutionary.  Let’s spread this message through powerful grassroots, and share it with our elected officials and the media. A White House statement in defense of one Iranian pastor is one thing, but what about the 70% of the world’s population facing government restrictions and social hostilities simply based on what they believe? They cannot be ignored any longer. What will our next Twitter campaign be? #toleranceoverterrorism or #stopChristophobia?

© Abigail R. Eustace, 2012

Please pray with me that this gets published as an Op-Ed in the Dayton Daily News or another paper! I wrote it for school, but if it's published it's an automatic 100%! Plus, I really think it's a message that needs to be heard!

09 March 2012

PART II - I have a testimony! Take that!

(continued from yesterday)

In December, David and I went to a huge international conference called One Thing, with the theme “Jesus: Our Magnificent Obsession.” As I focused on Jesus through worship, prayer, teaching, and conversation with women from my church who were also at the conference, Jesus delivered me from a negative body image that was still allowing the scars of the past to affect me in the present. It wasn’t because I hadn’t forgiven; it was because I still hated my body and had not come into agreement with how God sees me as His beautiful daughter. (See Psalm 139). The feeling of being unwanted and unworthy—or basically believing lies from Satan about my body—had opened the door to a lot of spiritual attacks and struggles over the past few months. I thought I had already forgiven the one who had molested me, and that God had “healed and sealed” that wound. But the devil kept reminding me of the pain, along with bringing various struggles and temptations at the same time. I had been feeling depressed without really knowing why.

But at One Thing, as I wholeheartedly sought God and looked to Jesus in the fullness of His character as a Humble Servant, Suffering Savior, Righteous Judge, Loving Father, and Glorious King, the blinders came off. As Psalm 28:5 says, “Evil men do not understand justice, But those who seek the LORD understand all.”

As we watched the Nefarious film about sex trafficking, I identified on a deep level with the victims of human trafficking—not because I have been in that situation, but because I am vulnerable and I was believing lies. The world of human trafficking and prostitution is governed by Satan, and he is a liar and the father of lies. Almost everyone in the United States who ends up in prostitution has been molested or sexually abused as a child. They grow up believing they are worthless. Believing one lie makes them feel vulnerable to the next and the next, until they are desperate for a way out, but completely trapped. As some former prostitutes gave their testimonies, I saw my tears in their tears. As they spoke of the total deliverance in Jesus Christ alone, and how He is such a loving Father, I saw myself as their sister. I finally saw clearly that Satan’s lies were exactly that, and were meant to kept me in bondage. But I was free in Jesus Christ, who came to set the captives free and deliver our souls from Sheol!

I knew I had to go talk to Karen and Karissa, two friends from church who were at the conference. But when the emotionalism of the movie had died down and we stood up to leave, I had my doubts. Maybe now wasn’t the time. Maybe I wasn’t ready to let go of all this. Maybe it wouldn’t even help. That’s when Karen turned to me, as if reading my mind.

“Wanna go talk to Karissa?” Karissa had been sitting on the other side of the auditorium with her baby and stroller. When we got there, she just looked at me. We were both profoundly impacted by the film. Karissa knew some of the struggles I had been going through; so did Karen. Karissa just looked at me with tears in her eyes and a compassionate smile.

“Come here.” She said. She reached out her arms and hugged me. She’s shorter than me, so I just leaned on her. For nearly ten minutes we stood there embracing each other. My chest began to heave with sobs as I laid it all down. Karissa just hugged me tighter, and Karen joined her and they both prayed over me. The presence of the Holy Spirit rushed in and through and over us. Karen started speaking in tongues softly. I had an impression that the weeping would last for the night, but joy would come in the morning. That all this time at the conference I had been so moved by the worship that I would cry and cry as I lifted my hands or kneeled down on my knees—but tomorrow I would not be able to wipe the smile off my face.

That’s exactly what happened. As we praised in the New Year, dancing and singing in ecstatic awe, I felt unspeakable joy and supernatural peace. I knew I would never, ever be the same. I had seen God’s love in a more personal and powerful way than ever before—a way I thought was reserved for a select few.

I faced some very real attacks and battles immediately after this deliverance. But I had been too close to the Warrior King to let this defeat me now. Now I know that every time I resist the devil, he will flee. I know that when I resist temptation, I am choosing Jesus. I know that, “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). I close my eyes and imagine Jesus looking at me with His eyes of fire, burning away all my impurities and desiring to make me wholly and completely His. Or I think of the cross, when Jesus gave up His life to save us wretched sinners— enduring such physical agony and emotional pain in order to secure eternal and abundant life for us. At that moment, everything else fades away.

I haven’t reached sinless perfection—that’s reserved for Jesus Christ alone. But I know He is at work in me because I feel greater sorrow for how my sins wound Jesus’ heart, and greater joy in loving and following Jesus that ever before. He has not only washed me from my sin and shame, He is creating a new, clean heart in me—and renewing a right spirit in me (Psalm 51:7-10).

I have had the habit of doing a daily personal devotions for several years. I basically read my Bible and pray. In recent years, that has grown as I pray in the car, as I walk, and wherever I am. I have been convicted recently to stop listening to secular music, since it does not draw me closer to Jesus, who truly is my Magnificent Obsession. At OneThing we were challenged by a former Harvard graduate and Yale graduate student to start tithing my time, or spending 2.5 hours a day in communion with Jesus Christ. I did that for the first 10 days of the New Year. My hunger for Jesus has not waned but actually grown, and I am seeing so much fruit in my life. I believe God has spoken to me clearly about several things, including: that He is going to restore my parents’ broken marriage relationship; not to worry at all about my future or who I will marry; and many other things.

For the first time in over a year I am actually hungry, every day. For the longest time I would feel as if I was forcing myself to eat because I should be hungry, but I would rarely actually feel hungry. The hunger is a physical sign of my deliverance from depression.

Here is another example of how much God loves me: I prayed during OneThing that if it wasn't God's will for me to teach English in Spain this summer, I didn't want to do it. There are a lot of things I could do this summer, like an internship, get a full time job (since I graduate in May), etc. etc. I wanted to go and see my friends from studying abroad there. But I told God I wanted to be where He wanted me to be, and I didn't want to make plans without His counsel. Well, I stopped worrying and thinking about it until something happened. 

On my birthday, January 3rd, my Panamanian friend Rebeca* called me. She prophesied a few things over me that God has already confirmed to me through His word and the testimony of other witnesses, about my future and not worrying about getting married, and about my parents’ marriage relationship (that God restores all things). Then out of the blue, she said she wanted to pay for half of my ticket to Spain! And yes, she is serious! That was the best birthday present I've ever gotten! I am overwhelmed by God's goodness! The just shall live by faith!

 To be continued, as God just keeps on being awesome! . . .  

*Not really Rebeca, in order to protect anonymity. =)

08 March 2012

I have a testimony! Take that! (PART I)

I have a testimony.

Ha! I always thought testimonies were for people who didn’t grow up in the church! Guess I was wrong! Take that, devil!

It’s long, it’s brazenly bold and bare-faced and open, but it’s all true. And it’s a story of God’s victory over my failure, God’s healing of my pain, and God’s glory for my shame. I wrote it in January of this year.
Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, But to Your name give glory, Because of Your mercy, Because of Your truth.” –Psalm 115:1

My parents led me in the sinner’s prayer as a very young child (approximately 4 years of age). They raised us with a love for God and a vision for the Gospel. My mom used to lead family devotions every day while we were very young, and later my dad took over. When I was 5 or 6 I learned Colossians 3, complete with hand signals, with my 4 siblings. I was home schooled, so the Bible was integrated into all my subjects. By 4th grade I was in Bible Quizzing and memorized Philippians and Colossians in one year. My dad would read us missionary stories before bed, and invite Indian and Chinese and other international students into our home to share special holidays—and, of course, the Gospel. So we were raised with an interest in and understanding of other cultures—and showing love and hospitality to people from different backgrounds.

I really began to make my faith my own around age 15, when the youth pastor at the new church we had started to attend began to teach a radical discipleship. We went on an inner-city mission trip/kids camp in Charlotte, N.C. for a week. During that week, a lot of students “got it.” We started to pray together more and we started to see God act as we ministered to the kids and sought His face. During the trip I realized I had been doing a lot of “Christian things” through my own strength and not really through God’s strength. I broke down in the middle of the trip and had to stop taking care of my VBS small group. Someone else took over and I went to a room and just cried out to God and prayed. I read a Bible and ended up in the Psalms. I just kept reading, “The LORD is my strength.” That was the moment that I really “got it” and started to realize the same Jesus who paid for my sins is also the only One who empowers me to do anything of value. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). The rest of the week, we saw God pour out His spirit even more, delivering the camp kids from a lot of pain and drawing them to Himself. A lot of kids accepted Christ that week. When we got back, I shared this testimony at my church, and got baptized with my younger brother David.

Unfortunately David’s baptism did not mark a true heart decision to follow God at that age. The next few years were really difficult for the whole family as he got involved in wrong relationships, drugs, fights, alcohol, and smoking. I was often upset with him and tried to keep bossing him around as I had during a lot of our preteen years. He was not taking it, and was angry at everyone in our home. Since I have 5 siblings, this made for a lot of strife. I knew I loved David, but I didn’t know how to show it. I was saddened that he was making so many wrong choices.

Around the same time, halfway through my senior year in highschool, my grandmother died. I had been very close to her my entire life, and though I knew she was in heaven dancing and singing with Jesus after a long battle with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, I felt I had lost a very close friend.

Over the next several months I was inappropriately touched various times. I couldn't understand that someone I had known and trusted since childhood would ever do something like that to me, so my mind just blocked out what was happening. When I finally faced the truth of what was going on, I didn’t want to even see the abuser. I was now a freshman at Cedarville, and I poured everything into getting good grades. A former Cedarville student shared her story in chapel about how she had been sexually abused growing up, but Jesus had freed her and given her a ministry to other women. 1 out of 3 women, even at my Christian college, had experienced something like that. We must come to Jesus for healing, she said. I reached out to God and told Him I needed healing. I wrote a lot in my journals in those days, but didn’t tell anyone what was going on.

But with some unexpected stress from my extra-curricular activities, everything started to cave in. I told my family what had happened. It was really hard to tell them and see their mixed reactions, but even harder to deal with the pain as I tried to wrench the thorn out of my own heart. I started crying a lot. I got sick with a urinary tract infection that didn’t show up on the tests until it turned into an extremely painful kidney infection. The pain was so bad it would bring me to tears. As if I didn’t have enough to cry about already! As I cried, though, healing came. Slowly, but surely, God began the process.

During my sophomore year, David threatened suicide with a gun to his head. When I heard the news, my heart sunk. I spent the next few days walking around my college campus in a haze, not ashamed to be crying in public. I knew I needed to mend my relationship with my brother. God told me to stop judging David all the time, and to wake up and love him, no matter what. I wrote him a letter apologizing for being his “Second Mommy,” as my family had nicknamed me. I hated what he did, but I loved HIM and I wanted him to know that. I didn’t tell him to his face, because he wouldn’t have listened to me. We didn’t have enough of a relationship to talk for more than 10 seconds. So I wrote it down and left it in his room, on one of the nights when he was out ‘til 3 or 4 in the morning.

He thanked me. He didn’t change right away, but my attitude towards him changed. I asked God to start loving him through me.

The months during David’s house arrest were pretty difficult. He was going through substance withdrawal and was stuck inside a house with people he resented, and who resented him. It was hard to love him, but we pleaded for grace. But he needed something more. So, my parents sent him to boarding school, in January 2009. He swore he would leave on his 18th birthday in October, whether or not he had earned his diploma. He broke the rules and hated his life there.

But we just waited. We prayed and wrote him letters. I cried over every letter I wrote. I felt the Holy Spirit urging me to pour out my heart into those letters. I didn’t know if it made a difference to David, but I loved him so much it hurt. It wasn’t coming from inside me. It was something God had done in me.

In May, I felt God told me to go to a different church. I prayed about it and talked to my parents about it, but it didn’t seem too exciting to me. I was afraid of rejection--afraid of not knowing what to look for. But I felt I couldn’t ignore God’s voice. So one Sunday I picked a church out of the phone book—one that started late, since I had slept in. Several warm smiles, hugs, a solid message, and a moving altar call later, I had made up my mind. That was easier than I thought, I told God. He knew what He was doing.

I learned so much with my church that summer. We studied the book Crazy Love together with all ages. The people there became my brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers in the faith. I grew so much deeper in my faith.

Suddenly, in July, we got news from the boarding school. David had just got back from a spiritual retreat. When they passed the offering plate, he put a piece of paper inside. On it, he had written, “MY LIFE.”

On that day, everything changed. The passion in David was so evident. He decided to stay and finish high school. He started to actually listen to all his mentors at the boarding school. He wanted to be a missionary. He was in love with Jesus, and he couldn’t shut up about it. He started learning about reconciliation and love and authority.

I visited him at the school during fall break, with my sister Vicki. We rode horses. I told him about guys and he gave me some solid advice. It was surreal. We talked about Jesus and miracles.

A few days after the visit, I was feeling sick. I decided to drive home early to get some rest. As I turned on a curve on a country road, the setting sun shone directly into my eyes. With one hand on the wheel, I frantically searched for my sunglasses. The car swerved slightly to the right. I was going about 60 mph, and just a slight movement caused the car to scrape along the guard rail, sending it jerking wildly out of control. The next few seconds were a nightmare. I gripped the wheel and tried to straighten it, but it veered to the left towards the woods. I have never been more scared in my life. I closed my eyes and held my breath for the impact. BOOM! The airbags had gone off. I was conscious. I was in pain but nothing too severe.

Within a few hours, I was at home. The ER had not found any injuries, but my car was totaled. I was “fine,” but I had a newfound respect for the life God had spared. God told me to once and for all forgive and forget the abuse, and not waste the time I had left. A few days later, I sat in my sister’s car singing and writing and praying to God. I hadn’t even wanted to see the man who had molested me for several months. But I stayed up and wrote a tear-stained letter that I would read aloud to him, begging him to make this right while he still could—before God and before me. Thankfully, he did. I felt like a huge burden had come off of me. Two months later, he died.

David doubled up to graduate a semester early. I picked him up in December, in the old car my friend Amy had let me borrow after I wrecked my own. She was one of three people from church that offered to let me use their car in the weeks before I studied in Spain. I was floored by their Acts-church type generosity.

David and I talked the whole way home. He started coming to my church. We treasured those 6 weeks or so together at home, before I left to study in Spain. One night after church, with snow falling from the starry sky, we stayed in Amy’s old white car and sung “Oh, How He Loves Us” at the top of our lungs.

Since then, David has been to India twice and Peru once on mission trips. I have been to Spain, Panama, and Costa Rica on mission trips (all experiences God used to stretch and deepen my faith a lot!) Now David works in Indianapolis and I go to college in Cedarville, OH. But we are still close. Thank God for technology!

A few months ago, David told someone I am his best friend. I was pretty flattered. God sure knows how to turn rags into riches. “Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, But to Your name give glory, Because of Your mercy, Because of Your truth” --Psalm 115:1  It's nice to have a "big-little" brother (tall, but younger) to talk to about anything and everything. He challenges me to follow God no matter what, and I try to do the same for him, "as iron sharpens iron" (Proverbs 27:17). 

Part II coming soon...