Helping without hurting

Girl sitting in cafe, texting message and drinking coffee.

Ava stared in horror as she scrolled through the images of the devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami on her phone. Although she lived far from the disaster zone in Southeast Asia — she had never even been out of her own city, much less overseas — the images posted on social media by her “friends” were heartbreaking. Her eyes glued to the screen, she sighed heavily.

“That was a heavy sigh,” Ava’s mom said, glancing her way from the driver’s seat. “Are you OK?”

“It’s the earthquake,” Ava said.

“I know,” Mom replied. “It’s so sad.”

“I just wish there was something I could do to help,” Ava said.

“All we can do is pray,” Mom said.

Ava rolled her eyes. “I want to do more than pray, Mom. I want to help.”

Her mom was gentle, but firm. “Ava, prayer is the most important thing you can do.”

“I know,” Ava shrugged. “I didn’t mean it that way. I just …” She paused, shaking her head.

As Mom pulled to a stop at a traffic light, Ava showed her an image on her phone. “See this? Look at this little girl.” The photo showed a young Southeast Asian girl in tattered clothes surrounded by debris.

“That’s what’s left of her home,” Ava said. “She can’t find her parents. They’re probably dead. She looks so … hopeless.”

Mom nodded empathetically, then turned her eyes back to the road as she accelerated through the green light.

“I know,” she said. “I understand the helplessness, but it isn’t hopeless.”

“But I want to go there,” Ava said. “I want to help her.”

“I understand, but that’s not really possible,” Mom said. “Not right now.”

“I read a book about a girl who did it,” Ava said. “She wasn’t much older than me. She skipped college and started a nonprofit organization taking care of orphans in a country in Africa or someplace.”

“Um, yea,” Mom said. “I know the book. I read it, too. It was very inspiring.”

“Yea, so why can’t I do that?”

Now it was Mom’s turn to sigh. “Well, it’s a little more complicated than that,” she said.

“That’s what you always say. How can this be a bad thing? Doesn’t Jesus want us to help people who are hurting? People like this little girl?” Ava waved her phone.

Mom gave Ava a look, and then looked back to the road. “Yes, He does,” she said, “but let’s think about this. Let’s say that you are able to go to this country. When would you leave? How do you get there?”

“I’d leave tomorrow. I’d fly.”

“OK. How much does it cost?”

“I don’t know. Let me check my Expedia app.” Ava began tapping her phone screen.

“You have an Expedia app?” Mom asked.

“Yea,” Ava said. “It says here a flight there costs $1500 round trip. I have $500 saved from my summer job. Can you loan me the rest?”

“Hold on,” Mom said. “What about visas?”

“Visas? I don’t have a credit card.”

“Not that kind of visa,” Mom’s face softened. “A visa to get into the country.”

“What?”

Mom pulled into the parking lot of a local coffee shop.

“Why are we stopping here?” Ava asked.

“I can tell this discussion is going to take some time,” Mom said. “And we have some time before Emma finishes ballet, so why not talk over coffee?”

After they ordered, got their drinks and seated themselves in some comfortable chairs, Mom continued.

“Most governments require a visa to enter their country. They cost money. Sometimes you can get a visa on arrival, but other times you have to apply in advance through the embassy.”

“Oh,” Ava said.

“Now, let’s say the country you’re visiting will give you a visa on arrival. Once you land, how do you get to this little girl?”

“Um, I don’t know,” Ava confessed. “Could I take a taxi?”

“Maybe,” Mom said. “But do you know where she is? What part of the country? Is there an organization that’s helping her you could link up with?”

Ava nodded. She was beginning to understand.

“And,” Mom continued, “Where would you stay? What kind of help could you provide?”

“I get it,” Ava acknowledged.

“One last thing,” Mom said. “What happens when it’s time for you to leave? Who takes care of the little girl, then?”

“Well, I was thinking I could bring her with me.”

Mom chuckled. “Yea, it’s not that simple. To keep children from exploitation, most countries have strict laws about taking children out of the country without their parents’ permission. It’s kind of a big deal.”

Ava sighed again. “Yea, I get it,” she said. “But what can I do?”

Mom smiled. “Well, going back to the beginning of this conversation, you can pray.”

“Yea,” Ava said. “But what do I pray for?”

“Well, you could pray that this little girl will be found by good people who will love her and provide for her. You could pray that God will send the right people with the right skills to repair the damage to her city.”

Ava looked thoughtful. “So, even if I can’t be there in person, God can send people to her … kind of in my place?” Ava asked.

“Kind of like that,” Mom said.

The two women were quiet for a moment, sipping their drinks

“One thing I want you to understand,” Mom said. “I really like the empathy you have for people who are hurting. God will use that.”

“Thanks,” Ava said. “I just wish He would use it now.”

“Oh, He will,” Mom said. “In fact, there are some other things you can do now to obey what you think He is calling you to do.”

Ava brightened. “Like what?”

“Well, you could help raise awareness of the tragedy among your friends. You could share the stories on social media and link to reputable organizations that are working in the area. You could help spread the word.”

“I could do that,” Ava said. “Maybe I could even organize a GoFundMe or something and donate the money to one of those organizations.”

“Maybe,” Mom said.

“Would you help me?” Ava asked.

“Absolutely,” Mom said.


By Ann Lovell

This story originally appeared in SENA, a youth devotional guide published by Duranno Press, an imprint of Duranno Ministry. For more information, visit their website or find them on Facebook

Forgiveness

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh

I was terrified when I heard the banging and loud voices outside our home. Our family had heard rumors they might be coming for my father, but we tried not to worry. He was a professor, after all, and the new regime wanted to rid our country of intellectuals, anyone who might question their authority or their methods of implementing the new rule.

It was 1975, and my family lived in a small town in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge, the Communist Party of Cambodia, had taken control of the country, and the leader, Pol Pot, wanted to transform our culture and economy into a society based on farming. That sounded all well and good, but it was bad news for families like mine, whose dad made a living as a teacher and a scholar.

The pounding grew louder.

“Come out, now!” The voices cried.

My father burst into the room. “Silas! Get up! Let’s go!”

“Father, what is happening?”

“They have come for us,” my father said simply. As we hurried through the house with my mother and sister, my father whispered, “Whatever happens, remember to be brave and strong. They can control many things, but they can’t control our minds.”

Those were the last words he spoke to us. Once we ran out of the house, the soldiers grabbed my father, forced him to his knees, and blindfolded him. It was the last time I saw him. I was 8 years old.

Soon, our family was separated. My brother and I were taken to a re-education camp, where the Khmer Rouge taught us to be soldiers. I didn’t see my family for four years, until the Vietnamese liberated the country. When we were reunited, my father was missing. We knew he was most likely executed in the “killing fields,” the genocide that took the lives of more than 1 million Cambodians.

By the time I reunited with my family, I was 12 and hardened by what I had seen. We moved to a camp in Thailand, hoping for passage to the U.S. as refugees. There I learned the identity of the man who gave my father’s name to the Khmer Rouge. He was my father’s best friend.

For years, I nursed the anger and hatred toward the man who sealed the death warrant for my dad. Even after I became a Christian in the camp, I prayed that God would help me find a way to kill him and not get caught. I knew I could kill him, but I needed God’s help to not get caught.

But my prayers brought no peace. “Why do you want to kill him?” God seemed to ask. “What about his children? What about his family? Do you want his children to go through what you went through?”

I couldn’t answer those questions, so I stopped plotting the man’s death. I left his fate to God alone, trusting Him for revenge.

Time passed. My family moved to the United States. I finished high school, college, and seminary. I met the woman who would be my wife. Both of us felt called to share God’s love and forgiveness — the love and forgiveness we had experienced — with those who had never heard in hard-to-reach places around the world.

I told God I would go anywhere. Anywhere, except Cambodia. I did not want to go back to Cambodia.

But my wife convinced me otherwise. “You know Cambodia is where God wants us,” she said. “Why don’t you just surrender to Him?”

So I did. As much as I wanted to leave Cambodia in my past, I told God I would follow Him there for the sake of sharing His Good News.

Then, my mother called. She had learned that the man who betrayed my father had become a Christian and was living in California. She traveled there to meet him and found him in a church service.

My first thought on hearing the news was something of a prayer: “God! You were supposed to kill him,” I thought.

Instead, I asked my mother, “What happened?”

“I sat down next to him and introduced myself,” my mother said. “I told him I had forgiven him.”

“What did he do? What did he say?” I asked her still not believing this had taken place.

“He began to cry.”

At that moment, my heart broke. My mother’s call was confirmation to me that God wanted me to go back to Cambodia.

I had seen so much evil, so much hatred and felt so much anger. I had learned from a young age that we all have the power to end life. I saw it when the Khmer Rouge trained me as a soldier, and I felt it when I learned of my father’s death. We can kill with a weapon, and we can kill with a word.

But forgiveness is more powerful than evil. Forgiveness, I realized, provides us the power to restore life — to give back lives broken by evil and hate. That’s what my mother had done. By practicing the forgiveness she had experienced from God, she had restored this man’s life, and to some degree, mine as well.

As my mother’s words sunk in, I thanked God for preventing me from taking that man’s life all those years ago, so that he could experience the same love and forgiveness I had experienced and now hoped to share with others.

Only God can do that.

THE END


By Ann Lovell. Based on a true story.

This story originally appeared in SENA, a youth devotional guide published by Duranno Press, an imprint of Duranno Ministry. For more information, visit their website or find them on Facebook

Running

Flchtlinge Flchtlingsboote

The water was rough. Five of us, including my baby brother and younger sister, huddled together on the small boat. Had she not been so exhausted, Mother would have been frantic with fear. As it was, my sister and I were enjoying the ride. We weren’t aware of the danger crossing the Aegean Sea. We only knew it was one more long journey as my parents tried to get us to safety.

We weren’t like other refugees. Most were fleeing the Civil War in Syria. Instead, our journey had begun in Central Asia three years earlier after a terrifying visit from my uncle. As the small boat bounced through the rough water, my mind flashed back to that dreadful night.

Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam. The angry voices and loud knocking startled us all. My father stuffed the worn Bible we’d been reading aloud beneath his cushion just as Uncle and his friends burst into the room.

“Where is it?” Uncle screamed, the veins in his neck bulging. “Where is that filthy book?”

“My family is enjoying a quiet night,” my father said. “We are only talking.”

“Talking about that God you worship and reading His book!” Uncle screamed.

Calmly, my father looked at Mother and said simply, “Children.”

Mother stood from her cushion on the floor and gathered the three of us in a corner of the room. Uncle’s friends began ransacking our small home. Peeking from behind her, I saw Uncle grab my father by his arm and pull him to his feet.

“Where is it? Where is it?” he screamed.

Father said nothing, but Uncle spotted the Bible beneath Father’s cushion. He shoved Father away and reached to pick it up.

“Here it is!” Uncle spat. “Infidel!”

He opened the Bible, read a few words, and then glared at Father. Slowly, he began tearing pages from the book.

“No!” I screamed and stepped from behind my mother.

“Shuja! Stop!” Father admonished. “It is OK.”

“See, you have polluted the young ones with your heresy as well!” Uncle screamed. To me he said, “You, Shuja, take these pages and burn them in the fire.”

My heart sank. I knew how much the book meant to our family. It had taken us so long to get one in our language. We had only been Christians a short time — Father, Mother and I — but we recognized the truth in God’s Word. When the copy came to us, we were thrilled. We loved reading the Bible for ourselves.

“It’s OK, Shuja.” Father said. “Do as he says.” Then he poked himself twice in the chest with his index finger, a secret reminder to me that we had God’s Spirit and His Word within us.

I took the few pages from Uncle and walked to the small cooking stove a few feet away. I opened the door and laid the pages on the ashes.

“Burn them!” Uncle said. His voice was calmer now but still fierce.

I reached above the stove, pulled down a long match, struck it and touched it to the precious paper.

“You!” Uncle gestured to my younger sister, Uzma. “Finish this! Tear out the pages of this filthy book and give them to your brother to burn.”

“Do as he says,” Mother instructed Uzma.

Uzma took the book and began tearing out the pages. She said nothing, but tears filled her eyes. Even as a 10-year-old, she knew the importance of the book, too. God’s Word had changed our lives.

After the last pages caught fire, Uncle summoned his men and stepped close to Father.

“You have four hours until I return,” Uncle said. “When I come back, if you do not recant, I will cut off your heads one by one, beginning with the children.”

As soon as Uncle and his men left, Father gathered us together for prayer, asking God, pleading with Him, to show him how best to lead his family. He talked openly with God about wanting to honor Him, but he was honest about the fear he felt for his wife and children – for us.

I prayed, too, as did Mother. As we prayed, the peace we often felt in these times together descended on us all. Father stopped his prayer in mid-sentence and said, “We must go.” Mother felt it, too. “Yes,” she said. “This is the Lord’s will.”

Quickly, we gathered a few things together. “You may only take what you can carry on your back,” Mother said. “We will be walking a long way.”

As the crashing waves brought me back to the present, I shuddered at the memory of that night. Now, three years later, we were running again.

Mother had been right about the long journey. We walked more than 1,800 miles in those early days to find asylum in a nearby country. We had built a good life for ourselves there.

Two things caused us to flee now, Father explained. First, the United Nations denied our petition for permanent asylum, saying it was safe for us to return to our home country. Then, a neighbor from our village showed up at our apartment. He told us Uncle was threatening our lives again.

So, here we were — cold and wet, but unafraid. During our time in our new country, Father had met other Christians who studied the Bible with him. He spent a lot of time reading stories from the book of Acts and asking many, many questions. I knew he felt some guilt about running.

“Who will tell our family about Jesus now?” he wondered aloud to Mother and me. “We will never see them again.”

“We must pray,” Mother said simply.

So, we studied the New Testament with our new friends and learned that Joseph and Mary also fled with Jesus to Egypt when Herod wanted to take the boy’s life. We read the book of Acts many times, marveling at how God spread His gospel through those early believers in the face of persecution. Through our studies, Father realized God might have a purpose in our running.

“I don’t know what that purpose is,” he told me as we packed our backpacks for our trip to Europe. “But I trust Him. I know He will be with us.”

I knew He was with us, too, no matter what.

THE END


By Ann Lovell

This story is fictional. Any similarity to any person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

This story originally appeared in SENA, a youth devotional guide published by Duranno Press, an imprint of Duranno Ministry. For more information, visit their website or find them on Facebook