The news this week from Christchurch, New Zealand was heartbreaking. Fifty Muslim men, women and children gunned down by a 29 year old during prayers. Some on Facebook and other social media have pointed out the other killings this week in places like Nigeria of Christians by Muslims, but why is this needed? Why can’t we grieve deeply the deaths in Christchurch, whatever faith or no faith we hold? Why do we have to somehow write or live a “yes, but.”?
I did not know anyone killed in this massacre, though I did have friends that were just down the street at the time. But today in the news I read the story of a young Indian Muslim couple from the state of Kerala, newly married, who had come to New Zealand for two years to work and save money before heading home. They were in one of the two mosques targeted, the husband praying on one side, the wife on the other. When the gunman started shooting, the husband was able to move to his left out of range, not able to get to his wife. Seconds or minutes later, when the shooter had moved away, the husband ran over to the ladies side, only to find the body of his dead wife. Dreams destroyed in seconds.
When I read this story, something broke in me. Though I didn’t know this couple, their story touched me deeply and brought the tragedy close to home. I have been in the Muslim areas of their state of Kerala, I have loved and prayed for their people. The grief over this woman’s death, so precious in the sight of God and her husband and family, became more personal to me. We grieve in proportion to our intimacy with someone, and how their loss impacts us.
Do you grieve for Muslims? Do you love them? Do you have a connection deeper than just being part of the same human family? Perhaps that last bit is enough. Yes, we are indeed part of the human family, all created in the image of God. It is an amazing statistic that about 80% of Muslims in the world do not have a Christian friend. And of course it goes both ways.
Many years ago I heard from an Egyptian friend a story of an encounter that changed his life. Raised as a Christian, his pastor father had harbored deep hatred for Muslims, and always told his son that they were the enemy. His son also grew up with this hate. When he was in his 20’s, living in civil war-torn Beirut in the 70’s, my friend was caught in a no man’s land between the warring militias. He panicked as he found himself caught in the open, about to be shot. Then, suddenly, from behind a wall, a hand reached out and pulled him to safety. It was a Muslim man who had saved his life.
My friend, his life saved by a Muslim, was never the same again. He began a life long journey of loving Muslims, sharing his faith with them in hope and love. His heart of hate was forever changed by a connection of love and common humanity.
I’m writing this post from Capetown South Africa, where the legacy of Nelson Mandela continues to grip this nation and the world. Imprisoned for 27 years on Robben Island, just miles from where I sit right now, Mandela emerged from prison not on a vendetta of hate and justice/revenge, but with reconciliation in his heart. I don’t know if anyone really understands how he could have lived that way, perhaps not even himself. But somehow a grace from God rested on him, and history changed.
Take a moment to grieve the deaths that have happened in our world this week, whether Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists or Atheists. They are all humans, made in the image of God. I’m especially grieving for the young married couple from Kerala. May God comfort this husband’s broken, grieving heart.