It was truly a new year I will never forget. I had just attended a powerful conference – the 12th annual Generation Youth for Christ conference in Orlando, Florida. Now, as I made my way home to Toronto, complications soon began to arise. When I landed in Washington, D.C., I found out that my connecting flight from the Washington airport scheduled to leave for Toronto was cancelled. On top of that, I was told that the airline could not provide my accommodation for the additional two nights I would be away from home, due to the fact that the bad weather conditions unsuitable for flying, was out of the airline’s control. I managed to use a discount coupon that the airline provided to book my stay at a nearby hotel in Washington for the first night. When I informed my boss that I would not be in for work the next day, I explained the situation, at which point he offered to book my accommodation for the second night in Philadelphia (where my connecting flight from Washington would land).
After I spent a good hour sulking, I deciding to look around, in the hopes that I could at least spend my time in Washington productively. I was never one that liked to sit still for long. After taking the metro down to the Smithsonian station, I ended up first visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. This would turn out to be a solemn moment for me, and one that would forever remain in my memory. As I took in the many exhibits and read the heart-wrenching stories, I was beside myself with a mixture of different emotions: Sadness, Anger, Disbelief, and Grief. I could not comprehend how a genocide of such a magnitude (According to the lead researchers from the US Holocaust Museum, there is new research that indicates about 15 to 20 million people were killed)could have occurred. It pained me to have to think of the many lives that were taken and ultimately destroyed; the generations of Jews that had been cruelly obliterated from the face of the earth, and which would never be replaced.
It is not so easy to ignore the Holocaust genocide and the suffering that it resulted in. Even so, since that time, the number of senseless killings, countless genocides, mass murders, and other horrific crimes that have taken place in our world, have only increased with time. Mankind has been sinking into a truly degenerative state, caused by the innate foul and corrupt nature of the human race. We have succeeded in repeating the mistakes of our past, and carrying it forward into our future. King Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 1:9 that history repeats itself: “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”
While in Washington, I also had the privilege of visiting the Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King memorials. Thomas Jefferson, founded the country of America, on the foundation of these words: ”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” (Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776) While these words are ultimately so very profound, one wonders what bearing it has in a country, where various systems often explicitly and in explicitly go against it; where we see clear evidence of the many abuses of one’s freedom and civil rights.
One of the main proponents against the racial hatred that was prevalent in the 1960s, was Martin Luther King. King was a freedom fighter who spoke words that were laced with passion and power. King spoke volumes about his desire to cease the cycle of hate in our world. We are all aware of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, where he tells of his longing to see people of all races, cultures, and faiths, holding hands together in harmony. And here was a man, that had seen such vehement hate, yet he chose not to allow hate to dominate his life. He chose to live a life filled with love, despite the hate he was constantly exposed to.
I must admit, I was quite impressed with the grandness of the memorials enacted in honour of these men, yet disappointed, as I realized that everything that these men stood for, is so often challenged. Today, we recognize that there are so many around the world who are persecuted for their race, cultural background, political, and religious beliefs.
As I wandered through the holocaust museum, I came across the accounts of a particular religious group: the Jehovah’s Witnesses. During the holocaust, they were referred to as “voluntary prisoners”, because their situation was a bit different. Unlike the Jews that were forced into imprisonment in numerous concentration camps in conditions that appeared to have no easy way out, the Jehovah’s Witnesses would have been granted their freedom at any time. They had only to retract their beliefs, and submit to the authority of the Nazi leadership. Yet, not one of them retracted.
It is during such times of adversity that one realizes their true character. You can either be broken mentally, or your faith can be strengthened.
I have often read many stories of people who have stood strong, despite the odds against them. Where does this spirit of strength come from? This spirit is easily distinguishable, as it seems to always look the same. In the face of such persecution, those that possessed this spirit, were the ones that would not give up hope, and were not afraid to face death for their cause. It is this spirit within them that will not waver and which refuses to bend or bow down. It is this same spirit that offers peace and restoration and gives off its light in the midst of the darkness. This light cannot be suppressed; instead it flames brighter than ever. Where can such a spirit be found?
Many centuries ago, our Saviour descended to earth and bled and died for the sins of mankind. He suffered more than any of us will ever have to suffer. The most beautiful part of this story is that He made this sacrifice out of love for our human race. His magnificent spirit prevailed, in the face of such torment and pain. He silently suffered for us all.
This divine spirit is the one that Christ offers to His people. In exchange for hate, he gives us love and inner peace. Those who were so full of the Holy Spirit were those that exemplified love for those who were persecuting them; love in the face of evil.
Time would escape me, if I were to name all of the fearless men and women, who for the cause of Christ, silently submitted to their persecutors and in doing so, spoke the greatest sermon that could ever be uttered. They gave the most plausible evidence that Jesus Christ exists, and that His love is real.
Bad things happen, because we are living in a sin-sick world. But this is all the more reason why we need Christ and we need Him now. It becomes all the more difficult for others to speak against the very existence of God, when you see people leave everything behind to follow Him; when you see people face death with such hope and peace.
When I think about what will happen in the future, I can’t help but become fearful, as I imagine a human race that becomes even more corrupted as time goes on, and a time of great persecution that awaits the followers of Christ. (Matthew 24:4-13, 15-22)
Ellen White says that the “time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7) will be of such an uttermost height, that even the vividness of our own imaginations cannot envision it: “It is often the case that trouble is greater in anticipation than in reality, but this is not true of the crisis before us. The most vivid presentation cannot reach the magnitude of the ordeal.” (Great Controversy, p. 339).
My prayer is that when the time of persecution comes knocking at my door, I will be ready to stand for my Saviour, and be willing to say as the apostle Thomas said in John 22:16: “…Let us also go, that we may die with him”.
At times, it will not be easy to live a life for Christ; it will often call for sacrifice and tears. Still, as I mediate on the Saviour’s love and His promise to stand by my side always, my heart swells with such hope. I can confidently say, that I know that I will be able to endure anything for His sake, as long as I know that He is with me.
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