Saturday, February 28, 2015

SEEKING TO KNOW JESUS BETTER, pt. 3: Through the life - and sacrifice - of Kayla Mueller

Seeking to know Jesus better . . . Sometimes the best way to get to know Jesus better is to know - or at least know the story of - someone whose life reflects her/his own nearness to Jesus.

And so it was with the story of Kayla Mueller, as related in a recent article by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank. As I read Kayla's story, much of it quoted directly from letters written to her family, I felt that I had come to know Jesus a little better.

Kayla is the young woman who was taken captive by, as Milbank says, "Islamic State savages," and held for 18 months until her death, almost certainly at the hands of those same savages. Yet I have a strong feeling that Kayla never saw them as savages, for she truly seemed to see people through the eyes of Jesus.

She wrote her family, "I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine. If this is how You are revealed to me, this is how I will forever seek you." I think Kayla looked into the eyes of her captors and saw suffering rather than savagery . . . she saw the One who said, "whatever you did for one of the least of these . . . you did for me." (Matthew 25:40, NIV)

Listen to her words, written while held captive in the most brutal of circumstances: "I have been shown in darkness light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it."

Sound familiar? Listen to the Apostle Paul, writing to the church at Philippi from his prison cell in Rome: "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:12-13)

Milbank tells us that Kayla wrote, in 2010, "This really is my life's work, to go where there is suffering"; then, in 2011, ". . . if we can't handle learning about the darkest places of our world, they will turn into the darkest places in us. . . . I find God in suffering. I've known for some time what my life's work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering."

So, after joining the campus Christian ministry at Northern Arizona University, she:
  • Volunteered nights at a women's shelter
  • Protested genocide in Darfur
  • Started a chapter of Amnesty International
  • Volunteered at a summer camp for young African refugees in Israel
  • Traveled to Israel's occupied territories to show support for Palestinians
  • Protested torture in Guantanamo Bay
  • Took part in a humanitarian mission to Guatemala
  • Went to India to teach English to Tibetan refugees and to women and children living in poverty
Then came the fateful decision to go to Turkey and help Syrian refugees. But as we've seen from the list above, taking on risky, even dangerous, missions had become a way of life for Kayla, because that is part and parcel of going where suffering people are . . . going where God is.

Last week, a group at my church, Wilshire Baptist in Dallas, presented three scenes from Arthur Miller's play, All My Sons. The central figure in the play is a businessman - a wartime contractor - who had "cut corners" by knowingly providing defective airplane parts to the government, ultimately resulting in the deaths of pilots and failure of their missions. After denying his guilt for years, he finally confesses to his family yet continues to defend his actions, resulting in a shouting match between him and his youngest son. Stripped bare of his defenses, he desperately shouts, "A man can't be Jesus!"

Yes, Jesus' life is a hard one to live up to. Even Jesus struggled to do it. ("My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me." Matthew 26:39)

But it's not impossible, or Jesus wouldn't have asked us to "take up your cross daily, and follow me." What it takes, though, is truly knowing Jesus and truly letting Him live from within us . . . every day, day after day, no matter the circumstances.

Kayla Mueller knew Jesus. And she's helped me get to know Him a little better than I did before.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Legacy of Welton Gaddy at The Interfaith Alliance
by David R. Currie

(NOTE: David R. Currie is retired executive director of Texas Baptists Committed, having served in that role from 1988-2009.)

I was honored to serve on the board of The Interfaith Alliance for many years. In fact, Foy Valentine and I were on the search committee that called Welton Gaddy to be our president 17 years ago.

The Interfaith Alliance was formed by Foy and other religious leaders as a counter voice to the Religious Right. Welton was the perfect person to lead this effort, because he combined great intellect with a unique ability to communicate the truth in a way that common people could understand. He was comfortable in the halls of Congress, as well as speaking in a local church or synagogue or on national television, as he often did.

I often stated that The Interfaith Alliance was not about encouraging people to pretend there were not differences in our faith, but rather to encourage people to respect the faith of others and work together to protect religious freedom. Welton would often be a calming voice in the midst of religious extremism, encouraging persons to remember the highest teachings of religious faith, and calling others to live out the best of their faith.

As Welton retires after 17 years, he leaves a legacy of intellectual honesty and courageous leadership. I was proud to serve with him and support him as he was often (along with Brent Walker) the sanest voice in Washington!!