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
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.