Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Faces of Fear, Faces of Forgiveness

The woman in this picture is famous for a face of fear. Vietnamese-Canadian Kim Phúc is best known as the girl in the centre of a well-known photograph of burned children fleeing a bombed village during the Vietnam War.

But today, hers is a face of forgiveness. I recently heard Phúc read her essay “The Long Road to Forgiveness” on National Public Radio. It is an honest, insightful and moving piece about how she overcame her anger against her attackers, which was like “a hatred as high as a mountain,” and reached a place of peace and forgiveness through her faith in Christ. As she notes, this transition did not happen overnight. In fact, one of the most refreshing aspects of her essay is its emphasis on forgiveness as a difficult an ongoing process—not sudden or easy or static.

Phúc still suffers pain from the severe burns she sustained. But I can hear the enduring peace in her voice, even in her stricken state. “Forgiveness made me free from hatred,” she says.” I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed.” It is a peace beyond human reason, perhaps beyond comprehension; it comes only through a relationship with the holy.

Some of the most horrific persecution stories we receive involve young Christians who are victims of brutal violence because of their faith. Like Phúc, many of them will forever suffer pain and bear scars from their childhood trauma. There is Ami Ortiz, the son of an Israeli pastor who was severely injured by a letter bomb. There is Nankpaqk Kumzwam, a Nigerian boy who was slashed in the shoulder and shot in the back when Muslims attacked his church, killing his parents and siblings. There is Elina Das, a Bangladeshi pastor’s daughter who was gang raped by Muslims. These young believers, all under the age of seventeen, have undergone experiences more traumatic than many adults undergo in a lifetime.

And yet, the Lord can guide these children too to mercy and hope amidst affliction. I know this. I pray for this. And I hold words like Phúc’s, and testimonies of persecuted Christians who have similarly embraced the power of love and forgiveness, against the feelings of anger and disgust that flare up when I hear of children suffering such atrocities. It is utterly humbling to be reminded that we serve a God who is not famous for His fear, but for His perfect forgiveness.

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