“The people he was trying to help… killed him.”
These were words I heard at work today. I work for a Christian non-profit, non-government organization. We are in the business of international development and relief work. Every person who works here is passionately committed to caring for the needs of the poor and oppressed here in the U.S. and all over the world.
Today something happened that has really thrown a wrench in my system. A good friend of mine, in fact, the person within the organization who helped me get this wonderful new job, had a terrible thing happen to him. He was mugged, in a relatively safe Capitol Hill neighborhood, at 2:30 p.m. on a Tuesday. Broad daylight. He wasn’t listening to ipod or talking on the phone. He was returning from a coffee meeting at a shop only a few blocks from our office in northeast D.C.
Three young teenagers around 15 years old, sucker-punched my friend to the ground and kicked him repeatedly at which point he responded, almost calmly, “Guys, stop it. You can have my wallet.”
I did not witness the event first hand; my friend shared the story with me when he got back to the office, ice pack in hand. He was obviously shaken, but he had a very interesting calm in his eyes, almost like a “boys will be boys” attitude. If it had happened to me, I would have raised holy hell.
Muggings happen in D.C. all the time. But this one is really in my crawl because of who was attacked. Not just that this is a personal friend of mine, but because of who he is. This is a guy who is passionately committed to advocating for social justice. He cares deeply about children in poverty who suffer from multiple disadvantages. He educates others about the needs in the world and is fearless in challenging people to act on the Bible’s some 2000 verses about caring for the poor and needy.
And today, my friend, the advocate for social justice, was sucker-punched by the needy.
I know there are a million theories, analogies, and correlations we can offer to explain, defend, and condemn this action; however, we cannot escape the irony of poor urban kids robbing and taking their (literal) kicks on a young white dude who spends his life working to help kids just like the ones who attacked him.
My friend is a Christian. Why did God allow this to happen? Should the Church expect to be spared from events such as this? Wasn’t it our own Christ Jesus who suffered the worst at the hands of injustice? Is my friend being pruned or tested in some way? Will this weaken his spirit or fire him up even more? He was lucky there were no weapons involved. Incidents like this one can turn deadly on a dime.
In January 2007, Geoffrey Chege, Regional Director for the East and Central Africa operations of Atlanta based humanitarian organization called CARE, was murdered in a mugging on the streets of Nairobi, Kenya. He and his wife were on their way home from a church service. Their assailants stopped their caravan, demanded money, and when startled by oncoming traffic, shot and killed Chege. He died in his wife’s arms, on the roadside of a country full of people he had selflessly served for 25 years. He was a father of three daughters. He was a native of Africa born and raised in the same town that took his life.
As a colleague relayed Chege’s story to me, she worked with him previously at CARE, she made a comment that resonated in my heart like the toll of a midnight bell tower:
“The people he was trying to help… killed him.”
As soon as she spoke these words to me, I saw the cross. The people Jesus was trying to help killed him.
I believe that Chege was a martyr in the same manner. He ministered to his own people in Jesus name, and his own people killed him. As Christians, should we expect the worst as we seek to love?
My friend who was mugged will recover from the whelp that’s rising on his head as we speak. He is lucky the kids weren’t armed. But will this event change his heart for the poor? Would it change yours?
Its been said that desperate times call for desperate measures. The fact is, these punk kids acted out of need, which need will remain unknown; however, what I do know is that this event will not change my friend’s heart for the needy. The calm look in his eyes, and his reluctance to go bizerk tell me that he still loves the ones who attacked him.
Here is a concept to chew on, taught by the worst victim of injustice in world history:
“Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.”
Jesus, Luke 6:28-30
As a Christ follower, I grapple with this teaching in my daily life. May we all pass our own tests through the power of Christ in Us, the Hope of Future Glory.