Reclaimed Perspective: Who Is My Neighbor?

I grew up practically next door to the Jewish hub of Pittsburgh – a neighborhood with over 20 synagogues and where an estimated 40% of residents are Jewish. I didn’t know it then, but I had a unique experience compared with many of my friends who grew up in other parts of the country. I thought it was normal to have lots of Jewish neighbors, to see little boys wearing yarmulkes in the library or at the park, to hear Holocaust survivors share the stories first-hand, to experience Jewish holidays up close, and to find Kosher food in every grocery store. I had Jewish neighbors, Jewish friends, and Jewish culture all around me. It was part of my childhood, part of my story.

When I graduated with my teaching certificate, I got my first job: teaching Language Arts at a private Jewish school near where I had grown up. That was where the Holocaust became real to me. It had haunted me before, but never with such power. Here they were collecting 6,000,000 bottle caps to honor and remember the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust. Here the 8th graders read Elie Wiesel’s book Night and then wrote research papers about the Holocaust. Here we went to plays and museums and exhibits about the Holocaust. Here the phrase “Never Again” became inextricably linked with the word “Holocaust”. For me, the stories were made all the more powerful and personal because these people were my neighbors…. my friends. It wasn’t about a historical event – it was about students in my class who I never would have met had it not been for grandmothers and grandfathers who survived.

I could write for a really, really long time about the horrors of the Holocaust. About the torturous “medical experiments”, the gas chambers, the train cars… it was all so intensely barbaric and inhumane. The kind of thing that you just can’t grasp the depth of. But then there were the few heroes – the righteous gentiles – the ones who hid Jews in their homes, or tried to smuggle them out of Berlin, or who adopted them as part of their families.

I have often wondered what I would have done if I lived in Europe during World War II. I have often HOPED that I would be the kind of person who would have done something. Anything that was in my power or realm to do. That I would not have just looked on with disdain, or with a lack of feeling, or even with horror. What good does a feeling of horror do if it causes you only to stare, paralyzed, in disbelief? I hope I would have taken action, even if it was a sacrifice. 

Maybe I am overly naive about humanity, but I never dreamed that I would live to witness another holocaust.

New horrors have become a daily occurence – intensely barbaric and inhumane ones, the kind you just can’t grasp the depth of. The worst systematic persecution of Christians that I have heard of in decades, if not centuries. During high school, I was part of a prayer group that prayed often for the persecuted church – but the things we prayed for back then (although horrible) look small now in comparison.

A new holocaust has been born – it is happening in front of my eyes – and to my own people. The Christians who are being driven from their homes, raped, murdered, beheaded, and tortured… they are part of the Body that I belong to. I am not reading about history anymore, a holocaust is happening now. To my family.

And although I don’t live in the Middle East – or even in the same hemisphere – and I am not close enough to give food or shelter to a fugitive from war – our world has become much smaller since the 1940’s. We get places faster, hear news sooner, and have contact with people in ways that we couldn’t have even imagined just a few years ago. Now, in 2015, the Middle East has become my neighbor. I hear the voices and see the faces of the persecuted. I know their names and I mourn with their families. I might be physically far away, but the news of hope or despair travels as fast as if they lived down the street from me.

This much has dawned on me: I am not exempt from this crisis just because I live geographically far away. I know what is happening. The people who are closest to the crisis are asking for help. There are ways that I can help.

So what kind of person will I be? Honestly, I wish I could ignore it all… to shake my head in horror, shudder, and then drive my kids to their next playdate with a carefree mind. But I can’t! I can’t shake this sense that this is my chance. This is my chance to act. To do what I only wish I would have had the chance to do for my Jewish brothers and sisters.

As a white, female, American Christian, I can’t exactly fly over to Syria and offer my assistance. But Johnnie Moore, former campus pastor of Liberty University, currently the chief of staff for producer Mark Burnett, and author of the new book Defying Isis provides these ideas for what I can do (plus a few more, here):

1. Pray every day.

This is my goal! And along with this, I am looking for a few others to pray with me – even if it’s only once or twice a month. 

2. Educate yourself.

This article in The Atlantic was incredibly detailed, researched, and well-written. It gave me a great window into what is happening in the Middle East (Christian Aid Mission) and (Voice of the Martyrs) both regularly update their websites and social media sites with news about persecution around the world, and often give an “insiders” view, since they have staff or connections on the ground in the middle of crisis areas.

3. Give.

I want to give, but where?? Sometimes it feels so overwhelming to try to choose which reputable and effective organization to send money to. It takes research and time, not just writing a check! Here a few good places I have discovered so far:

  1. The Cradle Fund – a fund created specifically to support displaced people in the Middle East, founded by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey
  2. Christian Aid Mission – an organization that supports indigenous missions work (often in places where Americans are not welcome)
  3. World Help – a Christian humanitarian organization that we have supported for years

I don’t want to wait until this genocide is history, when it is within my power to act NOW. I am praying daily for the displaced and persecuted Christians in the Middle East, and our family is investing our money into this, too. It’s hard to know exactly how much to pray, or how much to give, but I have a feeling that on this front, we won’t be able to outpray or outgive the crisis. This is one of those things that is important enough to sacrifice my money and my time to.

Want to join me? Let’s be the new “righteous gentiles” – the ones who act on our convictions, despite the cost, and who just may change the course of someone’s life through our obedience.

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