By Ashlyn Slamans, Guest Writer
For starters, what I’m about to share is from a very personal conviction. Last summer, I spent six weeks in Central America with a team of young adults chosen from the U.S. We worked within impoverished communities alongside churches traveling throughout countries. Due to privacy and political reasons, I can’t disclose specific information about my experience. However, that won’t hold me back from sharing.
Working in unimaginable conditions to share the gospel brought us to places where I had only seen pictures of in America. Those pictures became real to me last summer as I looked into the faces of unfed children and unsheltered families.
The journey started on the way to another village when we quickly found ourselves in the middle of a nightmare: a communist revolution. There were buses streaming with symbols everywhere and people hanging out of every window. People of all ages were waving their political-patriotic flags. Everyone was shouting war cries over the blasting music; loaded guns were flailing everywhere. The political party’s colors were on literally everything that moved towards the country’s capital.
Images of historical political revolutions were the only thing that kept coming to mind as I peeked out the window to catch glimpses of the chaos going on outside my team’s bus. All we could do was hide and pray earnestly that the thousands of people passing by wouldn’t catch a glimpse of some of our skin color or blond hair, for that matter. To make matters worse, our bus had the words “All American” plastered on each side.
Now, before I proceed, I must clarify what you’re probably already thinking. They couldn’t raid your bus just because of your skin color. Reality check: we weren’t in the United States.
I quickly found out that the color of my skin meant mainly two things to many people: capitalism and Christianity.
That day my eyes were opened to a world that had only previously existed in the news or history books. I’m just a girl who grew up in a loving Christian family and wanted to share the “good news” with others in poverty. Instead, I was suddenly the target. Were we in hiding because of my skin color? No. We were in hiding on the bus because of the stereotype that the color holds: freedom. Now I can grasp what it means to really have freedom of speech, of liberty, of religion, and of press. It’s something I unknowingly took for granted.
You see, I wanted so badly to make them stop the bus, walk up to the children holding armed weapons and ask them if they knew what they were doing; I longed to show them that capitalism or faith isn’t bad; I had this urgency to say that every person is entitled to life and liberty. This is exactly what our native team members wanted to do all the time. However, they told us that doing those things led right to persecution. I began hearing stories of families being threatened, often times being murdered. They died for their faith, because, to them, this love was worth far more than anything else this world could offer. This boldness isn’t the Christianity that I’ve heard preached here in the U.S.
So often people in the West are criticized for discrimination of race, religion, sexual, or political standpoints; but there’s not been much awareness raised in the average adolescent’s life about the harsh issues people all around this world are facing.
A recent article in NewsWeek highlighted this turbulent crisis. It provided reports from the United Nations stating nearly 53,000-75,000 innocent civilians have been oppressed and the number is increasing. Ayaan Hirsi Ali shares in her article, “Christians are still subjected to aerial bombardment, targeted killings, the kidnapping of children, and other atrocities.”
It’s a race of power and culture. Since religion puts a threat on a group’s power, minorities have to pay for it. For example, the Washington Times reported that Iranian pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani, is being executed for practicing Christianity and not recanting his faith. Freelance writer Peter V. Bella said, “Polite silence is testimony to the world that we just give lip service to freedom and human rights.”
I don’t mean to impress any belief upon anyone reading this article. That would completely miss the point. I only ask us to wrap our minds around this concept: It’s because of our nation’s freedom that we can choose to believe or not to believe whatever we like. However, realize countless people are persecuted because they find worth in the freedom of faith. Either we can continue going about our routine practices or dig deeper to find the meaning that other’s have faced death for. The freewill, however, is all yours.
Growing up in Colombia, senior Carolina Tovar has learned what it means to truly have freedom. Today, they set high goals and utilize every opportunity. However, Tovar said it’s sad that most people don’t realize the amount of freedom they truly have. “Even in Kaneland, it’s obvious and really sad that people don’t stand up for what they believe in. They don’t realize what freedom they really have,” Tovar said.
People may say that I can’t freely talk about this, but I’m exercising my freedom of speech. I am writing this because my fellow believers all around the world are dying for simply stating the name of Jesus. So I’m stating it for them while the number of martyrs is tallying by the minute.
While I hid on a bus for an hour or so, gripping for my life, I experienced what countless people live through every day. I prayed more in that hour than I ever imagined. It made me question where my priorities, and our countries priorities, would be placed if we constantly had to fight for our liberties.
Our world is in a crucial historical state at the present moment. Our generation will be faced with many key decisions very soon. I just can’t help but wonder if people really understand the weight of freedom that we carry here in America, and why we are even blessed with that freedom.
If it means enough, stand up for freedom. Take a stand for what’s right and for what our freedom really means. Others are already trying to eliminate that freedom all over the world. Don’t be blinded by the blessing each one of us is offered on a daily basis.