“The Nazis came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Finally they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up.”
– Martin Niemoeller, clergyman and concentration camp survivor
I grew up as a white, Anglo-Saxon protestant during the 50’s and 60’s, pretty much oblivious to the Civil Rights issues and protests that were raging all over the country at that time. By the time I was in college and thereafter, the gravity of all I had been blind to and insulated from began to seep into my consciousness.
Mostly through maturation and movies that reflected that epoch’s drama of brutality and courage, my new stream of conciousness eventually became a torrent of understanding. I realized, to my shame, that I had been a non-participant in one of the most significant injustices in modern history.
Today I listen to the political rhetoric that debates whether we will, as a country, involve ourselves in, or isolate ourselves from, the unending conflicts around the world. The temptation toward isolation is compelling, particularly in light of our own economic problems and our inability to broker enduring, peaceful solutions, even at the expense of precious lives.
And then I read again the quote above from Martin Niemoeller.
Standing on the sidelines, mute, uninformed and indifferent, is no longer acceptable to me. That commitment stood up and slapped me in the face about 10 years ago when I got the news that an orphaned boy I had come to love in Russia years ago – Artume – had, like so many other desperate orphans in Eastern Europe, committed suicide. I grieve the loss of this boy who, when I first encountered him, was singing a mournful song about a loving mother who would return for her son. My last memory of him was 15 minutes of his crying into my chest telling me I was his best friend (after less than a two week relationship).
And there have been others…many others! In a sense, I have been banished from the Garden of Innocence (perhaps the Garden of Ignorance or Indifference is more apropos). I cannot look at an orphaned girl in Moldova or Haiti without seeing the shadow of a heartless human trafficker lurking behind her. I can’t relieve myself of the knowledge that there are children in Red Hill, South Africa who will go hungry or drift aimlessly into a life of disease without help and guidance. And I can’t turn away from children I know along the banks of the Amazon River whose daily trek to a remote school includes the fear of jaguars, snakes or falling out of boats and drowning in the sleepy, dark hours before sunrise.
At JMI, we make justice personal. We can’t control all the powers that tear away at the flesh and souls of children. But we can stand between one other child in the world and his or her victimization. With partners in other lands, we can keep eyes on them. Through technology and mission trips, we can assure them of our love and share the story that the One who orchestrated the heavens is the same One who lovingly created them, endowed them with value and purpose and ordained invitation into our lives.
Whether through our organization or any other you might choose, is it time for you to speak up? Through a sponsorship or a mission trip, I pray you will make your life count for someone who can never repay you.