by Pastor Dan Miller
Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted with permission from Dan Miller’s book Spiritual Reflections. It appears here verbatim.
On January 26, 2001, a killer earthquake rocked the state of Gujarat in northwestern India. Tens of thousands of people lost their lives. Others lay buried for days. Whole villages were left without a single inhabitable building. Cold weather left suddenly homeless people huddled around makeshift fires night after bitter night.
The quake struck on Republic Day, the foremost Indian holiday on which the country celebrates her independence. In a moment of time, national celebration turned to panic and then to mourning. The soul of India groaned in deep anguish.
The eyewitness reports and visual images transmitted around the world were difficult to process. In one village 700 flag-waving school children were marching in parade formation down the main street. One moment they proudly celebrated Republic Day. The next moment each of those 700 children was buried alive under rubble from buildings that had only moments earlier lined the street on which they marched.
Gujarat was instantly plunged into an ordeal that tried her soul. Lives were snuffed out. Others were forever changed. Loved ones, homes, and precious possessions were lost forever. Countless numbers of injured people suffered in physical agony as they awaited medical attention without adequate food, water or shelter.
Without tipping my hand, I asked my young children at the dinner table one night what we would do if we lived in India right then. How should we respond to such suffering? I was pleased to hear their basic sense of compassion (expressed between gulps of food and milk). They assured me we would help those who suffered.
“But what if the people suffering were not Christians?” I continued. “Should we help them if they did not share our faith in Jesus?” Their expressions seemed to indicate (happily) that Dad was losing it (again!). “Of course!” they assured me. In such a situation, genuine compassion permits no such discriminatory boundaries.
“But what if those who suffered hated you?” After a brief discussion along these lines, I revealed to my children that my questions were intended as a test—a hypothetical test for them. But for a man we know in India, it was all very real.
First, it must be understood that Gujarat is less than accommodating to Christians. In this state Christian converts are routinely ostracized from their villages and families. Some have been murdered while authorities looked the other direction. Others have suffered the burning of their houses and church properties. Still others have had their church buildings seized and converted into Hindu temples. This is to say nothing of the unyielding social pressures exerted against virtually every Christian in this part of the world.
Christians are not ignored in Gujarat, they are pervasively disdained. They are routinely misused. Sometimes they are physically attacked. On occasion, they are martyred.
One of our friends in India lives over 500 miles from Gujarat. I will call him Shaji. Shaji is a committed Christian. He has faced unjust treatment for his faith on numerous occasions. I have seen a gruesome picture of the corpse of one of his church members who was bludgeoned to death for his Christian testimony.
But Shaji reads his Bible, and he makes a habit of obeying it. So when he considered the reports coming out of Gujarat, his mind turned to Romans 12:19-21: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink’.”
Moved in his spirit by this biblical mandate, Shaji put his faith into action. He quickly assembled a qualified team of some thirty Christians to travel to Gujarat in order to help earthquake victims. Among the team members he gathered were five medical doctors and several nurses. The team raised money to rent a bus and began the more than 500 mile journey to minister in love to their “enemies”—not people whom they hated, but people who hated them.
Since the affected area was so thoroughly devastated by the quake, the team had to pack its own food, water, tents and cooking fuel, along with blankets, clothes and medical supplies donated for victims. One hundred seventy miles from the village they had targeted for aid, the team refueled at the last operable gasoline station. From there, even their gasoline had to be carried with them.
The team stopped at the village where the 700 parading children had been buried alive. This village comprised 450 buildings, not one of which was now inhabitable. Victims awaited medical aid with serious lacerations, broken limbs and various and sundry life threatening injuries. Some still lay buried. With nighttime temperatures dipping into the 40 degree Fahrenheit range, survivors were also in desperate need of blankets and clothing.
As the team arrived at the village they were met by city officials who demanded identification. When it was discovered the team was comprised of Christians, Hindu village leaders refused their help. With the cries of dying earthquake victims in the background, the team was told to take their doctors, nurses, blankets and volunteer rescue workers, and to return home. No Christians permitted here. End of discussion.
But when Shaji refused to be dismissed so easily, the overwhelmed city officials finally relented and the team was given clearance to commence their mission of love. The unskilled team members energetically dug through rubble and distributed blankets and clothing while the doctors and nurses rendered medical aid.
A three-week old baby whose mother died in the quake was rescued from the rubble. A man was successfully treated whose entire family had perished. In the end, over 200 people were treated medically by the team which rendered aid graciously and compassionately.
Many of the Hindu medical workers, by contrast, demanded that each victim recite the name of the relief worker’s god before receiving treatment. The pettiness and callousness of this “confess-my-god-or-I-do-not-help-you” demand was not lost on the people of the village.
Before Shaji’s team left for home, a marked shift in attitude toward them was in evidence among many of the villagers. Angered by the callous treatment they received from a radical Hindu politician who wielded power in the village, the villagers denounced the man and physically ran him out of town.
Their anger toward this representative individual was coupled with a newfound respect for a group of outcasts who had invaded their village with love. A small group of their “enemies” had showered them with a free gift of time, talent and physical provision. And it all came without solicitation, against stiff resistance and in the hour of their direst need. It was an unusual display of unusual love, and it was entirely impossible to dismiss.
I suppose it is better to ignore one’s enemies than to hate them, but I am sure it is easier to ignore them than to love them. Imagine helping people who cheer the murder of your Christian brothers and sisters. Such unusual love demands a radical transformation of the soul. And Shaji would be the first to note that such a transformation is dependent upon one’s own reception of an infinite measure of such love.
Shaji’s sacrificial love does not emit from a vacuum. It is a responsive and reflective love. It responds to and reflects the infinite love of the God of whom it is said in regard to believers: “while we were [God’s] enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10).
By moral law, we become like the God or gods we worship (Psalm 115:1-8). Shaji has been transformed into an enemy-lover because his Savior, without solicitation and against stiff resistance, sacrificed his Son’s life to rescue Shaji from his sin in the hour of his direst need.
Now a transformed worshiper of Christ, it is Shaji’s joy to emulate his enemy-loving Savior by promoting the reconciliation of his enemies to God and to himself (Romans 5:10). In other words, he made the journey to Gujarat not merely to help people with physical needs, but to seek out people who through faith in Christ would join him in worshiping the God whose nature is love (1 John 4:8).
Shaji excitedly reports that he found one such man on his trip to Gujarat. He hopes soon to return to find others. Yes, he realizes he might be killed in the process. That’s life in India. But no matter, this world is not his ultimate joy nor is it his final home. He lives to see the Savior who reconciled him to God by loving him when he was still God’s enemy. He’s never been the same since embracing Christ’s love. And there are a growing number of his former enemies who thank God he’s not.
|Dan Miller has served as senior pastor of Eden Baptist Church (Savage, MN) since 1989. He graduated from Pillsbury Baptist Bible College (Owatonna, MN) with a B.S. degree in 1984. His graduate degrees include an M.A. in History from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and M.Div. and Th.M. degrees from Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He is nearing completion of D.Min. studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL). Dan is married to Beth, and the Lord has blessed them with four children.