At the climax of The Princess Bride, wicked Prince Humperdinck bursts in upon the hero, Westley, and challenges him to their long-delayed duel. Drawing sword from sheath, he spits out, “To the death!”
To which Westley calmly replies: “No. To the pain.”
The prince squints with confusion. “I don’t think I’m quite familiar with that phrase,” he says.
I don’t think I am, either. I don’t think many of us are, in comparison with what so many, especially Christians, have experienced these last few years in Iraq.
ADF International has worked tirelessly to enhance awareness and press world leaders into action to recognize and stop the genocide in Iraq, where one percent – one percent – of the population is presently Christian. (Before ISIS came to power, Christians comprised around six percent of the population.) Over the last three years, hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee their country to avoid being targeted by ISIS for torture or even slaughter.
Looking at those brutal numbers, I wonder if we get to thinking that death is the worst thing that can happen to a Christian in Iraq. It isn’t.
Read a few stories, and you quickly begin to grasp how many ways “to the pain” is being experience in that shattered country. For instance:
- The woman whose home was ransacked by ISIS soldiers who pistol-whipped her husband, beat her and her mother, and carried her little girl out into the night – warning she’d be killed unless an impossibly high ransom was paid
A night or two later, the daughter was returned – the soldiers had made enough inquiries to know this family could never afford a ransom: “You have nothing.” So they went away, and the parents had their little girl again … but it’s been three years now, and she’s still afraid, all of the time. She often has nightmares.
- The refugee parents whose children haven’t been in school for years – the cities where they’re hiding can’t build enough schools for all the refugee children.
Perhaps, someday, the families will return home, and rebuild the schools where their youngsters should have gone. But that day is still a long way off. Meantime, their boys and girls restlessly wander the streets … their life’s potential crippled by all these lost years of learning they’ll never get back.
- The priest who smiles, remembering what it was like to grow up in an Iraqi version of The Waltons … nine brothers and two sisters, all living on the same street, often in the same house, nieces and nephews and cousins all mingling happily together.
That was before ISIS came. Now, the siblings and their families are scattered all over the world, seeking refuge in Australia, the U.S., Europe, and other parts of the Middle East. Some of them, the priest supposes, may see each other again. But not all of them. Never again will all of the brothers and sisters and their families be together.
All of this reminds me of other stories – the three Jesus tells in Matthew 25.
The first (v. 1-13) is about 10 virgins, all looking forward to being part of a great wedding celebration. But came the wedding, and not all were prepared. It’s a story, among other things, about urgency.
In Iraq, an investigator reports, “Discrimination became persecution, literally overnight.” The Iraqis, even with their geographic front-row seat for the ISIS show, were caught off guard when the fighters came for them. People usually are.
For Christians in many regions, it’s getting darker, later, more quickly than we think. And too many of us aren’t ready.
The second story (v. 14-30) is about three men entrusted with varying sums of money. Two made wise investments; one did not even try – and for that, is sorely punished. It’s a story, in part, about responsibility.
We are responsible for what we know. What is my responsibility, knowing what I now do about what’s happening to my Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq?
The answer, I think, lies somewhere between actually going to Iraq (like most folks, I can’t) and being aware (vaguely) that groups like ADF International are doing … something. Maybe I can follow what’s happening more closely … talk more about it with friends, people at my work and church. Maybe I could write my congressman. Perhaps I could give a financial gift to help.
Maybe I could just stop for a few minutes, to imagine – really imagine – what it could possibly be like to have to give up something infinitely precious to me, just because I love Jesus.
The third story (v. 31-46) is about the great dividing of the lost from the saved at the final Judgment. It’s a story about those around us who are hurting: imprisoned, abused, sick and starving. About how many do something to help them. About how many of us never really even notice that they’re there.
It’s a story, in the end, about opportunity. God in His grace shows mercy to the hurting, whether I do anything for them or not. The one who misses out if I don’t is … me. I miss the chance to be His mercy – to make a good, eternal difference – to minister to Him, by ministering to His own.
So many of His own are hurting, today, in Iraq.
There’s an urgency. A responsibility. An opportunity.
And one percent left.
Learn more about the work ADF International is doing to stop genocide in the Middle East – and what you can do to help – by visiting the link below.