Thursday, August 14, 2008

Do Martyr's Still Exist?

Now I’ve heard stories like that of Jim Elliot who was killed trying to share the gospel to the isolated Quichua tribe in Ecuador, but that was over 50 years ago. Do things like this still happen? There are fewer and fewer isolated tribes like the Quichua, and if you’re anything like me, you never hear of missionaries dying out in the field any more. With this in mind, I've decided to share a few of the great stories I’ve recently come across. It certainly is not my ambition to become a martyr, but if that was my destiny I would hope that my story would inspire others to continue the work that I gave my life to. So for this reason, I want to remember two martyrs who I believe have given their lives to incredible causes.

Unlike most people in America, most people in Nairobi, Kenya know the story of Father Kaiser, a Catholic priest from Minnesota. For more than 30 years, Father Kaiser served as a missionary in Kenya. As tribal hatred and violence grew in the 90’s, he began to collect information on specific acts of violence that he suspected to be politically inspired. The government denied these accusations as they had even denied that AIDS was a problem in Kenya.

Father Kaiser’s protests got him arrested, beaten, and thrown far out into the bush, but his real downfall began when he came to the aid of 2 schoolgirls in the summer of ‘99. The girls claimed to have been raped by a government minister. Father Kaiser raised the matter with various high officials and was first rebuffed and eventually put under pressure to cease publicizing the facts. When he kept at it, they attempted to deport him. With the intervention of US Ambassador Jonnie Carson (for real), he was eventually granted a new work permit. But In August 2000, Father Kaiser’s corpse was found on the side of the road. He was murdered. Less than a week after his death the charges of rape were dropped.

Before his death, Father Kaiser wrote a book about his experience in Kenya, entitle If I Die. In it he warns:

““I want all to know that if I disappear from the scene, because the bush is vast and hyenas many, that I am not planning any accident, nor, God forbid, any self destruction. Instead, I trust in a good guardian angel and in the action of grace.”

Clearly Father Kaiser knew the dangers of what he was getting into, and yet he stilled sacrificed himself in order to give volume to the voices of the weak and oppressed.

I am amazed and inspired by Father Kaiser, and I wonder how many people out there have the heart and the faith of this man. It was 7 years later when things finally got crazy with the Kenyan government. Initially I was in support of the government of Kenya in this conflict, but in lieu of stories like this, it is much easier to understand how widespread violence can break out among seemingly peaceful people. Corruption and oppression breeds violence. Let’s not forget what Father Kaiser gave his life to.

Another great story is that of Amy Biehl. After graduating from Stanford, in 1993, she was a Fulbright exchange scholar in Cape Town, South Africa. As a volunteer in voter registration for South Africa’s first all-race elections approaching in April, 1994, Amy had driven three African friends home to their black township as a favor. Seeing her white face, a mob of African boys preyed on her and showered her car with stones. Amy was dragged from the car and as her friends pleaded with the assailants, yelling, “She’s a comrade!” she was viciously beaten to the ground, her head smashed with a brick and she was stabbed in the heart.

At first glance, Amy’s death would appear to be the tragic waste of a great young life. But much like Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus himself, and 11 of the 12 disciples, Amy became much more powerful through death than she could have ever been through life.

Four young men were convicted for Amy’s murder and sentenced to 18 years in prison. After 3 years, they appeared before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and pleaded that their motive was political and not racial. The murderer’s freedom would have been impossible without the assent of Amy’s parents, but in 1998 all four boys were pardoned. Although the mother of one of the killers was so disgusted with her son that she could not face him, the Biehls embraced them. Amy’s father shook the hands of the murderers and said, “The most important vehicle of reconciliation is open and honest dialogue...we are here to reconcile a human life which was taken without an opportunity for dialogue. When we are finished with this process we must move forward with linked arms.”

The Biehl’s created the Amy Biehl Foundation, a multimillion dollar charity dedicated to empowering people who are oppressed. 2 of the boys, Ntombeko Peni and Easy Nofomela were given jobs by the Biehl’s and to this day still hold salaried positions for the foundation. Monday, August 25th marks the 15th year anniversary of Amy’s death. I will celebrate her life that day.

So, do you know any modern day martyrs?


Sam Ed. said...

Amy's father came and spoke in an African political system class I was randomly taking in college. We were studying the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Her story is why I ended changing my concentration to African Political Systems. Her family's story is one of the more amazing stories of grace and forgiveness I've ever heard.

Anton said...

Hey Chris,
Very interesting post. My buddy is a missionary pilot in Indonesia right now. The villagers in one location still have human sacrifices. It's unbelieveable the stories you here. There's a site all about modern-day martyrs in places like Africa, Asia, and around the world. The site is: See ya'!