On the night of April 14, 2014, evil came unexpected to 276 school girls living in dormitories in a northern province pf Nigeria. These girls, 90% of them Christian, had finished their prayers and had gone to bed. Then suddenly awakened to the sound of gunfire and shouting, they found themselves surrounded by dozens of armed men from the Boko Haram terrorist group. Forced into the jungle at gunpoint, the girls (aged 14 - 16) were kidnapped and disappeared into the night. No one knew where they went. Terrified, helpless, and with no chance to escape, these girls clutched their Bibles and prayed to God for deliverance. Psalm 23 “yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me.”
But whatever happened to these girls? In a new book entitled Beneath the Tamarind Tree: A Story of Courage, Family, and the Lost Schoolgirls of Boko Haram, author Isha Sesay tells the gripping story of faith and hope, the role of prayer throughout the many, many months of captivity, and the outcome of persistent global pressure to find the girls and to bring them home. What the families of these girls went through and what the girls themselves had to endure is well documented in this excellent book. These girls show a remarkable resilience through all of their trauma. In the midst of total uncertainty, they never lost their dependency on God The name of Jesus was always on their lips.
In a similar way, evil came unexpected in 1963 to a young black high school graduate traveling on his way to his freshman year in college. He was raised by his grandmother, got straight A’s in high school, and never got into trouble. But because he did not own a car, he decided to hitch hike to his new college about 60 miles away. A stranger saw his thumb out and offered him a ride, but on the way along the road, they were pulled over by state police who discovered that the car they were riding in was stolen. The black student said he knew nothing about the car being stolen but he was placed in hand cuffs and mandated to a reformatory school. His path in life was altered forever. He had no idea what horrors awaited him in the reform school. He would witness severe beatings, sexual molestations, and the disintegration of the human spirit.
Based on true events, this novel is entitled The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead who won both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award last year (for his book Underground Railroad). The fictional Nickel Academy is based on a real juvenile reformatory that operated for 111 years in the Jim Crow South in the Florida panhandle. The real school was closed in 2011 and bones of murdered boys were found buried on the grounds. It was a horrific and evil place that looked pristine on the outside with manicured grass and trees but inside there were horrible abuses perpetrated on the youth that were brought there.
These two books, one non-fiction and the other fictional, raise the same question to the reader: When evil comes unexpected where do you turn and how can you survive?
The first book shows how a passionately Christian community copes with the unimaginable. The second book presents the beliefs of a pastor, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr, as the touchtone for faith and hope for the protagonist. These two books are very well written and drill down on what evil looks like and how pernicious and unpredictable it manifests itself.
These books raise the issues about the battle between good and evil, life and death, about the loss of innocence, and about deliverance. As the characters in these books, the real girls in Nigeria and the fictional boys in Florida, confront their most horrible nightmares and call upon their most powerful prayers to God, we are also drawn in to the most existential questions of our own time. What if an evil presence took away our most valuable possessions – our freedom, our liberty, our very lives? Would we lose hope? Do we really believe God would deliver us from the evil that had captured us? Who are the evil ones of today who spread the malignancy of prejudice, racism, xenophobia and inhumanity?
We pray the words from Matthew 6:13 - “…but deliver us from evil.” Evil can come like a thief in the night and alter our lives in the blink of an eye. It can be dramatic and unexpected as an earthquake, tornado, terrorists and other unimaginable events. But it can come in much more subtle ways: in what we read from the internet, from social media, from television and radio or from various groups and gatherings. Peter 5:8 - “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil walks about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (KJV)
Whatever we face, there are these words from St. Paul that give us perseverance in the time of trial: Romans 8:35, 37 “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? …No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (NIV).
One Minute is written by pastor Ron Rehrer, Counselor for Church Workers of our District, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; phone 949.433.5182