I decided to add a “current events” category in my reading challenge for this year, not because it’s something I particularly enjoy, but because I think it’s helpful and good to be informed of what’s going on in the world at large. I’m not a news junkie, political die-hard, or economics geek; but there’s other issues in our world that we need to stay aware of and, as Christians, be praying for on a regular basis.
Many of these issues are hard to learn about: human trafficking, race riots, poor treatment of veterans, poverty in third-world countries, girls who aren’t allowed to attend school, the abuse of women in terrorist organizations, persecution of Christians, bondage of everyday people under harsh dictators . . .
Those don’t make for light reading or fun conversations with friends. They aren’t entertaining or enjoyable. In fact, opening your eyes to any of these issues is a bit like watching a train wreck happen — soul-sickening in its horror, but you just can’t turn your eyes away. Maybe that’s a good thing.
I grew up in privileged, middle-class white America. I had access to great education, freedom to practice my religious preferences in pubic, a roof over my head and warm place to sleep, a voice when I wanted to speak, and enough financial freedom to live a comfortable life even when we were living off support from loved ones.
I don’t understand what it’s like to live in an area so economically broken that I have to boil grass just to get something to eat. I can’t relate to the fear and horror of living in slavery. I haven’t experienced the weariness of true homelessness, the soul-crushing betrayal of being arrested for practicing basic human rights, or the stifling physical abuse just for being a woman.
But reading about these things can help. Talking with Christians striving on the front lines can help. Opening my eyes and paying attention to the nuances of “others” can help.
After realizing just how broad the “current events” category could be, I picked out a book about everyday life in North Korea . . . an ongoing struggle I knew little to nothing about.
Nothing to Envy (affiliate link) shares the stories of a handful of ordiinary North Koreans from their slow descent into poverty and helplessness, their utter dependence on the government to supply every need, and their enslavement to extreme Communist propaganda, to a gradual awakening to the freedom available in the nations around them, and eventually their journeys to those countries.
It was eye-opening and, at times, heart-breaking to realize just how dark the country still is — it’s the sort of book you read, thinking it happened decades or centuries ago, and feel continually shocked to remember that it’s still happening today. It’s the sort of book that’s hard to imagine, if you don’t have other evidence of its truth. It’s not an easy read (although the writing was excellent), and it’s certainly not a pleasant one.
But it awakened compassion in me. I know tensions are high right now between America and North Korea, but I find myself filled with heaviness for the ordinary citizens who are permanently bent under the weight of darkness, both economically and spiritually. They have been stifled, betrayed by their leaders, ignored and abandoned, and forced to conform to some twisted caricature of “ideal” citizenry.
Most of its citizens are enslaved and impoverished, too afraid of those in power to live as humans created in God’s image. There is no beauty, no laughter, no individualism. And I couldn’t help but wonder as I read of their bondage . . . are there any Bibles publicly available? Any Christians at all? Any understanding of God’s light and love in a nation that doesn’t let you think for yourself? My heart broke over the oppression and spiritual bondage of their nation, and I found myself pouring out prayer on their behalf.
I find myself realizing how important it is for Christians to be globally aware — how critical it is to let our souls be stirred with compassion for those we don’t know. How else would we feel compelled to pray for them? To plead on their behalf before the throne of mercy?
We don’t need to take up all sorts of “causes” or become super vocal about everything we read, unless God calls us to do so. But opening our eyes — and hearts — to the horrors of sin in the world around us can only lead us to grow in compassion, in love for the lost, and in passionate prayer for their souls.
Yes, they need to be freed from oppression, from abuse and poverty — but even more than that, they need spiritual freedom. They need the gospel. They need to know the God of light and love, no matter what their external circumstances are like.
Our hearts need to be broken by their true condition, both physically and spiritually.
As the president of my alma mater used to remind us: the greatest tragedy in the world today is that people are dying and going to hell today.
No other ill compares to that horror. And whatever opens our eyes (and hearts) to that tragedy is worth paying attention to.
What tragic event in our world today has stirred your heart to compassion or action?