Thursday, December 22, 2016
“Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.” ― Maya Angelou
Before Vietnam was called Vietnam, it was called French Indochina. The French controlled it and many Catholic missionaries were sent in to convert the local people. When the French pulled out, almost all the missionaries left with them, but not all. A few refused to leave and were still there serving the villagers they had converted when it was renamed Vietnam and when Americans were fighting and killing and being killed all over the country. This is a true story that happened to a man who fought in that war and is still my friend and who told me once that God had not called me to be a pastor but an evangelist. Anyway, this friend is a big man, the size that Jack Reacher is in all of the novels (not the diminutive Tom Cruise who plays him in movies). Big, fit and a former Army Ranger, he and I used to work three-day spiritual retreats together (called “Walk to Emmaus” in the Methodist version). During one of these retreats, late at night when just the two of us were still up, he told me of the major event that happened in his life. I don’t think he has told many, so I will keep his name out of this. He was in what is now called “Special Forces” and was a sniper who was dropped alone far behind enemy lines. His job was to find high ranking officers and leaders and assassinate them. He had been on many missions and had been successful and awarded medals and promotions. He went in alone, killed the man he was sent to kill, and then made his way back out of enemy territory again all on his own. On his last mission, he encountered a large group of enemy soldiers. He was far outnumbered and outgunned, but they hadn’t seen him and he stayed hidden. The soldiers had captured a French Catholic priest, one of the missionaries who had refused to leave. He was tied to a tree and was about to be executed by a firing squad. My friend was behind the soldiers but could see the face of the priest. What he saw changed him forever. As he felt so helpless at not being able to intervene, he saw the priest’s eyes and saw what was in them. The priest was looking at his executioners with love and forgiveness in those eyes. My friend saw that the priest was not showing any fear or hate but only love and forgiveness. My friend slowly and quietly took his sniper rifle off his back, laid it down on the ground noiselessly where he was, turned, and slowly and quietly walked back out of that jungle and out of that country and out of that war. He had served so long and so well, he was given an honorable discharge, but he never fought again--in any fashion. He never hated again. He became a man of peace. He became a gentle giant of a man who eventually came to Christ and has never left Him. I met him when he and his wife came to visit a church where I was the pastor. We became friends shortly after that and have remained so to this day. He will probably never know the impact that story had on me that quiet night that he shared it, but nothing has so moved me quite like that. You had to know him to know how powerful the act of his putting his rifle on the ground and walking away was, but perhaps you can imagine. We are not to hate our enemies. If you are an authentic Christian, you know what I mean. If you still hate, Christ is still waiting for you and loving you and wanting you to turn away from your hate and turn to Him. All who love you are doing the same. Christ was not about hate, He was about love and forgiveness. As imitators of Him, so should we be.