Friday, September 2, 2016

Why I Chose to Love a Terrorist

It was never my intention to love a terrorist. Not even one. Certainly not multiple terrorists. Certainly not the kind of terrorist who kills people by hacking them to death or sawing off their heads.

Like most people, I read the news reports in horror as ISIS/PKK/Taliban/Al Qaeda, AQAP, and Al Shabaab (among others) killed dozens of people at a time. I tallied the death count every day, as if knowing the smaller numbers could somehow diminish the evil of the total monthly kills. I fumed. I grieved. I hesitate to admit it, but I hated.

None of it did any good at all.

I'm an activist at my core, so I adopted a terrorist of the week. Every week. I learned as much as I could about each one. Learned about their families. Their losses. Their sorrows. Their education. Their religion.

My friends thought I was a nut. I wondered about myself, too.  Regardless, I persevered.

Before I knew it, they became people to me, and not just Hitler-esque names with blood dripping from their hands. They were lost people acting out a form of religion fueled by anger, hate, and fear. They were people who needed Jesus in the worst way imaginable. 

I began to pray for them by name. 

Frankly, I wanted to pray for their annihilation. Instead, I prayed that God would either bring them to repentance and to Jesus or end their reign of terror. I didn't much care which.

As I prayed, a strange thing happened. I began to care whether or not they met Jesus. 

Two verses fueled my passion. 

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." John 3:16 nasb

"The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." 2 Peter 3:9 nasb

The longer I read those verses and prayed for those terrorists, the more I began to think, God so loved even terrorists... God is not willing for any terrorists to perish... and I shouldn't be either. 

Those verses did something profound in me. 

If God so loved... I should, too. 

Eventually, I did. I hated what they did, hated the death and destruction, the grief and the pain, but I cared about their eternity. And I still do.

Would I continue to love them if they were sawing off the head of someone dear to me? I freely admit that I would not. I'm not that much like Jesus, but He would still love. I know that, because He loved us and prayed for us while He was on the cross.

When one of the terrorists I had claimed for the kingdom of God was killed by a drone, I wept. I rejoiced that his reign of destruction was ended, of course, but I wept for his eternity without Christ. One after another, "my" terrorists' reigns of destruction have come to an end. If any of them have come to Jesus, I don't know about it. 

But I don't have to know, because caring about the terrorists' salvation, loving them as Christ loved them, changed something profound in me. I haven't met anyone who is "worse" or more deadly than the terrorists for whom I pray. I've never met anyone who needs Jesus more than they. 

Gradually, I began to see all people through the lens with which I view the terrorists. I began to care about all people meeting Jesus, no matter how unlike me they are. As a result, I'm more inclusive. Quicker to love. Slower to reject. Less likely to condemn. 

As unlikely as it seemed at the beginning of this journey, trying to love the terrorists like Jesus loves has made me a tiny bit more like Him. It's a good thing, because I need every little bit of progress I can get. I'm still so far from what He meant me to be.

I thought I was using God's secret weapon, His love, on the terrorists. Instead, Jesus used His secret weapon on me. He, who loved me at my most unlovely, taught me to love those who are also unlovely. He showed me that they are lost, just like I once was.

I didn't intend to love terrorists. I never wanted to care. But I do now. 

So I still pray. I still beg God to speak to their hearts and bring about the same repentance He brought to me. (I still beg Him to bring about an end to their reign of destruction, too. I also still pray for their victims, the families of victims, and that the potential victims will be spared.)

Whether He will bring terrorists to Jesus or not, I don't know. I'm not in charge of results. My job is simply to pray. I'm still hoping, though, that, one day, a former terrorist-turned-lover-of-Jesus (maybe one like Saul-turned-Paul) will greet me at the gate of heaven with a smile and say, "I'm here because you prayed. Thank you, my sister."

When/if that happens (and I hope it does), I'm pretty sure I'll cry. Even if it is heaven. 

I know that people will read this and say I'm foolish. They'll say I'm being silly, and fanciful, and maybe even stupid. 

If they do, I hope they'll take time to see what Jesus said about loving your enemies and praying for the ones who despitefully use you. He's the one who hung on the cross and prayed, "Father, forgive them. They don't know what they're doing." He was completely serious when He prayed about forgiving, and He's serious about us doing it, too. 

I've learned an important principle along this journey. Hate only hurts me, but love can change the world. 

In a world filled with hate, love doesn't make sense, but, in heaven, it will. 

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." Matthew 5:43-45 nasb
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: Living Like We Say We Believe
Here's the link to the prayer guide: The Prayer List 
Here's the link to my Global Outreach page: Leanna Hollis MD