When I grew up in Sweden in the 1990s, we had a book shelf in my parents’ home, filled with books (inherited from my grandfather who was a Christian minister) about Christians being persecuted behind the Iron Curtain.
I read them and got deeply touched, especially by the reflections of the imprisoned Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand, who was separated from his family and spent three years in solitary confinement with no lights or windows, just because of his Christian faith. Later he wrote about his spiritual reflections during his imprisonment and told the stories of those who were killed.
In 1964 he would be released after negotiations by Scandinavian evangelical mission organisations, and church leaders in his home country convinced him to leave to tell their stories to the outside world.
In 1966 he went to the United States, and on May 6th he testified before the US Senate’s Internal Security Subcommittee led by Senator Thomas J. Dodd. Wurmbrand began his testimony with a story about a Christian who the Communists had crucified:
One Sunday morning in the prison of Pitesti a young Christian was already the fourth day, day and night, tied to the cross. Twice a day the cross was put on the floor and 100 other cell inmates by beating, by tortures, were obliged to fulfill their necessities upon his face and upon his body. Then the cross was erected again and the Communists swearing and mocking “Look your Christ, look your Christ, how beautiful he is, adore him, kneel before him, how fine he smells, your Christ.
But the worst parts were when prisoners were doped and then became willing to confess crimes they hadn’t committed, followed by brainwashing techniques where they for hours a day had to say ”Communism is good, Christianity is dead.”
After his testimony Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) asked Mr Wurmbrand to show his scars from the many years of torture. He did and kept telling stories and eventually said, ”The Romanian people, as well as the other peoples behind the Iron Curtain, are desperate. They have abandoned hope that they will ever be released.”
But they would be. Americans heard their voices and the United States acted. Today the Cold War is over – the United States won, and the free world prevailed. Christians in our generation are no longer persecuted in Russia or Eastern Europe.
One dark chapter in the book of world history have been closed.
But Christians are still being persecuted, not by Communists and not in Eastern Europe, but in the Middle East by an enemy even more ruthless than the Communists.
A couple of days ago I spoke with Nuri Kino – a Swedish Assyrian journalist and founder of A Demand For Action – an initiative that began this summer as a simple call for help on Facebook and Twitter and then grew to a global organisation with a mission to save the Christians in Iraq and Syria from extinction by the hands of the Islamic State (ISIS / ISIL).
He told me one story after another: about the Christian man who found the photo of his kidnapped wife on a Jihadi sex site with ”wives for sale”; he told me about the family being forced to leave their daughter to the Islamic terrorists or having the whole family executed; he told me about the mother who had found the blown-up face of her son on a tree and refused to leave it even though the ISIS Jihadists were coming closer.
In the 1950s when Richard Wurmbrand and thousands with him were imprisoned and killed within the Soviet Union they struggled with how to give the world knowledge about the horrors behind the Iron curtain.
Today that is not the problem. ISIS might be cruel but they have no possibility to stem the modern flow of information. We have seen it all on TV and on the Internet: the beheadings, the crucifixions, the kidnapping of women, the forced conversions, the mass executions – and the ISIS-fighters themselves presenting their twisted world view on YouTube.
In 1964 Richard Wurmband went to Congress to get attention, not for himself but for the thousands of others still imprisoned.
When I spoke with Nuri Kino he told me that after he felt that the suffering of Christians were being ignored by most established media and politicians, even though A Demand For Action did everything they could to get their attention, he felt that he just had to go to the United States. And so he did.
Almost 50 years after Richard Wurmbrand’s testimony about Christians suffering behind the Iron Curtain, Nuri Kino and A Demand For Action went to Capitol Hill to hold a press conference about the plight of Christians in the Middle East (It can be found here and is a press conference I recommend everyone to watch). They were accompanied by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky from Illinois 9th Congressional District and asked the world to establish a safe zone in Iraq where Christians and other minorities could live and also be defended. Afterward they were invited to visit President Obama’s staff at the White House.
There is a reason why people like Richard Wurmbrand and Nuri Kino looks towards the United States for help.
Good people are not confined to cultures or nations – they exist everywhere. But good nations do not exist everywhere and no other nation cares as much about suffering people around the world as the United States.
When a tsunami strikes in Eastern Asia, the American government engages and Americans give willingly to charity. When a nuclear plant breaks down in Fukushima or an earth quake strikes Haiti – the American military is the first to respond. When Aids or Ebola breaks out in Western Africa, American help organisations take the lead. And when totalitarian regimes of different forms arise to cover their nations in darkness – the United States is the first nation willing to take up arms to defend and save others.
There is no other nation or international or transnational organisation even close to matching the force for good America is in the world.
Left wing academics obsessed with class theories and colonialist discourses might not believe that. Those who identify with suffering people all over the world know that to be true: whether their names are Richard Wurmbrand behind the Iron Curtain in the 1950s or Dalai Lama under the shadow of Communist China early this century or Nuri Kino representing suffering Christians in the Middle East today.
Later that night, after Nuri Kinos visit to the White House, President Obama gave a speech against ISIS and used the words the Demand For Action team themselves had used when describing the situation for the Christians in Iraq, when he said: “We cannot allow these communities to be driven from their ancient homelands”.
By doing that the United States government once again had allowed the voices of the truly oppressed to be heard. But America did more than just offering sympathy – they acted. You acted.
American air raids made ISIS halt its advancement. And you once again showed that when other nations fail, suffering people still can count on the help and the friendship of the United States of America.
The battle isn’t over – far from it. Christians, Yezidis and others are in desperate need for aid and protection – and the Islamic State is not yet defeated. And in the world we live in moral clarity and the best of intentions also have a political reality to consider. This is struggle that will take time.
But the United States have listened – and once again shown the world that they won’t turn their back on peoples in need. Because of that people all over the world are truly grateful. So please, keep your light shining.
(PS. I do not represent A Demand For Action. These are simply my personal reflections and my effort to make the world remember the suffering Christians and other minorities of our own time.)
Ronie Berggren lives in Sweden, studies religious history and blogs daily about American politics (in Swedish) at American News Analysis and is currently working on a Swedish book about the presidency of George W. Bush.