When Human Suffering Becomes a Spectator Sport

I wasn’t brought up a Seventh-day Adventist, nor a Christian of any denomination. As I grew up, I gained a yearning for church and at first attended the local Anglican down the road (when I was eight); then a Pentecostal church before my dad and I were invited to an SDA congregation. I knew this was the path for me: it was the only church that had consistent Biblical doctrine and I learnt a lot from it. There were many things I found strange about the church at first: the women didn’t wear jewellery or trousers; no one stood during song service; there weren’t any crosses or ornaments around the sanctuary. Doctrinally, there were many things different–and it was the first time I had joined a millenarian movement.

Of course, as an Adventist I look forward to the Second Coming and all that, but I’ve found that as the years go on, I’m left feeling greatly disappointed with the overall tone of church members regarding the ‘signs of the times’. We all know that the world has gone crazy: war after war; unprecedented murder; child abuse in every dark corner; women getting abused; gangs everywhere, coldness and bitterness and sadness and anger at every turn. But at what point of one’s Spiritual Walk do such phenomena become yet another ‘sign’ to cross-out on a Revelation checklist? In general, whenever something terrible happens in the world to make it into the papers, it’s all the biggest news at church the following week–not because everyone wants to set up a donation pool or a campaign to help, but because everyone’s excited about the Good Lord giving us all signs towards the end. They treat these events as if it’s all part of an action film.

There are people suffering out there. Children are getting killed and maimed in Syria; women in Afghanistan are self-immolating to get away from their abusive lives; Female Genital Mutilation is still a major problem in many countries all over the world; people in the UK–a developed country–are dying in this recent cold snap because they have no money to pay the heating bill, all due to monetary corruption and selfish governments; entire families were wiped out during the Japan earthquake; the earthquake in Haiti and the 2004 Tsunami. And all people can say is ‘these are signs of the times’??

Where is your heart? Has Christ not had any impact on your life that these events don’t cause you to cry out and try to do something to help them?

I’m reminded of a well-known text that pretty much all Sign Watchers recite whenever these things come on the television, as their way of warning their friends (who are totally on their way to H.E.L.L. by the way–shhhh!) just how close Jesus is:

And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.

Matthew 24:12

Have we as a church become so desensitised to human suffering that we no longer have any feelings of compassion towards our fellow humans? Our eyes glued to the televisions screens, verging on voyeuristic as we watch childless mothers wail to the cameras…

Here’s another one that I thought about this week, one that had a whole new meaning for me whilst pondering this subject (which also happens to be the number one text people use to signal the End):

This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.

For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,

Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,

Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;

Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

–2 Timothy 3:1-5

Such people who spend all their time sensationalising human suffering all for the sake of preparing for the Great Return are certainly only ‘lovers of their own selves’. They’ve completely missed the point of what Christ did whilst he was on this earth. These people are in danger of salivating at all the signs so much that they never get right with God and miss the opportunity to actually make it to Heaven. Being aware of the signs is all well and good, but so long as you don’t get a bad attitude whilst doing it.

I had a long chat with two of my closest friends the other day and we realised just what a sorry state we’re in, as a church.

  • The members of the Salvation Army are known world-wide for aiding the suffering and those in-need.
  • The Red Cross was formed by Christians of other denominations.
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons are known for their evangelism and missionary work.
  • Pentecostals are known for their fiery conviction; their willingness to pray for anyone and their unwavering belief in the power of prayer.

What are Adventists known for? That we used to be people of the Book.

Sad, sad, sad!

It’s my earnest prayer that I use my life to help others. I don’t witness or door-knock or share my faith because it’s ‘my duty’, but because there are people out their hurting and they need to hear peace and hope and comfort! The majority of the world is sitting on the train tracks with a freight train headed right towards them, and I have the means to divert that train. Even if they reject God, at least I can say that I did all I could for them. We need to have the love for humanity that Christ did, that deep love that allowed him to hang on the Cross whilst being spat and jeered at, knowing all along that he was dying for those exact people.

We can’t treat the world like cardboard pieces, as if other people’s lives mean nothing, and then wonder why they don’t want to come to our church.

‘Feed my sheep’ says the Lord.

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I’ve bored my male friends silly with my talk about women’s rights and whatnot. It’s not that they don’t care or anything, but I think they know that talk is cheap. I have such strong views, but what am I doing to make a difference, to help women in those positions that truly breaks my heart?

A few years ago I watched a Dispatches documentary about women in Afghanistan living under Taliban rule. These women were forced to wear burqas—even to the point where their eyes had to be covered—they were beaten by their husbands, they couldn’t work or be educated, and even being spotted in their homes by another man without appropriate cover meant severe punishment. These women were so hurt that they were self-immolating. There was an eighteen year old in a forced marriage who had attempted the same on a busy high street, but was rescued and doused with water by onlookers. The camera crew visited her in hospital, all bandaged and weak, and my stomach dropped. The girl looked dead inside, as if her soul had gone. It was after watching this documentary that I decided to start my own charity.

There’s so many things happening in the world against women, so there was a lot of think about: what would my charity do? What section of women’s inequality should I tackle? I did lots of research and found that there are already charities helping women in the Middle East and ones that set up schools for young Afghan girls; I know that there’s rape crisis centres rapidly being established in the Congo and other parts of Africa where war rape and incest is rife, so I decided to look into the areas of violence against women that aren’t being addressed.

Cue another documentary, Panorama this time, about asylum seekers and refugees who try—by any means necessary—to escape their war-torn and dangerous countries to get into the UK. It was  a very sad documentary and made me thankful that I was already born and raised here. There was a trio of college lads who had literally left Afghanistan in just their t-shirts and jeans and ended up on the borders of Europe in the middle of winter, shivering, with just a plastic sheet between them to keep warm.

There was a woman on this documentary who left Africa after her husband was killed. She had her two young daughters with her, trying to get into the UK. There’s a part of the asylum seeker’s journey that’s dangerous—rogues operate in the area and use exploitative means to provide transport for people to get on to the next country.

You know where I’m going, right?

Yes, the woman was raped by these poachers and they molested her nine-year-old daughter. As the woman told her story to the reporter, she and the camera crew were in tears. That’s when it struck me: women who are homeless, or coming into this country poor and broken—and their children—are in danger. It’s more dangerous for women to be on the streets than men and women asylum seekers won’t only be exploited on their way into this country, but a lot of them find themselves in human trafficking rings once they’ve arrived.

So I want to start up a charity that helps homeless and vulnerable women and their children.

It’s going to take a lot of prayer, and it’s something I don’t actually have the time to tackle at the moment, what with university and assignments, but I’m hoping that with God’s help and a lot of patience, this idea can become a reality.

Stop thinking, Baker, and start doing.

xXx