I just finished reading possibly my favorite book of the last several years: I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai. Think of her as the Katniss of the Middle Eastern world.
I cannot imagine a better contrast of the depravity of humanity, and the impact of one courageous person. Malala was raised in a culture which did not value women, especially the education of women. She loved to learn, was admittedly “bookish,” and enjoyed competing to be at the top of her class. Her own father was an outspoken advocate for education (even for girls) in Pakistan, owning and running several schools himself.
Then everything changed. The Taliban slowly and subtly took over in her area of the country, and the results were horrifying. She writes of beheadings in the street, public floggings of both men and women, bombings every night, and – even worse, she says – they shut down the schools. She tells the terrifying details of evil infiltrating the everyday. I simply could not believe what I was reading. Everything in me cried out for justice and hope and this is not as it should be.
“All this happened and nobody did a thing. It was as though everyone were in a trance.” (Malala, kindle location 1433-34)
“Some people are afraid of ghosts, some of spiders or snakes – in those days we were afraid of our fellow human beings.” (Malala, kindle location 1934-36)
One day Malala went with her family to the beach. It was the first time she had seen the ocean, and her father noticed she seemed far away as she sat staring out over the horizon. “I sat on the rocks and thought about the fact that across the water were lands where women were free.” (Malala, kindle location 2525-26)
On her way home from school one day, Malala, at age 15, was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban in October 2012.
October 2012. Not even two years ago.
Since then, she has miraculously healed and is now living in England, unable to return to her beloved homeland. She has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Price, her book almost won a Pulitzer, and she spoke to the United Nations on her sixteenth birthday last July.
I cannot believe I didn’t know more of the story before. Her narrative comes with dates and times- dates I specifically remember in my own life:
- 2005: Maulana Fazlullah [notorious Taliban leader; still at large] starts [propaganda] radio in Swat [the name of the valley Malala called home]
- 2005: I graduate from high school
- 2007-2009: Taliban extend influence across Swat
- 2007-2009: I complete my sophomore and junior years of college. I work at a Christian camp in the summers.
- 15 January 2009: Fazlulla announces all girls’ schools to close in Swat
- January 2009: I begin my final semester in college, and begin to plan a trip for the following semester abroad in Australia
- 12 October 2012: Malala shot in the head by the Taliban
- October 2012: I begin interviewing for a new job in Dallas. Our family has recently begun the adoption process for James and Betty, two people I only know by names and one picture, living in the far away nation of Uganda.
This is what I love about writing. Stories like Malala’s humanize the news. I’m simultaneously amazed and thankful for the bravery of one young girl; the impact she has had worldwide is enormous.
There is deep depravity in the hearts of people, and only Jesus can bring hope and healing to our hearts. The light only comes through Him (John 14:6), and I know the light of Christ beats out the darkness. The darkness will not overcome it (John 1:1-12).
However, I fear we have forgotten the depravity of humanity. I often get so wrapped up in my small life (the psalms call it “but a breath“), and I don’t think about what’s happening one house over, or certainly not one ocean over. I don’t think about the hope I have, that same one others desperately need.
Often I think stories like Malala’s are so far off, so distant, and that nothing like that could ever happen in my backyard. But then, I’ve read about the genocide in Rwanda, when people slaughtered their own neighbors and friends with dirty machetes by the thousands. I’ve studied Nazi Germany, where one of the most educated countries in the world committed history’s most wicked crimes. The truth is, it could happen anywhere.
I pray we believers will be people who follow Jesus daily, and in the following we will love our neighbors as ourselves, and intentionally pray for the world. How shall we pray for the world? Read the news. Know the stories. Read Malala’s book (it’s fantastic). Grab a copy of Operation World to reference from your coffee table. Take a trip overseas. Adopt a missionary to support and consistently keep in prayer. (I’ve got some suggestions if you’re looking!) Take a Perspectives class. Pray for those 276 girls who were abducted and sold into marriages just this week in Nigeria. (I can’t get their stories out of my head.) Study and support the work of International Justice Mission.
The world is smaller today than it has ever been, thanks to the technology we use more often to distract and entertain. Let’s courageously leverage it for freedom and light.