by Kely Staples
Here's something a friend of mine wrote recently. She's a brave girl. She lives in a place I've never been to. Sometimes it's scary.
Recently I've been thinking a lot about what it would be like to be beheaded. Not in a sullen teenager trying to be macabre, kinda way, but in a, this could happen and I wonder what it would be like, kinda way.
I think it's natural to separate yourself from disaster. Call it a superman complex or a fear of our own mortality, but I just don't like to believe something bad could happen to me. I think it's one of the reasons why people have such a strong inclination towards victim blaming. We want to believe there was something different, something unique, something preventable, about the victim and the situation that separates us from it. Then we can rest assured we are safe because we surely aren't that stupid, slutty, reckless, or whatever fill in the blank you want. This is why, when I see disasters or tragedies in the news I—either voluntarily or involuntarily—run through a list in my head of why it couldn't happen to me. Bad neighborhood, reckless driving, poverty stricken. Not me, not me, not me. The list saves me. It's a buffer between the dangers of the world and my sense of security. And then the list runs out.
About a week ago there was report of ISIS kidnapping a female aid worker a couple countries over from where I am. She's American, around my age, has a family back in America, and is serving in a country that’s very similar to mine and geographically very close. The gap between her and myself seems closer every time I think about it.
I don't know what to do with this.
I feel like she could be my friend. We could have coffee and talk about how crazy it is that we live where we do. We would then vent about how difficult Arabic is and laugh about the funny cultural things we never expected. I'd share how one of my friends told me not to walk on tile in bare feet because it would freeze my ovaries, and she would share something equally ridiculous. We would talk about the things we hate about our countries and the things we love; how hard it is to be away from friends and family, and even harder to explain to them why we left. I would understand her in a way most people can’t, how difficult it has been for her and how it’s changed her for the better. I think it would feel like I was looking in a mirror. There’s that strange bond you have with other expats. Even if you’ve just met, there’s an instant understanding, an instantly formed kinship.
And now she's dead.
Even though disasters in my part of the world are endless, I don't know how to separate myself from this one and it terrifies me.
I wish I could be a better missionary about all of this, trusting in God's sovereignty despite the bleak circumstances, forging ahead without a care in the world, and I have to admit, sometimes I do. But sometimes I just stuff the fear away because it’s easier. It’s easier to feel nothing because I’m running late to a meeting and frankly I don’t have time to be scared. And then it's 4am, I'm awake, and the fear comes back with a vengeance.
This is where I am right now, awake in the middle of the night. Afraid.
I’m thinking about that girl. I’m thinking about myself, wondering what it was like, being kidnapped. The uncertainty. Those final hours. Those final seconds. Was she scared? Was it different than she expected? Did she also, like me, wonder what it would be like? Did her pondering seem dumb in light of what the reality was? What it really felt like to be struggled into a car and see her future disappear in an instant?
I've only had my life threatened once while over here. It was a family member of a young woman I was training. She recently became a believer and there were members of her family that weren't too thrilled about it. An uncle stood in front of us and threatened to kill her, as well as me. He hit tables and walls, he was up close and personal, trying to intimidate. It was the first time I thought to myself this could get out of hand, quickly. But then something strange happened. I don't know if it was adrenaline, something's snapping in my brain, the Holy Spirit, or a combination of the three, but for some reason I wasn't afraid. Or maybe the fear left. Actually, I think it was replaced, that’s probably the best way to explain it. All of a sudden I had this confidence, bordering on cocky, about the Lord. To the point where, in my head, I said go ahead, try and kill us, see what Jesus will do. I don’t know how to explain it except to say that it was not from me; except to tell you that immediately after the situation calmed down and the Uncle left, my real self took over and I went and threw up in a squatty. That's apparently how I handle that kind of situation, but who that other person was? I don't know. All I know is in that moment, with a man violent in my face, I wasn't afraid.
I don't know what it would be like to be murdered or martyred, but I don't believe I would feel the same as I do right now, fearful, in the dark and small hours of the morning. I don't think I could handle martyrdom, not by myself. I would recant. I'm almost certain of it. At least this is how I'm feeling right now. And this is where the comfort is, realizing that if I ever get taken, find myself facing a small army wearing black, I will not feel the way I do right now. If the time comes the Holy Spirit will press in, because what Jesus says is true:
"And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say."
And maybe that takes its own kind of trust in the Lord, understanding that if the time comes, He will provide. He will provide the strength and the peace to override my own self. Maybe this is where I need to trust. Where I can trust, and the only thing that's going to let me to go back to sleep tonight.