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My new Rohingya friend, Mary (not her real name) walked with me through a camp full of destitute people. “Children don’t just suddenly know how to hate,” she said as she maneuvered between the mass of children and others who were following us, eager to know what we were up to.

“Children have to learn how to hate from others,” she said with a conviction that was strong enough to stop anybody who dared disagree. “There were children in my neighborhood who were our friends, who treated us with respect and spoke to the elders politely.” Suddenly they noticed a change. The children would speak  in a derogatory way to the Rohingya elders. They would act as if they did not know them, or, at least like they despised them. “These children did not just one day decide to hate us,” said Mary. “The adults around them trained them to…

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A number of friends of mine, all fellow alumnae of my university, have been posting this video today. Anderson Cooper asks Jennifer (another alumna) and Matt Hubbard, who attend St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown, Connecticut, how they are dealing with the death of their six year-old daughter, Catherine Violet.

I wanted to share it as well. Though it doesn’t relate directly to persecution, it does deal with how we process unexpected and senseless death. Personally, I can relate to the decision to honor a loved one by choosing to remember them with joy. I have also heard similar sentiments expressed again and again over the years from people who have seen loved ones murdered for their faith.

Pray for this family and others like them, thanking God for their faith and testimony. Their hope and joy is evident, and in some ways they make it sound easy, but as they say at the beginning, their life has changed irrevocably and can only, at times, be handled hour by hour or minute by minute.

Click this link to watch the Hubbards tell Anderson Cooper why they have hope.

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Updated to share that I’ve just come across an open letter written by Catherine’s mother which is worth reading as well.

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I wrote something! I really, really wrote something!

Please excuse my giddiness… after a couple of rather long years (longer than they should have been) I am finally able to announce the publication in electronic version of the biography of my good friend, Julio Cusihuaman Ccorahua.

Julio was my first ever “case” at CSW; a case which turned quickly into a life long friend, and gave me a new Peruvian family. He and his wife call me sister and named me goddaughter to their beautiful daughter Candy, an honor which still overwhelms me.

I met Julio in a remote Peruvian prison more than ten years ago. He was innocent of the charges against him and we were sure he’d be getting out, but a year later I returned to only to find him still inside. We toured the maximum security prison with him as he introduced us to brother after brother… all members of the church he’d planted during his time as a prisoner. We laughed together, prayed together, sang together and I still clearly remember the emotional disconnect it was to walk out of that place, heavy metal doors slamming shut behind us, leaving him behind. I carry an image in my memory of his face, behind dark metal bars in a tiny window, smiling at us, as he called to us to remind us to pray for him, his family and his ministry.

He is without a doubt one of the most impressive and at the same time, most humble, people I’ve ever met.

If you want to be inspired, need a story to help you put your own life in perspective, are looking for a good (cheap) gift for a friend or yourself, please consider buying this book. We’ve kept the price low in the hopes that more people will read it; for the same reason, it’s also available for free rental if you are a member of Amazon Prime. All proceeds will go to support Julio’s ministry. If you’re wondering, yes, they’re still poor and living at or below the poverty line, yet he and his wife are dedicated to this taxing but rewarding work, so everything helps.

*Please note that this is a true story, and as such deals with some difficult themes. There are scenes involving torture and other severe human rights atrocities. They aren’t gratuitous but they are honest – so it’s probably a good idea to exercise some caution when sharing with younger readers. I’m not necessarily of the mind that teenagers shouldn’t read it (quite the opposite, as I think it might challenge them to think about some of the injustices in the world and what they can do about it), but I do think it might be a good idea for the adult in their life to read it first in order to be able to discuss some of these issues and events with them.

The link and the book description are below – please read, review, recommend. Thank you and a very very Merry Christmas to you!

A Light in the Darkest Corner

The extraordinary and inspiring story of a young man raised in poverty and violence in the highlands of Peru, A Light in the Darkest Corner, is the testimony of Julio Cusihuaman Ccorahua. After his father died from complications related to alcoholism and his mother spiraled into addiction, Julio and his chronically ill sister were left to fend for themselves in the town of Ayacucho, the epicenter of Shining Path terrorist violence. As a teenager he was falsely accused of terrorism, tortured and imprisoned but after a miraculous escape, Julio fled to the city of Lima where he followed his parents’ example, immersing himself in alcohol and parties to bury his pain and anger. A young woman helped lead him to Christ and later became his wife. The pair started a family and a vibrant new ministry only to be hit by a series of tragedies. In 1999, Julio found himself in prison again facing the same false charges as before but this time with a wife, two small children and mounting debts. Instead of succumbing to bitterness, Julio realized God had brought him to a new mission field. Putting aside agonizing questions about his future and the welfare of his family, he began to share Christ’s love with the most despised and rejected of all society, working to transform a nation from the bottom up by bringing God’s light to some of the darkest places on earth.

Isaiah 14:3 “In that wonderful day when the Lord gives his people rest from sorrow and fear, from slavery and chains…”

I’ve heard it said, again and again, that Colombia is a land of contrasts. It is a place of fabulous wealth and riches, where at least 4.5 million internally displaced people live in abject poverty. It is a country of stunning natural beauty and the backdrop for horrifically ugly acts of violence. A country that every year tops the “Global Happiness Index”; whose people love to smile and laugh and dance, that has literally only known a couple of years of peace in its two hundred year history.

When the only thing that you’ve ever known, or that your parents or grandparents have ever known, is violence; when bloodshed becomes so deeply engrained in a nation’s culture, how do you hang on to a faith in a God who promises peace? How do you go a step beyond that, to preach it, to teach it, especially when the men of violence all too often rise up and kill those who do so?

These are the questions I ask myself every time I visit Colombia and they were brought home again when, the week before we were to visit Southern Cordoba with a group of supporters, I received the news that another young man had been killed. He was the cousin and close friend of our partner, Pedro, who was to act as our host, and the brother of a young man I know well. Pedro, who heads up our documentation project in the Atlantic Coast region, has seen multiple members of his family killed over the past few years even as he documents the ongoing assassinations of and threats against church leaders, most of whom he knows and personally supports, in the region. Even so, he carries on through the sorrow, the pain of loss, and anger at the injustice and apathy of the government – and every time I see him I wonder how he does it, where he finds the strength or the will to continue hoping in the God we both believe in.

I’ve known personal loss and I experience some of the anxiety and pain that comes with doing this kind of work and seeing so many good men and women of God persecuted and killed for their faith. But I do this and experience this from a desk in Brussels and visits to the field a few times a year. I have the luxury of attending church on Sunday and not having to worry that an armed group will storm in and murder the pastor and two small children in front of me as happened earlier this year in Northern Colombia. Unlike Pedro, or Jairo, or all of our other partners in Colombia, I can do this work each day with the assurance that it is unlikely that I and my family are being watched and followed, my e-mails and phones are not being monitored, and I and my loved ones will probably not be killed because of the work I do. I have tried and I cannot imagine what it would be like to work in that environment; I cannot imagine holding onto hope, surrounded by such darkness and oppression.

And yet, every time I go I am struck by that Colombian contrast again – Pedro not only perseveres but he smiles and laughs and comforts others who are devastated by grief or overcome by fear. The family who lost their son/brother/cousin sang praises and applauded God through their tears at a Sunday service led by one of the supporters we brought. The two recent widows we met, one of whom lost her 9-year old daughter the same day as her pastor husband, smiled at their children and told me that their faith in God is what has kept them going.

This is a faith that defies what we see as reality. It is the faith that led Paul to declare that they were “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair”. It is a hope that is hard, even for me as a believer, to understand.

The Colombians often refer to the promises of the prophets. The world described by Isaiah, Micah, Hosea and the others is all too familiar to them – the anarchic, violent and divided Israel described by the prophets recalls their own situation. In the midst of darkness, violent hatred and despair they “lift their eyes up to the mountains” and look beyond the visible reality around them grasping hold of a different reality, a Hope, that I think they understand far better than many of us who have lived much of our lives in relative comfort.

Amazing how things can turn around in a week or so – and a good reminder of how God is much bigger than the petty details and can turn them all on their head. After a lot of hard work, particularly on the part of a very persistent organisational director and an incredibly kind and helpful embassy staff member, the visa, denied last week after a two month process, was granted in a matter of days. Our guest speaker, the wife of a pastor who disappeared two years ago, got on a flight the following day, and one day later was in London. It’s her first time outside of Colombia and she’s now touring the UK, speaking at churches and other Christian groups. I knew God could do it if He wanted to; I’m very grateful He wanted to.