Malala – an inspiring example of courage

The story of 15 year old Malala Yousafzai has touched the hearts of many people around the world. Malala lives in the Swat Valley in north Pakistan. In defiance of the rules imposed by the Taliban, Malala attended her father’s school, and encouraged other girls to do the same. On 9 October a Taliban gunman attempted to assassinate Malala as she was returning home on the school bus. She was very seriously injured and received emergency surgery in Pakistan before being flown to England. As a result of the expert care she has received at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham she is making an amazing recovery. We pray she will be fully restored.

For some years Malala has spoken for women’s rights within her community, and especially the right of girls to receive a school education. She is a remarkable example of outstanding ability and courage. Malala knew the risks she faced from violent men in her remote community yet she refused to be intimidated by them and be silent. She has spoken publicly, written a blog for the BBC and made a film to highlight the plight of girls growing up in the Swat Valley. This has brought her national and international recognition. The man who shot her was determined to silence her but, hopefully, his evil action will only hasten the day when all girls in Pakistan will be free to go to school and enjoy other freedoms.

During his ministry Jesus challenged the religious leaders of his day who were also imposing man made rules on people. They were more concerned about their own power and prosperity than they were about the people. Jesus was very different. Great crowds came to listen to him and he healed many people. Seeing his popularity growing the religious leaders decided to silence him. They brought false charges against him and handed him over to the Romans who ordered that he should be crucified.

How did Jesus respond to his enemies? He did not gather his followers together to fight and defend him. Instead he continued to speak the truth and did not retaliate. When he was dying on the Cross he prayed for his enemies, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” The Roman Empire fell many years ago, but today people of many nations continue to find new life through Jesus as they receive him as their Saviour and Lord.


The Example of a Courageous Man

Last week Shahbaz Bhatti was murdered by Taliban gunmen in Islamabad as he was being driven to work. He was Pakistan’s Minority Affairs Minister and the only Christian at the head of the federal government.  Mr Bhatti was a Catholic and came from a family of poor farm workers. Born in a small village, he was elected in 2008 to a seat reserved for Christians, the largest group in Pakistan’s non-Muslim population.

For some time he had been the subject of death threats because of his opposition to the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. He spoke up when a 45 year old mother of 4, Aasia Bibi, was sentenced to death because she had been accused of criticising Islam. Those who murdered Mr Bhatti said they killed him because he, too, was guilty of blasphemy.

A few weeks ago Mr Bhatti, who was 42, made a video which was found after his death. He spoke of the desire of  al-Qa’ida and Taliban militants to kill him because of his stand against the country’s blasphemy laws. He spoke of his campaign against sharia law and for the abolishment of the blasphemy law and his commitment to speak for the rights of the oppressed and marginalised, persecuted Christians and other minorities. He said. “I will die to defend their rights.”

The example of Mr Bhatti is a challenge to us all in a violent and intolerant world. He was a man who graciously held to his clear convictions. He was not afraid to stand up for what he knew to be right. He was not cowed into silence by the threats of violence against him and spoke out fearlessly for those who are being oppressed. He demonstrated love and kindness not only for his fellow Christians but also for all who were in need of help. He continued fulfilling his responsibilities as government minister despite the fact that no protection was provided for him. Mr Bhatti was a man of true strength and courage, whilst the gunmen who killed him were weak and cowardly.

Mr Bhatti said he was inspired by the example of Jesus, who was also killed because he spoke the truth.  Jesus did not retaliate when he was insulted. When he suffered, he did not threaten to get even. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. Mr Bhatti knew Jesus as his Saviour and was ready to live and, if need be, to die for him.



Compassion for those facing disaster in Pakistan

The floods in Pakistan have been devastating. They began more than two weeks ago in the mountainous north-west of Pakistan and have swept south across a quarter of the country including its agricultural heartland. The monsoon rains continue to fall and have affected 20 million people in an area the size of England.

At least 1500 people have died and diseases like cholera threaten the lives of many more, especially children. People have lost their homes and possessions, their animals and crops and face a very uncertain future. They need food, emergency shelters, medicines and clean water. The long term economic consequences for Pakistan are very serious. This disaster is the latest in a string of disasters this year that have affected millions of people in many parts of the world.

We live on a very beautiful planet which provides a rich abundance of natural resources, enough to provide for everyone. Yet in several ways we are reminded that all is not well. Disasters reveal the massive power of natural forces against which we feel helpless. Human sin and corruption spoil and mar the lives of many and often contribute to the effects of natural disasters.

Disasters are not a sign that the people who experience them are especially sinful. Many who suffer are young children. In the Bible we are told of the experience of Job, a very rich man who lived a righteous life. Yet he suffered great personal tragedy as he lost his crops, animals, home and all his children. In the face of this tragic loss he put his trust in God saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I shall depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

We often strive to understand why such things happen and want to find answers to our questions. The answers are at best tentative and partial. Job experienced something better. God didn’t answer all his questions, but he drew near to Job in his anguish and suffering. God showed him his compassion and mercy so that Job could say, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” Let us pray that those who are suffering so much today will not only receive the humanitarian aid they so desperately need but will also know the compassion and mercy of God.