During this time of the COVID-19 outbreak I have spent a lot of my sermon preparation looking at stories of other folks and how they endured crises. In fact, this has been one of the things I have encouraged each of you to do this as well - to look for stories from people you know, from others you find out about, and from your own lives as a way of sustaining you during these times.
Recently I came across the story of Loung Ung, a Cambodian-born American human-rights activist and lecturer. She is the national spokesperson for the Campaign for a Landmine-Free World. Maybe a few of you already know of Loung’s great work; but I did not.
I discovered the following about her.. Loung was born in Cambodia, the sixth of seven children and the third of four girls. At ten years of age, she escaped from Cambodia as a survivor of what later became known as “the Killing Fields” during Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime. After emigrating to the United States and adjusting to her new country, she wrote several books related to her life experiences between 1975 and 2003. Her first book is titled: First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers.
After learning that little bit about her, I found an interview she gave. She shared more about her life. I was horrified to her how as a little girl she watched as two of her sisters, both of her parents, and at least 20 more of her relatives were captured, tortured, and killed during the Khmer Rouge genocide. They of course were only a small fraction of the estimated two million other Cambodian victims of this holocaust.
Loung says she was blessed to survive – she saw and witnessed brutalities no one should ever have seen, much less a child. After arriving in the US, Loung and several remaining family members have, with the help of supportive communities, been able to create a new life for themselves here; but they have never forgotten what they went through.
However, the thing amazes me the most is that Loung still believes life is beautiful and hopeful despite all the suffering she has seen and the loss she has endured.
She states that given her background, given all she was exposed to in her young life, given all of the heartbreak and horror, it is a miracle she came through it as well as she did, because there was every chance, in the worst of it all that she just as easily could have become a killer. But instead, she chose to become a human rights activist.
As I read more and more about her, I discovered that when this remarkable woman had the chance to either destroy life or be indifferent toward others, she made the purposeful decision to give to others—even those who might have at one point been considered the enemy. She has not forgotten the past—indeed those memories will always be with her—but she is seeking to honor those who were lost by acts of kindness and generosity as opposed to revenge.
However, she does not take credit for this because of her own actions, but says it is because she has been sustained by a community which has provided both physical support including food, water and shelter as well as spiritual support and inspiration. Loung said, “whether you’re a writer, or a factory worker, or a mother, or a father, all of you inspire me.”
Loung continued by revealing that when she left her homeland and arrived in her new home, she knew that she somehow wanted to live a full and whole life. That she intended to “live as a fully human being.” That she needed to honor the ones who gave her life and died protecting her. It was the only gift she had to give. She also wanted to give back in gratitude to those who had saved her from her own death.
As the interviewer note, Loung did this by “By being kind to herself, kind to her family, kind to the people around her.” In order to accomplish this, she has worked with the Campaign for a Landmine-Free World, becoming its spokesperson. She has traveled to Cambodia and Vietnam more than 40 times to advocate for the elimination and removal of landmines, both in Southeast Asia and around the world.
Her life story inspired me to consider how I respond to these difficult days.
Will I seek to respond with kindness and compassion?
Will I continue to live my life in ways that show my love for others—including strangers—such as staying home as much as possible and a wearing mask when it is not?
Will I, like Jesus, choose to love God and to love whoever is standing right in front of me at any given time?
How will I choose to live my life?
How will I choose to love?
When Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, he offered these words:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
Loung’s story, along with many others, shows me how to live out these instructions to be a follower of Christ. They inspire me in so many ways and I hope you too find stories that inspire you, including the stories of faith from the Biblical texts.
We all have lots of questions to consider, both now and in the future, but I pray that we will all seek kindness, love mercy, and walk humbly with God in all we do, rather than not looking to your our interests but looking to the interests of the others.
If we do this, we will certainly bring joy not only to the Apostle Paul but to our God as well.
Have a great week.