Christianity · silence

Bearing witness: Genocide and our refusal to do anything about it

Young displaced Iraqis wait for food distribution at a camp on the outskirts of Erbil. <i>Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum</i>
Young displaced Iraqis wait for food distribution at a camp on the outskirts of Erbil. Photo by: Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

When you are in a room talking about genocide, your world seems so small. I have been writing for a wonderful Christian paper, The Good News Florida for some time now, and it never ceases to amaze me when I look around at the place or person I have been assigned to cover. Sometimes the assignments seem monumental to me, mostly because I am a more verbose and often times complicated and poetic writer, and journalism requires more simplicity and grace. But assignment after assignment, the Lord has opened my eyes to the world around me. The Lord has shown me why my writing is important. And on days like today, I can only look up to the heavens and say, Father, I don’t know how I am going to accomplish this, but it’s your story so help me write it.

I’ve covered stories from Christian authors to bands to ministry events. Each assignment seems to broaden the horizon, a step further and God opens my eyes. From a journalist’s perspective, you not only want to tell the story, but you want to evoke the emotion of the people reading it, and for me, my personal God-given mission is to make people want to do something.

As we sit here, there are people dying. We have become so self-absorbed in our Western culture and myopic view of Christianity. I don’t believe we are all called to take on the role of missionaries but my God we are called upon to do something for a people who cannot speak for themselves. I felt so helpless in that room. While typing away on my top of the line computer, I was hearing about the mass genocide being perpetrated in northern Iraq  carried out by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS). Staff that traveled there from the United States Holocaust Museum and others went to document the crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing against various minority groups and perpetrated genocide against the Yezidi people. And the theme that kept being repeated was the importance of “bearing witness.” I couldn’t help but think of us as Christians, bearing witness to the world about the things Christ has taught us: forgiveness, love, charity, mercy and justice. I felt like a witness there myself. How will people know if we don’t speak? How can we as Christians remain silent? 

With thousands and thousands of displaced refugees, people being sold into slavery and mass killings, it pained me to think that these atrocities were not leading news. We here in the Western world are so consumed with ourselves and our goods and our comfortable lives that we could not possibly bear to look at the realities of what’s going on all over the world. The speaker reminded us of the story of the ship the St. Louis, traveling from war-torn Nazi Germany to Havana, Cuba. The ship had 937 Jewish people on it, all fleeing from the Third Reich. The United States and the Cuban government turned the ship away. It is estimated that a quarter of the ship died in Nazi death camps after being refused entry. Does any of this sound familiar?

It wasn’t so long ago that the United States refused entry to the Jewish people. We refused to help. And after waiting to long , six million Jewish people perished at the hands of Adolf Hitler. And genocide continues to be a reality across the globe. We run from it because its burden is too hard to bear and we can’t look at it. It could possibly interfere with our morning coffee and Facebooking. And as we rant and rave to shut down our borders and turn people away, maybe we should think about what happened during WWII. Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to get our news from someone else. Maybe we should research the issue ourselves. There are people dying as we speak and someone’s life may depend on it.

How could we as Christians be silent? As Jews be silent? I for one cannot sit back. I may not be able to travel to the places to hold the hands of those people, but I can write and tell people the truth. Are you uncomfortable with this? You should be. The images are horrifying. Yes, maybe it’s time to pray, to move, to act. Maybe it’s time to take down your political memes or uneducated judgment. These ethnic minorities are not just numbers, they are people, with lives and stories and families. They are people just like you and me. If we spent more time doing something and less time judging, people may say, look at those Christians, they are standing up for what’s right. They are not just cheap talk, they are doing something.

In this political climate and conundrum we find ourselves in, I implore you to seek the truth. People are not numbers, they are people. If the Islamic State can do it to them, what makes you think we’re not next. By then, it may be too late.



8 thoughts on “Bearing witness: Genocide and our refusal to do anything about it

    1. Me too. I have been thinking about it all night. I am starting on the piece I am writing for the paper I write for today but the words have been so difficult. I need others to be moved to do something, how can we sit idly by while another generation is suffering from mass genocide?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly… Some people just don’t get it. We’re just too busy living in our comfort zones, because we think it won’t happen to us. I had somehow forgotten that, too, until I read your post. NEVER AGAIN, can happen again, if we are not vigilant!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I have also been feeling this way for months. Early last fall I began to try to research how to “adopt” a refugee family. I know of a family in my church that took in a Cambodian refugee mother and her 4 children many years ago and became family to them. Their children and the Cambodian children were raised like siblings with the host family supporting the 4 Cambodian children to adulthood–including paying for private school and college for all 4. I think this is a beautiful example to follow. My husband and I began praying for a widowed mother and children to take in, but I am finding that the channels to connect with refugees are harder to find than I thought.

        In my search, though, I was blessed to discover that an old college friend of mine and her husband have been living in Iraq this past 4 years and are employed full-time by STEP to help refugees there. I was also connected to a woman in Cartersville, GA who is integrally involved (through Hands Extended) with a home in Iraq to help women who’ve been sexually trafficked by ISIS. She spends a part of her year there counseling these women and also providing winter care to displaced families living in abandoned buildings.

        It has been encouraging to me to discover these Christians serving on the ground where the need is so great. I think all of us comfortable American Christians need to be giving more to help alleviate the enormous suffering in the world…and certainly praying more, as well! I also think we should be reaching out more purposefully to the foreigners among us. But, you are right–we are so incredibly buffered, we forget the need or choose not to look. I’ve also written several posts about this, but even I find that the daily routine and my own family’s concerns so easily push the world’s problems out of my mind.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Such needed and wonderful thoughts. You can also connect with the Holocaust museum at My piece on the subject in The Good News Florida will also be coming out in March. I was so blown away by their work and my heart was to connect people with the issue and move their hearts to do something about it. If you do connect with them, let them know you heard about it through me so they know that the writing is impacting and moving people! My real name is Melissa Presser, I am with the Good News Florida

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