Don’t misunderstand me – an organisation that has systematically tortured and slaughtered thousands of people across the Middle East, that practises rape, sex trafficking and forced marriage on a massive scale is an atrocity, and not a group I want any part of.
But that’s not what these girls see as they board planes into conflict zones, saying goodbye to loving families and bright futures. They see adventure. They see a chance to play a part in something that matters; something that’s bigger than themselves.
When you start to dig into it, that’s a desire everyone can understand. Whether it’s Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or the Hunger Games, we love stories of people who thought they were ordinary, but found themselves on an adventure, in a battle of good against evil, where the part they played mattered. And haven’t all of us daydreamed about the day when our own Gandalf or Hagrid would visit, or when our own ‘reaping’ would come, and it would be time to step up and take our place?
The thing is – it has. The moment we decided to follow Jesus, we became part of an adventure that spans the fullness of time – a battle of angels and demons, giants and kings. And the stakes couldn’t be higher. We’re fighting for the fate of the whole earth, for the eternity of every person we meet, whether in person or in prayer. The trouble is, it can be easy to forget that when there’s an overdraft to pay off, 6am trains to catch, and managers to impress.
But we are part of God’s plan to save a hurting world that doesn’t know Him; a world where poverty, injustice and abuse continue. Our part in that might not always seem particularly heroic; it might mean sacrificing a lie in to go to a prayer meeting, being kind to the guy at work that people avoid, spending less on a holiday so we can support someone who needs it. But a thousand small choices do make a difference, like the many tiny snowflakes that together form an avalanche. These are the weapons we need to wield: love, kindness, generosity and prayer.
Aqsa Mahmood left Glasgow for Syria in November 2013 and has married an IS fighter. Last year she wrote in a blog: “Most sisters I have come across have been in university studying courses with many promising paths, with big, happy families and friends, and everything in the Dunyah [material world] to persuade one to stay behind and enjoy the luxury. If we had stayed behind, we could have been blessed with it all from a relaxing and comfortable life and lots of money. Wallahi [I swear] that’s not what we want.”
Ecclesiastes tells us that God has “set eternity in the human heart”, and every person can feel it; they know that they were made for more than just a relaxing and comfortable life. Let’s not leave it to IS to offer people the chance to play their part in something greater – however much we may disagree with their definition of ‘greater’. We need to fight for the world that God loves – and open up the invitation to join the adventure.