I read an interview with the painfully inspirational Canon Andrew White a few days ago, where he revealed that last year he invited the leaders of the Islamic State for dinner. Despite the terrorists threatening to take Baghdad, the bow tie-wearing clergyman asked the enemy into his home. They RSVPd to say if he invited them they would chop his head off.
And his head has quite a price tag – beyond being crucial to White’s survival. Apparently IS are willing to pay $157 million to anyone who can kill him.
It’s the ultimate lesson of forgiveness, grace and love, and when I read through the article last week, it got me thinking about how I really need to become a nicer human being.
But then Friday happened.
Sitting at home with a glass of wine and my feet up after a long week of editing threads, I flicked over from Gogglebox to the news. Utter terror filled the screen. Screams, tears and blood. The reporters didn’t know just how many people had been killed or who had done this, but by 10pm on Friday, 13 November, Europe felt like a more dangerous place than it had been when we woke up that morning.
We all know the damage IS are causing in the Middle East and Africa, and if we’re honest, we can often allow ourselves to be slightly immune to the reports of the chaos they’re causing. Apart from the handful of British teenagers we hear of running away from home to join this war, IS wasn’t in Europe before, so we could block it out.
But now they’re here. They’re just across the channel and they’ve killed 129 people who look like us. They’ve killed people who work similar jobs to us, who like similar music, and spend their Friday nights in a similar way to how we spend ours. They’ve even affected the way we spend our weekends here, with plans being cancelled this weekend by many of my friends who feared similar attacks in the UK.
And then I think of the Vicar of Baghdad. He’s been shot at, kidnapped and once held in a room “littered with other people’s fingers and toes”. But he still loves the people causing this terror. He’s afraid of nothing. He takes those nice bits in the Bible – the ones that go on about loving our enemies, having no fear and turning the other cheek – and actually lives them out. I read those verses from the comfort of my secure home, with eyes that have never known a fraction of the atrocities his have witnessed, and promise to stop tutting when that man who always pushes in front of me to get a seat on the train does his thing tomorrow. Yet for White, it means inviting terrorists who want his head on a platter to dine at his table.
So it got us thinking at threads. While the whole world is praying, quite rightly, for the victims of Friday’s attacks and the loved ones they left behind, who’s praying for the Islamic State? Are you praying that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, thought to be the mastermind behind this attack and others, discovers the love of Jesus Christ and that the anger that fuels his fight thaws? Are you praying for those IS soldiers who want the Vicar of Baghdad’s head for £1 million? Are you praying for those planning attacks on people like us right now, that they will know the freedom we’ve found through our faith?
Jesus told us to love our enemies. After watching the news for the last three days, it will seem impossible to some. But we know that through this God we follow, the impossible becomes possible. Do keep on praying for Paris, but also remember we are called to love people who seem hard to love. As White told The Independent: “Sometimes the impossible can happen. If you want to make peace, you can’t just do it with the nice people. Nice people don’t cause the wars.”
Will you join with us? #PrayForYourEnemies