“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
– Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz
I would consider my memory to be fairly decent. Recalling vocabulary words, people’s names, and movie quotes has always come to me with ease. However, an incident in the summer of 2009 made me realize something I had virtually forgotten all of my life.
I was seventeen years old and spending two weeks of my summer with members of my church teaching English to university students in China. The room in which we taught was a cramped office full of unadorned Chinese books, one electric turquoise couch, and the unpleasant smell of mildew and urine. The feature that caused the room to be nearly unbearable, though, was the lack of an air conditioning unit. The day of the incident, the students and my church group were leaving the office for lunch. I was thankful to have escaped from the lingering stench and stifling heat and enter the freedom of fresh air and a cool breeze. As I walked and improperly repeated the phrase ‘I don’t speak Chinese’ in Chinese, I noticed a man approaching our group. I would have thought nothing of this because the Chinese often drew near us wanting to practice their English and take our picture, but this man was wearing an army green button up shirt with small golden stars on his left shoulder, the outfit of a police officer.
The officer had an underlying impression of greed and corruption in his eyes as he spoke the foreign language. I stepped back as our translators began speaking with him, using their hands as much as their mouths to communicate. The discussion grew heated and one of our three translators insisted that we leave for lunch while the other two solve the indistinguishable problem. Confused, our group trotted down the cracked sidewalk while our new friends accompanied the unexpected stranger into the office. As we advanced further away from the office, I was bombarded by the imprisoning odor of two week old garbage and spoiled milk.
I was practicing with my chopsticks, with little success, when our translators arrived at the restaurant. Their faces were weighted with worry as they explained that the officer confiscated their teaching license because of our large group of foreigners. It was in that moment that the words of Dorothy resonated in my mind. My group and friends had done nothing illegal by our standards; however, my friends were being unjustly penalized by the government. We were no longer in the safety of our democratic nation, but rather in a distant land where the government could do as they pleased without explanation.
In the eighth grade, I studied American History and memorized names, dates, and the Bill of Rights. Like most eighth graders (and possibly most adult Americans), I thought I understood all that jazz about independence and unalienable rights, essentially all the things our forefathers deemed important enough to die for; but, looking back on it now, I truthfully had no concept of their true meaning. This incident caused me to appreciate the idea that so many Americans so easily forget: freedom. I took for granted our right to vote, our freedom of speech, our opportunity of a fair trial, and, most importantly in my opinion, our ability to openly worship.
I have the amazing privilege to worship the One True God whenever and wherever I please…but how many times a day, a week, a year do I simply forget this freedom or become too busy to notice? How often do I ignore the numerous blessings and resources to spread the gospel in this country while my brothers and sisters all over the world struggle to make it another day? And when/if they make it another day, they praise the Father and risk it all again to make his glory known to those around them. How many of my brothers and sisters have to meet in absolute secret and choose to stay for hours upon hours just to grasp another teaching in the Word? And how many of us meet publicly every Sunday and Wednesday with our air conditioned buildings, comfy lobby couches, youth rooms decked out with all the latest technology and games, fog machines and light shows to create the “right” atmosphere for worship, listen to our 45 minute sermon, and drive home? Where is the risk in that? Shouldn’t there be some sort of risk involved with faith?
Now, I am in no way saying we all should just sell everything and move overseas, but there should absolutely be an acknowledgement evident in my life of the thankfulness I have of where God has placed me. And with that placement comes outrageous responsibility to do something with the blessings I have received. I refuse to lead an irresponsible Christian walk. I refuse to squander this privilege. I refuse to take this freedom for granted. Like Jesus said in Luke 12:48 “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand more.”