The courage to speak out

September 5, 2019 by Isaac Six in Advocacy

Within 72 hours of landing in the United States, Esther, a young woman from Nigeria, was standing in the Oval Office next to the president of the United States. It was supposed to be a quick meeting, with just a few short minutes available for one or two of the many survivors of religious persecution standing in the room to share their story.

Then, unexpectedly, the president kept the meeting going, turning to talk with each survivor, one at a time. When he turned to Esther, she introduced herself, shook his hand, and explained that she had escaped from Boko Haram. He took a moment to empathize, thanked her and then turned to the next survivor to hear their story.

The entire exchange between Esther and the president took less than a minute, but as I watched the interaction later, I couldn’t help but be struck by the incredible courage of this young woman. You see, Esther had never before traveled outside of Nigeria. She had never been to the United States, and until a few days before the meeting took place, she had never been on an airplane. Esther speaks Hausa and knows only a little English.

As is the case with many meetings with the president, details were not released in advance for security reasons, so Esther had only a few minutes notice before she walked into the Oval Office. Yet when the moment came for her to speak, with cameras and microphones from the world’s largest media outlets pointed in her direction and the attention of the president, his staff, and all of her fellow survivors on her, Esther didn’t hesitate. She spoke clearly and boldly, as did many of the other survivors at the White House that day. I have worked in Washington for the better part of a decade and have conducted hundreds of media interviews. Yet I know I have hesitated over far less.

At the second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C., Esther and persecuted believers worldwide shared their stories with President Trump.

Virtue at the testing point

Of course, in one sense, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Esther escaped from one of the world’s most notorious terrorist groups by walking through a forest for three days without food or water. She was also seven-months pregnant. Once free, Esther refused to bow to the pressures of her community to give up her child, risking losing all support for giving birth to Rebecca, her beautiful daughter. Still, many of us can attest to the fact that being courageous in the past doesn’t necessarily make the next challenge easy. Each new test requires us to again find our courage, and to act when the moment is right.

C.S. Lewis, in his 1942 masterpiece The Screwtape Letters, notes that “courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.” In other words, it’s easy to talk about virtues and principles and “standing up for what’s right,” but it’s only when we’re tested that we truly learn if we have these virtues—and if we have the courage to act on these virtues when under the greatest pressure.

In recent weeks, Open Doors USA has been called on repeatedly to be a witness on behalf of the persecuted. David Curry, Open Doors USA’s CEO, has testified before Congress and met with Vice President Mike Pence twice to discuss the intense challenges that followers of Jesus are facing globally. We’ve engaged in behind-the-scenes conversations with key senators and staff from Congress, the State Department, and at the White House to help launch initiatives that will lead to real impact on the ground for persecuted communities. In all of these conversations, we know that our calling is to speak the truth, kindly and in love, but to speak it plainly, regardless of how hard that truth may be for some to hear.

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Following their example

I’ll be honest. Sometimes, we hesitate. We know what we’re saying is hard; and often what we’re asking others to do on behalf of the persecuted is even harder. We’re asking for valuable time and resources to be sacrificed for a cause we believe to be greater than any of us, and we’re aware that this cause is not always popular with some. Yet it’s the example set by the persecuted themselves that inspires us. If, at the “point of highest testing,” those like Esther find the courage to speak—regardless of how powerful the listener may be or how many other challenges they have had to overcome to get there—how can we not do the same?

The answer is simple: we must speak. We are bound, both by calling and by the example of the persecuted themselves, to speak in support of our family of faith. I know that many of you reading this have spoken out yourselves. Thank you! Thank you for finding the courage to speak, and for supporting those like Esther and the many others who have set an example for us I hope we will not soon forget.

Isaac Six serves as director of advocacy for Open Doors USA and is based in Washington, D.C. He has worked on religious freedom issues and Christian persecution in Washington for nearly eight years, including inside and outside of government, and has traveled extensively to meet with victims of religious freedom violations around the globe.

Top photo: Nigerian believer Esther met with U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen.

Praying for Open Doors' advocacy efforts

Pray for us as we think strategically and lay the groundwork for projects that will gain momentum in the fall. Please pray for wisdom as we develop these projects and for key leaders in Washington, D.C. to be receptive as we launch new initiatives this month.

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