With 273 mass shootings happening at places like concerts, schools and churches in 2017—the deadliest year for mass killings in the U.S. in more than a decade—it is not surprising that many Americans are filled with fear. Everyday moments, like putting a child on the school bus or attending a public sporting or music event, can induce fear as we imagine the negative things that could happen any given day. Many of us now carry new worries: What can we do to curb this increasing violence in our world? Will we be able to keep our loved ones safe?
Because Open Doors works in 60 of the world's most oppressive countries for Christians, I regularly interact with people who have long faced these same gut-wrenching questions.
Just days ago, for instance, I spoke with a Christian living in Pakistan. His community, which is surrounded by Islamic-extremist rebels, has been jolted by the attacks on innocent people at a church in Quetta, Pakistan. While still reeling from the tragedy, he was able to express emotions like gratitude, love and a deeper sense of what was precious and valuable in his own life.
Most surprising to me, this Pakistani living under harassment and danger expressed concern for my family and friends who were exposed to the wildfires in California.
This sort of perspective is not unique to just one individual either. Wherever I have traveled to visit beleaguered Christians—in Egypt after attacks on churches, in Africa after the slaughter of innocent Christian students, in refugee camps with Syrian Christians who had just escaped ISIS—I have been astonished that they are some of the most joyful I have met.
They show me time and time again that although violence, pain, fear, heartache, turmoil and worry are a part of the human experience, so too are hope, optimism, triumph, bravery and perseverance. And they inspire me to believe that society can resist those who use fear and terror as weapons to steal our joy and diminish our ability to live full, vibrant and productive lives.
Despite the somber statistics about violence around the world, I have learned a few lessons about fear and resilience from persecuted Christians who live under constant threat. And I have come to believe these people groups have something important to share about how to find joy in the midst of great uncertainty and find peace in the midst of war.
First, stand up for what is right. Many Christians I have met, all around the world and in many challenging circumstances, are emboldened by their faith and by wanting to stand for their right to be Christians. Religious liberty and pluralism are under attack around the world. Christians in the Middle East, Ysidis in Iraq and Rohingga in Myanmar—among others—all face persecution for their beliefs. However, these struggles give them renewed purpose and focus on what is right and just—that everyone should have the right to worship freely and without fear of attack for their faith.
Perhaps we as Americans could learn from this. Is it possible we have detached from a greater sense of purpose? That we have become so busy pursuing material things, immersed in the ephemeral of social media and the internet, that we have become simultaneously easily outraged and lulled into a passive posture for our life? In 2018, let's resolve not to just let life happen, but to actively stand and work for what we believe.
Second, know what is important. Too often violence pushes us to close our doors, add more locks and cameras and set our phone notifications to alert us to any update on the latest bad news. Attacks and terror should push us make greater connections with those we love and care about, and increase our desire to make a difference in the lives of others.
Lastly, build spiritual strength. On a recent visit with Iraqi Christians just returning home to the Nineveh plain near Mosul, they shared how prayer, daily visits to church for Mass and singing beautiful and joyful songs to God helped them stay focused in the darkest of hours. We often forget how important the inner part of our existence is, yet it is the fundamental part of building resilience in a world so full of pain.
Dale Carnegie once said that inaction breeds fear and doubt. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy—we have the power to create change; it starts with each of us. I encourage everyone to remember the lessons from my international friends and take heart. We do not know what 2018 will bring, but together we can have hope.
David Curry is the president and CEO at Open Doors USA, a global advocate for persecuted Christians that works in the most restrictive and oppressive countries for Christians.
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