‘If you are going to kill me, that is fine. It is better to be in God’s hands than in the wrong hands.”
Father Douglas Bazi, a Chaldean priest from Iraq, was recently in Washington, D.C., explaining to me some of what was going on in his head and his heart when Islamic terrorists kidnapped him and tortured him for nine days even before ISIS took over Mosul, where the people who today are in his care in Kurdistan fled from.
I can’t imagine that it’s possible not to be humbled meeting Father Bazi. What faith he and his people have! But he’s quick to insist: “If the same thing happened to you, I believe that you are going to be strong, more than us.”
“We are here,” he tells me. He is explaining that we all find ourselves in different situations, but any Christian has one way to live, whatever the circumstances. “This is the cost to be Christian. To follow Jesus is not just carrying the cross. Jesus was smart. He said: Carry the cross and follow. Follow means you have to go through your life and prove your faith in your life.”
And you can see by his attitude how important is the presence of Christians in the Middle East. They are not seeking revenge. They are not giving in to hatred. “We choose to love,” Father Bazi explains. You can see how this might be a leavening presence in the region.
“From my experience, when we are through the bad event or tragic experience, the only thing that can make us survive is faith. Because in that moment, you will not remember how many [degrees] you have. All the details that you may think right now are important to you will not pass in your mind The only thing you will remember is: Why am I here? What will be the next step? How can I stop my friends or family from suffering because of me?”
His words come from the days and nights he spent in captivity, four of them without water. Despite having his teeth knocked out with a hammer, his skin burned with cigars — you begin to get the picture — he remembers that he was never tempted to recant his Christianity or surrender in any way. His chief concerns were not for himself but for his family, who he knew would be worried about him. He did not want them to suffer.
“The challenges, the turbulence, push my people to be stronger every day. This is the strategy, how we survive.”
Yes, this is faith, he tells me. But this is how it is for anyone who claims to be Christian.
“Christianity,” he says, “is not some silly thing.” Christianity is real life. “It’s not a supermarket.” You don’t go into church and “shop for what you want.” He provides some examples of a consumer approach to Christianity: You go into a church, say a prayer, maybe do some good work, but then you choose not to go to confession, because you don’t like that as much. No, that’s not the way to do it, he says. “[It’s] one package, for life. Love it or leave it.” He and his people, he says, “we decide to love.”
Father Bazi’s people are not bitter and ‘do not blame God for what has happened’ to them and their home. ‘They know what happened to us is by man, not by God.’
He explains that this is the reason why his people are not bitter and “do not blame God for what has happened” to them and their home. “They know what happened to us is by man, not by God.”
Father Bazi is on a tour of the United States right now, with scheduled public events in cities including New York, Phoenix, and Washington, D.C. He has come to give testimony on what Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus described last week at the United Nations as “the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II.”Anderson explained: “Hundreds of thousands of people in Syria and Iraq have lost their lives, entire communities have been displaced or wiped out, while neighboring communities and cultures strain to accept millions of people fleeing years of war and terrorism. We face the very real prospect of the extinction of many of the communities indigenous to the region.”
Father Bazi overflows with gratitude — which, I confess, at first I had a hard time handling. Here’s a man whose life has not been made any easier by the United States’ reckless inconsistencies in the region. Earlier this year, he nearly had to beg the U.S. to simply recognize the fact of genocide of Christians and other religious minorities. And yet, he is all about thanks. He is grateful for prayers, he is grateful for people who listen, he is grateful for people who have contributed to the Knights’ relief fund for persecuted Christians — a charity that is run with no overhead, the money going directly to their needs.
Father Bazi is but one of many today who have found themselves facing the possibility of martyrdom. You might think you should feel sorry for him, pity him. But instead, he witnesses to us about what freedom truly is. He tells me that during the time he spent blindfolded and bound, uncertain whether he would live or die, the terrorists were actually “hostages in my hand.” He reminds me that terrorists so often cover their faces. “They are ashamed. They are afraid.” Christians who truly choose Christ “have no shame to be hidden.” Father Bazi and his people have “the only thing that you can walk away with in the end, the only thing that lasts.”
If you have the opportunity to hear Father Bazi, you will be the better for it. Christian martyrs — throughout history, in the violent century just ended, and today — teach us about the true selfless nature of love. And their blood cries out to us to never take our freedom for granted. We are all made better by people who put their lives in God’s hands with the kind of purity of heart that Father Bazi and his people radiate. If you despair of politics in America, look to them.