Who is my enemy?
I will never forget that fateful day in Durban, South Africa!
I was thirteen years of age happily playing ‘catch and run’ on the lawn with my brothers, sister and friends on a glorious sunny day, when my mother called the family inside. The tears flowed as she held a newspaper clipping in her hand and broke the news of my father’s tragic murder in East Africa.
Some mystery surrounded the circumstances of his death, although indications pointed his killing to the Mau Mau uprising against colonial rule in Kenya, from 1952 to 1960. The struggle involved mostly Kikuyu people, the largest ethnic group in the country. Although primarily against the British colonial forces and white settlers, violence also took place between the Mau Mau and loyalist Africans.
My father was a major in the Kenya Regiment at the time and played a significant role in the war, which apparently resulted in him being listed as one of the key men to be ‘taken out’.
I was emotionally distraught, confused and bewildered as a young teenager. All I knew was that we lost our dear father soon after the ending of a brutal conflict. And the plan was for him to join us in South Africa within a few months. I did not fully understand the nature of this particular war, except that Dad was fighting against a feared terrorist organisation. They were the enemy! Many of our friends lost their lives in this terrifying war.
Besides trying to cope with the traumatic emotional pain, we found ourselves facing the spectre of abject poverty when the authorities refused to release the proceeds of our estate in East Africa. My mother then embarked on the daunting task of having to find work and raise five school going children on a meagre salary. Yet, as I grew up and continued my Christian walk with God, I did not harbour bitterness or hatred towards the perpetrators of Dad’s horrible death.
No other way
The words of Jesus on the cross as he, through his pain, gazed at those who accused him, mocked him, scourged him beyond recognition, nailed him to the cross and watched him die in excruciating agony, consoled me; ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do’.
The crucifixion of Jesus was fuelled by the self righteous religious leaders of the day, the Scribes and Pharisees, who were wrapped up in their own world of politics, authority and self importance. This was the kind of world they grew up in, which was firmly cemented in their psyche and cultural traditions. Jesus’ message posed a serious threat to them. Thus, their devious plot to have him tried and crucified. Yes! It was terribly wrong, but they knew no other way.
The Roman soldiers were part of a different world of imperial rule. They simply followed the commands of their superiors as any loyal soldier would and knew no other way.
I had come to terms with the reality that the Mau Mau ‘rebels’ were caught up in a vicious war of survival. Their freedom had been compromised. They grew up believing in their cause and chose the route of violence to secure their liberation...they could not see any other way.
Many years later, in 1997, I was invited to be the guest speaker at a convention near Kibirichia, situated in the Eastern Meru region of Kenya. This was an exciting opportunity to explore my roots and showcase the awe inspiring wilderness regions of Kenya to my wife and children. They were not disappointed.
In my opening address at the convention I spoke about the childhood I enjoyed in their beautiful country, but did not comment on the darker side of the war and what happened to my father. Shortly after my presentation a distinguished grey headed elderly gentleman walked towards me with his walking stick and a broad smile. Surrounded by an enthusiastic group of about eight grandchildren, he asked me to sit down as he wanted to talk.
What followed was a deeply touching serendipity moment. He openly spoke about the war and how he, as a member of the Kikuyu ethnic group, was caught up in the horrific struggle. I heard a different perspective of the conflict from the other side. How he was part of the movement that wanted to live freely and work the land which had been taken away from them. Sadly both he and thousands of others lost their loved ones, including wives and children.
This warm hearted Christian gentleman then looked at me with eyes full of compassion and said ‘I am so sorry about the loss of your father’. It was hard to hold back the tears. Here we were talking as Christians a few decades later, having been on opposite sides of one of the cruellest wars in Kenya’s history, though I was but a naive child during the conflict.
We instantly formed an inseparable bond. Even though bitterness had never been a response towards those responsible for my father’s death, I felt a profound sense of reconciliation and closure. Philippians 4:7 loomed larger than life in my mind; “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The love, peace and grace of the Lord united us as one, in his presence. Our roots in Christ brought healing to the cycle of pain that had been a part of our lives for so long. Somehow an indescribable sense of relief and release prevailed.
The way in which God brought us together highlighted the futility of war, hostility and conflict. In most cases neither side really wins. It is heartrending to see Christians fighting against Christians in the name of the state, for whatever reason, both sides praying to God for victory, yet in a time of peace the very same Christians may in all likelihood be the best of friends.
Learning to let go
This life changing experience helped me gain a better grasp of the passages of scripture that talks about loving our enemies, doing good to those who hate us and praying for those who mistreat us (Luke 6:27-36). Besides the reality of an all out war, it also begs the question ‘who is our enemy’? What about the people we encounter in everyday life? Do we find ourselves harbouring hatred and resentment towards others...perhaps towards the boss we do not get along with or the betrayal of a trusted friend or the ongoing conflict we have with a neighbour?
This scripture does not condone wrongful behaviour. It is more about looking at the bigger picture by allowing forgiveness, mercy, grace and reconciliation to become an integral part of who we are in Christ. And learning to love as God loves, as we continue to mature in our Christian faith. Bitterness and resentment can so quickly imprison and control us. Yet learning to let go by leaving the situations out of our control in the hands of our Triune God will make all the difference.
In John 8:31-32 Jesus encourages us to listen and respond to his word; “If you hold to my teachings, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
Herein lies the key to experiencing true freedom in his love.