Speaking For Those Who Cannot Speak
Q and A with Baroness Caroline Cox
Q. What has inspired you to take up the cause of persecuted Christians around the world?
A. In my work for Christian Solidarity International I have appreciated the opportunity to be with those who feel - and are - forgotten by the rest of the world, often by the rest of the Christian church. While we sit here in peace and comfort, many are suffering from attempted genocide, jihad, ethnic cleansing, slavery, and threats of death for allegations of so-called blasphemy in fundamentalist Islamic regimes like Pakistan. But however much they suffer, they always inspire us with their courage, generosity, graciousness, faith, and dignity in their witness for Christ.
"We can never put Muslims in prison because the international Muslim community would create an uproar The same is true with Jews, Siks, or Buddhists. But we can do what we want with Christians because no one ever raises his voice in defense of Christians."
Many of the people suffering persecution in the world today are Christians who are completely cut off from all help. Major humanitarian organizations such as the United Nations can go only to places with the permission of a sovereign government; if that government is oppressing a minority, those people are bereft of aid or advocacy. Often they are in war zones, fighting for survival. We believe that, as Christians, we should try to be with those who are most isolated, most suffering, and most forgotten, whatever their creed.
We must remember St. Paul's letter to the church at Corinth: "When one part of the body of Christ suffers, we suffer" (I Cor 12:26). But do we? How often do we in our comfort zones remember the persecuted church? How often do we in our churches pray for them? Yet, the first thing they ask for is prayer. They are often dying of hunger and disease or being slaughtered in war. They may be cold and naked, but their first request is always for prayer
Q. Can you give us some examples of the suffering you have seen?
A. Certainly. In the cruel calculus of man's inhumanity to man, Sudan must rank amongst the greatest tragedies in the world today. One and a half million people have been killed and over five million displaced by civil war, in which the militant Islamic military regime is carrying out a jihad against the black Africans of the South and Nuba Mountains, as well as Muslims who resist them. Many airstrips are designated "No go" areas for major aid organizations by the regime in Khartoum. The people are dying there from starvation and disease. Those who are still alive are suffering from hunger, thirst, nakedness, and the constant fear of attack and enslavement. When we visited there, between the airstrip and the place where we pitched our tents, people died in front of our eyes - a fifty-year-old man of starvation and a twenty-year-old girl from TB. As we walked through the bush, we found ghost villages, where the people have perished from starvation or the survivors are spending their last days eating grass to fill the aching void in their stomachs. The government tries to stop the Christians from preaching; when they can't, they arrest them. The government wants Christian children to become Muslim, therefore they indoctrinate them in the schools. The Christians have removed their children from the government schools, but have no other way to educate them.
In the steamy jungles of Burma, ethnic minorities such as the Karen people are being ferociously persecuted by the current regime. Many have been forced into slave labor; others live as stateless, displaced people, trapped in the jungle. Recently the government stepped up its military offensive against the Karen, both within Burma and in the refugee camps across the border in Thailand. Many there are Christians, and I offer you one picture to hold in your minds as you pray for them. My CSI colleagues and I had climbed a steep mountain to visit a remote group on the border of their territory facing constant offensives. On the way down, we thought we heard a bell sounding through the jungle. We followed the sound and found a church. The bell was made from a Burmese bomb!
Lastly, consider Nagorno Karabakh, here we reached the Armenian people trapped in their native homeland under siege, blockade, and bombardment in January 1992. Azerbaijan has opted an explicit policy of ethnic cleansing of the Armenians in Karabakh, a beautiful land with some of the most ancient Christian churches in the world. The Armenians there have been fighting for the survival of their families and homes against impossible odds. One hundred fifty thousand Armenians are defending their land against seven-million-strong Azerbaijan, helped by Turkey and literally thousands of mercenaries.
In that bitter January; we found casualties suffering without any anesthetics pain-killing drugs; they had only vodka to relieve the pain. Returning to Britain, I could not sleep thinking of their predicament. It was CSI which responded in faith and enabled us to obtain supplies of morphine and other drugs for use there within twelve days. The challenge of taking this consignment of drugs - street value incalculable - across Europe to the depths of Karabakh was rather daunting.
Our current work in Karabakh is running a rehabilitation center for amputees. No facilities exist in Karabakh for artificial limbs, even though they have hundreds of people, including children, with amputations caused by the war.
Q. Do you ever become discouraged as you fight against such awesome suffering?
A. My visit to Burma was a personal comfort to me and was an illustration the way in which I see CSI's work developing in different parts of the world. Many of us in CSI feel very inadequate; we are inadequate. But we hope God can use our efforts. On my way to Burma, I was feeling acutely depressed as I thought, "What on earth can we do with our meager resources to begin to help the Karen people with their massive problems? Then I found a passage in 2 Kings 4:42-44. A man with twenty loaves of barley was told by Elisha to distribute them to feed a crowd of one hundred hungry people. But Elisha said, Give it to people to eat. For this is what the Lord says: They will eat and have some left over. And indeed they did eat and had some left over.
We at CSI hope that God can use our spirit to rise above such anguish and painfully limited resources in ways beyond anything we can imagine. At times it seems that the message on a notepad given to me by my daughter could be our motto: I do not believe in miracles. I rely on them.
Q. Why did you go into nursing?
A. I have always been interested in the medical field, particularly nursing. I could have chosen to follow in the foot-steps of my father; who was a well-known surgeon. However nursing held a special appeal for me. The unique contribution of nursing is in the human relationship, the intimacy of being with someone as they go through the journey of their suffering and possibly their death. These times are some of life's privileged, precious moments. This is why our work with Christian Solidarity International is so precious. Whenever we have the privilege of being with our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters, we are humbled and uplifted by their dignity.
I would like to relate one true story which speaks for the spirit of all those whom we meet in their dark and difficult days. In April, 1992, CSI was in Karabakh and witnessed the immediate aftermath of a massacre of Armenian villagers by Azeri troops. During that massacre, forty-five civilians had their heads sawn off, others were burnt alive, many suffered mutilation, and all property was pillaged and homes burnt. The village was truly a place of Golgotha. When I visited the nearby hospital, I met a senior nurse who had just seen her son's head sawn off and lost fourteen other members of her family. After describing her anguish, she was asked if she would like to send a message to the world. With great dignity, she rose above her grief and said: Please say Thank you. As a nurse, I have been working in this hospital and have seen how the medicines you have brought have saved many lives and relieved much suffering. Thank you for not forgetting us in our dark days.
This is surely a triumph of the human spirit: to rise above such anguish and to express gratitude.
Reformed Quarterly, Volume 16, Issue 3