It was a weekday afternoon as my brother and I went to pick up Jess from her workplace - Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg. As we were leaving to go to the car, we noticed four elderly men close to the entrance of the hospital starting to argue and push each other around. Soon they were throwing punches and throwing each other on the ground.
The scene shocked me and I didn’t know what to do. There was a part of me that wanted to jump in and try to break up the fight, but there was also a part of me that was scared, wanting to get out of there in case I would be injured myself. Jess quickly ran inside to call security who took a long time to show up.
As we stood there, watching, with cars and pedestrians passing by, I felt like I should do something. I could tell that the fight was getting worse, and even though they were slow and not well coordinated, they were doing damage to each other. After a few minutes, a middle-aged woman walked by, stopped, and started yelling at them to stop. It only took a few words and the men looked around, stopped, and two of them ran away, leaving the other two on the ground. One of them didn’t look like he was moving and we waited patiently for security to arrive.
As the fight first broke out, all I wanted to do was what that woman did, but I stood by and did nothing. The fight may not have stopped, but maybe it wouldn’t have gotten as far as it did. Minutes went by as I watched, minutes that felt like they were moving in slow motion. I often wish I could go back and re-live that moment so I could do something and not be so passive.
As I have shared this story with people, they always tell me that it was right what I did. It was better not to get involved at all because I might have gotten hurt. But then I think of the woman who spoke up. She didn’t start fighting or breaking them apart, but she did do something. She gave her voice to stop the violence. Whether it was smart or not, I wish I would have lent my voice as well.
As a Mennonite, I believe that God calls us to a life of peace. That was the topic of one of our Sundays a few months ago at church. Although we are called to peace, I don’t believe we are called to be passive. In a world that sees pacifism as weak, I believe we are called to creatively fight violence and oppression in non-violent ways. It’s been done before, millions of times, but it is always the harder way. It’s easy to pull out a gun and shoot, or to run away. It’s hard to put yourself in danger to protect the innocent and the oppressed, and to engage in conversation rather than combat.
Every Christmas we remember God's creative plan to bring hope and healing to the world. He could have come as a warrior, taking over the Roman empire by force and killing all those who stood in His way. But instead, He came as a baby, humble and vulnerable. He could have fought his way out of the garden of Gethsemane and ran from the cross. But instead, he went willingly to His death. But Jesus' pacifism was not passive. The battle has always been on, and in His resurrection, death was defeated, giving us the hope of reconciliation with God. Jesus is the model example of not standing by and doing nothing.
As I’ve been scrolling through my Facebook feed these past few weeks, amid the posts of holiday cheer, engagement announcements and cute baby pictures, I have seen horrifying images of a people torn apart by war. Our brothers and sister in Syria, especially Aleppo, are calling out for help. Death upon death is their reality this Christmas.
I am ashamed to admit it, but I am so tempted to simply keep on scrolling. I want to enjoy my Facebook time, seeing friends and family enjoy life. I know that if I focus on the images of war and death in Syria, it will ruin my mood.
And then I think of the fight by the hospital and a voice inside me says “Don’t stand by and do nothing. First of all, look. See what’s happening. Allow it to become as real to you as your friend’s baby pictures. Realize that this is someone’s reality right now. And now that you see, do something. Give of yourself. Give your time in prayer. Give your resources. At least give your voice.”
I want to do something, but I am honestly clueless about what to do in these macro situations. The battle seems way too big and I don’t know what I can do to make a difference. It’s in these situations that I am thankful for organizations who work on behalf of our church to be on the ground and help where they are invited. This article by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) was one of the other posts that caught my eye in my Facebook news feed. It talks about the crisis, MCC’s work in Syria and Iraq, and offers a prayer that we can all join in on.
“Not only does MCC engage in humanitarian work in Syria and Iraq, we are also committed to advocacy work with the Canadian and U.S. governments, and with the UN, calling for constructive international engagement and an end to the brutal civil war. This is both a humanitarian and a political crisis, and MCC is committed to pursuing peace through all means possible.” (excerpt from MCC's article mentioned above)
My support of the work of MCC is one of the most tangible ways I can think of to actually make a difference in disasters half-way around the world. It is the best practical way I know to not stand by and do nothing. As we lend our voices to join in prayer and lament for our Syrian brothers and sisters who are dying and living with the fear of death, I believe it is one of the most powerful ways to bring hope to a hurting people this Christmas.