Posts

When Social Media Determined A Teen’s Death

Written By Shu Huan, Malaysia

On 13 May 2019, 16-year-old Davia Emilia from Sarawak, Malaysia posted on social media expressing her weariness at life. Via an Instagram story, she requested that her followers vote on whether she should continue living or die: “Very important. Help me choose D/L”. Sadly, 69 per cent of those who responded voted for “D” and as a result, she jumped from the third floor of a building, bringing her short life to a heartbreaking end.

When I saw this news, my heart tightened. In addition to grieving the tragedy of this young girl taking her own life, my heart also went out to the followers who participated in the poll. How would they respond after finding out the girl actually committed suicide? Perhaps they had treated the poll as a joke, thinking that the girl was simply one of many youths seeking attention—that “choosing life or death” was simply a ploy. And yet, irrespective of intentions on either side, the painful conclusion was that her young life ended.

It’s a heart-wrenching situation that convicted me to reconsider how very powerful our words are. James 3:5 says:

Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.

Indeed, a small spark can set on fire a great forest. It’s terrifying to think that a simple tap on the phone might be able to determine whether another person lives or dies. In this verse, the apostle James reminds believers to watch our words—because a single sentence can build up or destroy a person’s life. What if the followers had chosen instead to encourage the girl with words such as, “How can I help you?”, “I am here to chat”, or, “You are not alone”? Perhaps then there would have been a chance of re-writing the tragic ending to this story.

Of course, the votes from her Instagram followers likely wouldn’t have had the same tragic impact if she didn’t already feel trapped and suffocated by the circumstances of her life, so much so that she had no hope for the future and entertained thoughts of bringing her life to an end. Ultimately, it was her decision to take her own life.

In some ways, I can relate to how she felt. When I was a young teen myself, I also struggled with suicidal thoughts. I felt suffocated by the pressures of life and everything felt meaningless. I was also upset at my family for not giving me the wealth and happiness I desired. Yet every time I thought of suicide, I could not work up the courage to do it, and so I never followed through. Looking back, I am so thankful for that.

In retrospect, I realize that it was all the grace of God. If I had chosen to give up my life then, not only would I have caused immense sadness to my family and friends, but I know now that I would have regretted it myself. Although there are seasons of life that are disappointing, discouraging or hopeless, I’ve learned that life is also full of seasons and experiences that can be exciting and joyful, and these are worth exploring and cherishing. Having experienced both the highs and lows in life, I now know that life is a gift from God.

I have been married for many years, and my husband and I have always hoped for a child. Although we have gone for physical check-ups and are both very healthy, we have  experienced disappointment over and over again. We are left mystified as to why we are unable to conceive.

This struggle with infertility has helped me further realize how precious each life is, and to not take it for granted. If not for God granting us life, we wouldn’t be able to exist on this earth for even just one more second. He has breathed life into mankind, and it is in Him that we live and move and exist (Acts 17:28). Life is God’s grace to us.

As Psalm 139:13-14 says:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

May we cherish our time on earth. After all, it was not in vain that God brought us to this earth. He has beautiful plans for each of us. We are children beloved by God, and we exist with value and purpose. If we chose to obey God and remain in His love, then we will experience true joy in life (John 15:9-11).

I pray that as we enjoy the pleasures of life on this earth, we will also courageously face the difficulties and challenges that may come our way—learning to appreciate our gift of life, and may we use our words well to love those beside us so that we may be a blessing to the world.

 

Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, we encourage you to reach out to a church leader or look up your local suicide helpline to seek professional help. 

Another School Shooting: How Many More Tuesdays Will I Read About Senseless Killings?

Screenshot taken from The Charlotte Observer

On 30 April 2019, a gunman burst into a lecture hall on University of North Carolina Charlotte’s campus on the last day of classes for the semester. The students were giving final presentations when the gunman started shooting. Two individuals were killed as a result, and one of them died tackling the shooter in an attempt to stop him.

Though the news broke on Tuesday, it was only several days later that I finally opened an article about it. I wasn’t intentionally avoiding it—it’s just that, “Student Killed While Fighting Shooter” didn’t draw my attention like it used to. It wasn’t until I saw several articles about the same topic that I realized something had happened.

As I grappled with the news of this shooting, I found myself perplexed as to how or why I didn’t pay this story any attention until several days after it occurred. If I’m being honest, once I actually registered a headline, my first reaction was, “Really? Another one?!” After a record number of school shooting incidents in 2018 (at least 23), it seemed I was becoming numb to them in 2019.

While I was still trying to process the impact of the violence at UNC Charlotte, it happened again. On Tuesday this week, only seven days after the loss at UNC Charlotte, another shooting took place.

Another school, another shooter, another life mercilessly taken.

This time it was in Colorado, and prefaced by a dark irony that just last month, the school, along with hundreds of others, closed temporarily as the 20th anniversary of a particularly deadly school shooting known as “Columbine” approached. As of today, at least one person is confirmed dead, and several others were shot and injured.

I find myself, yet again, just reeling.

What do I do? What can I say? How can this happen? Why does this happen?

 

I can honor victims and their family in my response

I realize that I have no idea how to answer any of these questions. And that’s exactly why I feel myself becoming more numb to such news. Tragedies are horrible, and it’s easier to turn a blind eye than to engage with them. This is perpetuated by the fact that most of us feel utterly helpless when it comes to responding to tragedies.  Personally, I don’t feel like I can do anything to affect the situation positively, so I tend to give an article a casual read, then turn my mind to other things. However, something about a school shooting happening two Tuesdays in a row convinced me of one thing: I must not become numb.

The minute I stop reading the stories of parents grieving the senseless loss of their sweet child, or listening to the accounts of eyewitnesses, or hearing about how students and teachers are grieving the loss of any semblance of security in their place of study or work, is the minute I start the process of not caring. I need to listen to and read these stories, because I need to acknowledge the reality before me.

The reality is that though school should be a safe place where students can learn and feel protected, it has instead become a place where they’re practicing active shooter drills and listening for loud sounds that may indicate the worst-case scenario they have trained for. In acknowledging this, I pray that God helps me understand how I’m supposed to respond to it.

 

I can re-think how I’m praying

I think part of my response must include prayer. And that can often feel minor, empty, or like it just isn’t enough. But another thing I’ve remembered during these tragic couple weeks is that prayer is one of the most powerful things I can do. Prayer connects me to an all-powerful God who is able to provide peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7), even in desperate situations. I am comforted in knowing that the Lord listens to the cry of the righteous. He is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34: 15-18), and it’s worthwhile to spend time calling on Him. Prayer is vital, but I’ve been challenged to reconsider how I pray about something like a school shooting.

Do I simply pause to muse over it just long enough to offer up a simple prayer asking God to comfort everyone affected, and then move on to checking my email, or responding to a text message?

Or am I taking time to learn about the pain that I need to pray God heals?

Do I let the senselessness of it all inspire a desperate cry to God for restoration and peace that only He can bring?

Because I know that my God is the author of life. In fact, He sent Jesus to the cross so that us sinners could have abundant life in eternity (John 10:10). These violent school shootings are the manifestation of death and injustice in our world today. . . the stark opposite of the life that will define the restored world that God will bring (Revelation 21:1-4). They are senseless, often random, and without an identifiable motive. I have found that turning to prayer when I see death and injustice helps me to set my mind on the promised life in the new heaven and earth.

Understanding that situations like school shootings also break God’s heart and go against His ultimate plan for eternal life shifted my response to such tragedies. Instead of allowing my heart to become numb to these senseless shootings, I decided to take some time out to pray.  As I engage with the pain and grief of those affected by this tragedy, it helps me to pray more often and genuinely. As I take time to hear stories of parents who spent hours not knowing if their children were still alive, it helps me know how to pray for them. Taking time to learn about these tragedies also helps align my heart more decidedly to God’s plan for ultimate restoration and life. That alignment inspires me to pray for the pain, hurt, and violence that I see all around me on a daily basis, whether big or small.

I hope that you will join me in praying for the lives that were lost and forever changed as a result of the recent school shootings in the U.S. I also hope that you are encouraged to engage with the reality of pain and grief that I am certain surrounds you as well. Let the engagement settle your hearts on the life and restoration that God values and plans to bring to this world. And remember that when you feel helpless, prayer is powerful.

Sri Lanka Easter Bombings: How Should We Respond?

Screenshot taken from Guardian News Video

 

Written By Asiri Fernando, Sri Lanka

Asiri graduated from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, USA with a Master of Divinity and is now working for Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka. Asiri is a speaker, Bible teacher and a singer songwriter. Asiri blogs at http://asirifernando.wordpress.com.

 

I was at my packed church on Easter Sunday (Apr 21) in the central hills of Sri Lanka when a friend told me that bombs were going off at church services around the country. Upon returning home, I watched the news in disbelief as it reported scores of people killed in the bombs that went off in three hotels and three churches around the country.

To date, more than 250 people have lost their lives in the explosions and close to 500 have been injured. These figures include the sister of a ministry leader I know who suffered serious head injuries and is currently fighting for her life. A former member of the same ministry died in the bombings. Another youth who attends my organization’s sports ministry lost a leg.

As I reflected on the tragedy that hit the church and our nation as a whole, these two thoughts struck me about how we as believers should respond:

 

1. Embrace the spiritual oneness of the body of Christ

As many who died were church-goers, I had to pause and reflect on the spiritual oneness I shared with the suffering. One of the great marks of being a Christian is that we are part of a family in whom the resurrected Christ dwells (Ephesians 3:17). This may give the impression that we are all living in isolated places as Christ dwells in us. But the Bible says that we are together in Christ too!

A great miracle that took place on the cross apart from our salvation was that God was bringing together a body of people who as a result of the cross will be made irreversibly “one”. Jesus prayed to the Father in John 17:21b “. . . That they may also be in us”. Paul, in Romans 12:5 says “we are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (ESV). The NIV renders it as “belonging to one another”. Isn’t that the language of married couples? We were never saved to live in isolation but saved into a oneness that we together share in Christ. The New Testament shows that we are incorporated into Christ’s body. In a wonderfully spiritual way not visible to our eyes, the Bible says that we were crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), buried with him (Colossians 2:12), baptized into Christ and his death (Romans 6:3), united with him in his resurrection (Romans 6:5). We are now together one body in Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)!

As a result of this glorious truth, the Bible commands us to avoid identity markers as we see Christians from another race, color, nation, social standing, gender etc. “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27–28). By the use of the words “neither” and “nor”, Paul, in his writing to the Galatians, says that the primary way we see another Christian is as someone who is clothed with Christ!

As someone from the Sinhalese race, this means that I would see a Christian who is Tamil, not as a “Tamil Christian” but someone who is “clothed with Christ”. While the Bible elsewhere does ask us to celebrate our various identities that make us unique, as we see here, we are to hold lightly to them because of the greater identity we have as those who are clothed with Christ.

All this goes to show the extent of the oneness we share with the body of Christ regardless of where we are in the world. It is because of this oneness that when one part of the body is suffering, we suffer together with it. This would mean that regardless of where we are in the world, as believers, we should pause from our busy schedules, get rid of all distractions (especially the digital ones) and cry out to God on behalf of our brothers and sisters who are suffering.

 

2. Reach out to those of other faiths

As the aftermath of the tragedy unfolded before our eyes, the question on everyone’s minds was who was behind it. It was confirmed 24 hours later that the bombers were those influenced by extremists Muslim ideologies.

Romans 12-13 makes it clear that justice will be meted out on the perpetrators. God is serious about punishing wrong and has given earthly rulers the authority to execute judgement (His wrath) on wrongdoers. As Christians, we must condemn evil, and even urge the authorities to act justly. We can also be certain that regardless of what happens in this life, He has also set a day to judge the world.

At the same time, because of the actions of some, the entire Muslim community in Sri Lanka has suffered severe shame and are overcome by deep sadness, fear, and anxiety as they move in public places. I know this is a reality for Muslims in western countries too.

The moment the identity of the perpetrators was revealed, I wrote to my high school Muslim friends assuring them of my love for them. Later on, I also visited the home of a Muslim youth living in Kandy (my city) who is very dear to me. I spent several hours with him, wanting him to be affirmed that my love for him had not changed.

We must do all we can to be close to the those of other faiths who are suffering. If we have not learned to look at them through the eyes of grace, then perhaps we have not fully appreciated all that God has done for us (Romans 5:10). May God open our eyes to see His great love for them and how much He desires for them to know Christ.

 

While we mourn over the lives lost after a horrific tragedy like this, we must keep our two-fold commitment to the body of Christ and to the rest of the world that desperately needs Christ. May we be filled with the Spirit to carry our cross for the glory of God in every season.

Should Israel Folau Have Said What He Said? – Part 2

Screenshot taken from The Irish Times

 

About a year ago, Israel Folau made a post on his personal Instagram account that polarized the rugby world and the Australian public. In my thoughts on his words, I reflected on his response to a follower’s comment where he communicated that homosexuals would go to hell unless they repented and turned to God.

After the scandal broke out, star rugby playmaker Folau and the Australian Rugby union had negotiations behind closed doors, which led to a four-year extension of his contract, but with a AUD $200,000 decrease in his salary, and the understanding that he would not post more offensive material to his Instagram page.

Fast-forward to a post Folau made last Wednesday (Apr 10). In what appears to be a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Folau writes in the post’s caption that, “Those that are living in Sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him.”

 

Screenshot taken from Instagram

 

Because of last year’s scandal, the prominent spot that “Homosexuals” has on the list in Folau’s post has drawn the most scrutiny, tying into a popular narrative that Folau, and perhaps even Christians as a whole, are homophobic.

A number of public figures, including New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have been quick to condemn Folau’s post. The Australian Rugby Union announced their intention to terminate Folau’s contract, just months before the Rugby World Cup where Folau would have played a key role in the Wallabies’ hopes of winning.

Folau’s actions may result in the end of his rugby career with the Australian rugby union. With that, he may lose an AUD $1 million a year income, as well as the opportunity to professionally play a sport he loves.

So here we are again, asking the same question we did a year ago. Should Israel Folau have said what he said?

 

What we can learn from this saga

In response to the scandal, Folau told the Sydney Morning Herald that “my faith in Jesus Christ is what comes first” and that he would stop playing rugby before revoking his words. Folau’s actions have drawn mixed reactions from within the church.

Although there are certainly elements to Folau’s stance that are admirable, such as his commitment to his faith over his sporting career, I wonder if we should lift him up as a “Christian hero” to emulate. Regardless of whether we agree with Folau’s actions, this latest episode is an opportunity for us to reflect on how we as Christians can communicate the gospel in a post-Christian culture, particularly on a public platform like social media.

With social media, anything we post has the incredible ability to reach millions of people in an instant. However, it is also a platform where our posts and comments can easily be taken out of context, misunderstood and can even come across as insensitive, regardless of our intentions. This is why it is so important for us to evaluate how we use it. Here are two questions that came to mind as I reflected on the scandal:

 

1. What approach should we take in addressing sin?

In the past, Folau has expressed that he has struggled with a number of the sins listed in the post, including drunkenness, adultery, lying, and fornication. But what captured my attention about his approach in his latest Instagram post was that it was more outward-focused rather than inward-focused in the way it addressed sin. The image he posted defined groups of people according to their “sin”, instead of looking at the root cause of these sins—what’s really on the inside of us.

Ultimately, this is the point that Paul is making in 1 Corinthians 6:11, that we are washed, sanctified, and justified of our sin in the name of Jesus. Perhaps if Folau had taken the opportunity to also share about his own past struggles with those sins, and how God’s grace and saving power has delivered him from them, that would’ve been a more effective and helpful approach in drawing people to Christ.

After all, Jesus has saved sinful people like Folau and I, and He can do the same for anyone who comes to Him.

 

2. Are we speaking up at the right time and place?

Although Christians are called to stand up for our faith, it doesn’t mean that we should do so whenever and however we want to. Folau’s social media saga highlights how important it is that we exercise wisdom and care in knowing exactly how and when to reach out to others with gospel truths.

Topics as serious as the consequences of sin, the reality of hell, and the incredible gift of God’s grace are probably better suited for a one-on-one conversation rather than a meme on an Instagram account. This way, we’ll also be able to interact with the individual on a personal level and address any questions he or she might have about the faith.

In this regard, we can learn from the example of Paul in Acts 17, who took the opportunity provided to him at a specific time and place in the city of Athens to share the truth God had commissioned him to speak—the meeting of the Areopagus, which was a space specifically used to communicate new ideas and philosophies. Paul wisely spoke into the culture of the day, showing his understanding of the culture he was in, even quoting Greek philosophers. And lastly, he communicated the truth of the gospel effectively by sharing about the one true God, who cannot be contained in something physical like an altar. The Holy Spirit was obviously with Paul and his words as many believed in Christ that day (Acts 17:34).

As we seek opportunities to share about our faith, let’s take heed of the apostle Peter’s encouragement for us to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”, but to also do so with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Let’s seek the Holy Spirit for His guidance so that like Paul, we can know the best time and place to share the truths of God’s Word to those around us.

 

An opportunity for Part 3 to be different

I felt disappointed when Part 2 of Folau’s saga broke out—as it appeared that he had not learned the lessons from what had happened the first time round. But upon further reflection, I realized that, I too, often need to learn more than once the lessons God is trying to teach me. So, I will be rooting for Folau and the church as a whole to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us with wisdom and gentleness in our attempts to live lives worthy of His calling.

If Folau’s contract ends up being terminated, he might suffer many forms of losses, but it would also give him a unique opportunity to practice what he preaches. He can show the world that money, material things, and worldly success from a rugby career do not compare with what a relationship with God can give. He can be open about his own sins and struggles. And ultimately, he can show with his words and actions that no matter what sins a person has committed, Jesus’ death and saving grace covers them all.

I will be hoping and praying that if there is a part 3 to Folau’s social media saga, I can write about how Folau has allowed God to change, mold, and guide him to become a humble ambassador of Christ’s love.