As I walked down First Avenue in New York City yesterday, I had my umbrella in tow; the clouds were threatening rain and none of the 193 flags of the United Nations were flapping. The skyscrapers nearby reflected the dreariness of the morning in their windows, and I wondered how the day’s story might shake out.
On occasion, my work with CNEWA takes me here to the UN building, where I’m able to encounter firsthand what’s happening in our world and how it affects those we serve.
The meeting this particular morning concerned the persecution of religious minorities, particularly Christians and Yazidis — the very population CNEWA serves in the Middle East and elsewhere. As is normal for a meeting of this nature, we were to hear from academics and “experts in the field,” but what I didn’t expect were those who came to share their very personal stories.
The elevator to the chamber where we were meeting was packed. A man standing next to me looked somber and was wearing a shiny silver lapel pin that said, “KAYLA.” A man standing next to him assumed that KAYLA was the name of a non-governmental agency and asked in good networking fashion, “What’s KAYLA exactly?” The gentleman sunk a little and said, “My daughter.”
Suddenly, everyone in the elevator knew exactly why this father was here. He was there to tell the story of Kayla Mueller — a story that needed to be told here and across the world.
In fact, both Carl and Marsha Mueller had come to speak about their daughter, Kayla, her work with Doctors Without Borders, and her Christian faith, which had been the foundation for her passion to serve the people of the Middle East. In the summer of 2013, Kayla was captured by terrorists in Aleppo, Syria and held captive for some 18 months.
At the meeting yesterday, her parents spoke of her uncompromising faith — how, her integrity would not allow her to convert from Christianity, even in the face of death. In fact, in the face of the notorious terrorist “Jihadi John,” who had assumed she’d converted, Kayla turned and calmly stated, “I need to correct you; I have not converted.”
In the spring of 2013, before her capture the Muellers had pleaded with Kayla to come home. “This isn’t your fight,” they told her, “These are not your people.” Kayla responded in a long letter that there should be no “my people/your people’ mentality in this world,” that God’s love made us one people obligated to care for one another in solidarity and empathy for all.
This was the spirit of Kayla. She spoke extensively of the importance of using our “hands as tools” to alleviate suffering of these people. She lived that out with her own hands and her own life. In a letter smuggled out just prior to her death, she wrote to her parents, “I have surrendered myself to my Creator… there is no one else,” and she signed the letter, “All my everything.”
Indeed, the Muellers spoke to the “everything” Kayla had given and that we as a world must give to care for those suffering at the hands of terrorism. “One thing we can do,” Kayla’s mother told us, “is call the world to act.”
When I left the meeting, I stood by the window and noticed the green lawn at the United Nations building — perhaps an odd sight among all the brown and grey, the steel and glass. In the Muellers I saw my mother and father. In Kayla I saw the raw, unconditional love for all God’s people, a love I aspire to and one that informs why I do this work.
But in solidarity with Kayla I had to ask, “Have I done enough?” Had I given all my everything yet?
The sun had come out peeking from behind the clouds of earlier and the flags were waving as I walked back uptown. There was a light breeze. Much work is yet to be done. We’ll go on doing it, giving each day a little more of everything we have to offer and hoping it answers that call to act — the same call that Kayla answered with her life, and that her parents have answered with their commitment to this cause.