Heavenly Love On An Earthly Plane
I grew up on the island of Ceylon in the capital city of Colombo. The community I was born into was known as the Burghers. The Burghers are a Eurasian ethnic group consisting mainly of descendants of European colonists from the 16th to 20th centuries (mostly Portuguese, Dutch, German and British as well as some minorities of Swedish, Norwegian, French and Irish) who married local Sinhalese women (the majority people of the island). The name is not to be confused with the English word “burgher” which simply means a person who resides in a borough, or a member of the middle class.
The term ‘Burgher’ comes from the Dutch word burger, meaning “citizen” or “town dweller”, and is cognate with the French and English word “bourgeois”. At this time in Europe, there had emerged a middle class, consisting of people who were neither aristocrats nor serfs. These were the traders and businessmen, who lived in towns and were considered free citizens. In Europe, they were called burghers, and they were encouraged to migrate to the colonies in order to expand business horizons.
Growing up in that community, I was exposed to people of European, Sinhalese, Burgher and Tamil heritage. There was never a hint of racism or hatred that I can recall growing up. After rigorous scrutiny with regard to his education, finances, health etc., my father and step-mother immigrated to Toronto, Canada first. My younger sister and I arrived several years after the first civil uprising that caused a political change from a Democracy to Socialism and a name change to The Republic of Sri Lanka. I recall arriving on the Ides of March (March 15th) at the tender age of sixteen with an excitement and anticipation of making a life in a new land with a father I missed dearly.
I had completed high school having had a double promotion from grade 2 to 4 and grade 4 to 6 because of my love of learning that began at the young age of three. I had cried to go to school whenever my older sister left for Kindergarten until my mother finally had me enrolled in Kindergarten ~ a joy of learning that never left my heart despite the disadvantage of always being the youngest in my class. Now my heart’s desire was to be a nurse but my application to nursing college was turned down because I was too young so I enrolled in the field of Office Administration at a college near me in my first year in Toronto. It was a full-time course that would enable me to graduate at the end of two years. I studied from 8am to 4pm and worked from 5:30pm to 10pm as an account clerk in a publishing company from Monday to Friday to earn some spending money. It wasn’t easy but I did graduate with High Honours and the effort was worthwhile as I received two job offers in the month I graduated and was finally employed.
The taste of hate occurred in these early years in Toronto. It was the end of my first semester in college (exam week). I was walking to the bus stop when a gang of boys in the age range of fifteen to seventeen started pelting me with snowballs and shouting, “PAKHI, GO HOME!” I was shocked having never experienced anything like this before. Knowing I had to get to college to complete my exams, I ran back home with tears running down my cheeks. My father who hadn’t left for work yet, kindly drove me to college that morning. I don’t know how I got through the exams that day because I was still shaking inside from the hatred I encountered.
The following year, I experienced two other incidents. It was 4:30pm and I was at the bus stop near the college waiting to take a bus to work. The bus stop was crowded with people going home after their workday ended. Then a young boy, about fourteen years old, started to walk around me spitting on the ground and saying, “PAKHI, GO HOME!” The sad part of this story is that all the adults who were waiting for the bus turned a blind eye to what was happening. I, on the other hand, stayed silent not out of fear but because I had come to realize that these actions were the work of someone who had not received the love of God. I kept looking straight at his face but his eyes would not meet mine. Perhaps, his young heart was conflicted.
It is not necessary for me to go into the third incident with two teenage boys that occurred later that year but suffice it to know that after those early years an increase in tolerance of people of my colour gradually occurred as more people began to see and use their God-given intelligence to know that people regardless of their colour or heritage are basically the same in their need to be loved and respected.
Thomas Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary states that the Greek word (agape) as seen in the New Testament passages (1 Peter 4:8; Rom. 5:5, 8; 1 John 3:1; 4:7, 8, 16; Jude 21) was rarely used in Greek literature prior to the New Testament. When it was used, it denoted showing kindness to strangers, giving hospitality, and being charitable. In the New Testament, the word agape took on a special meaning: It was used by the New Testament writers to designate a volitional love as opposed to the purely emotional kind. It is a self-sacrificial love, a kind naturally expressed by God but not so easily by men and women.
In closing, Proverbs 10:12 states: “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses” and 1 Peter 4:8 states: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” These verses do not suggest that one’s love for another should atone for another’s sin. Instead it reminds us that love does not stir up sins. With the hatred that is being acted out by Islamic terrorist group ISIS that target people of their own race who have a different religion, it is easy to fall into the pattern of disliking or distrusting people of Arabic heritage. The truth is that we cannot classify the act of a few as the worldview of all Arabs. Instead of reacting with the same hatred we can keep our own hearts right before God by truly forgiving them, working to educate people by how we conduct ourselves toward them, and doing what we can to help those who are suffering terrible acts of brutality.
A wonderful example of this is seen in the life of Corrie ten Boom ~ a Dutch woman admired the world over for her courage, her forgiveness, and her memorable faith. In World War II, she and her family risked their lives to help Jews escape the Nazis, and their reward was imprisonment in Hitler’s concentration camps. Her story demonstrates how faith triumphs over evil. I hope you will take the time to read this book or watch the DVD available on Amazon, especially if you are struggling with what is happening in the Middle East.
Here is a prayer that you may wish to pray:Heavenly Father,
My heart is angered by the atrocities that are being committed toward people who do not share the same faith as their attackers. I pray that those who are suffering will be strong and not lose their faith. I pray that you provide all the help they need to go through this terrible time in their lives. I ask that your judgement come upon those who commit these acts of brutality. I ask that you help me to keep my heart pure by loving people who may be different to me and not judging other races by the acts of the few among them. Thank you for showing me true love by gifting this world your son, Jesus. In Christ’s name, Amen
Note: Historical information on Burghers was obtained from the free Wikipedia Dictionary.