Listen to this blog post:
Liberty is a word we use infrequently these days. Perhaps our sense of individualism in America has rendered this word less relevant at a time when most in our society have a sense of freedom and independence. Closer examination, however, reveals a reality in the lives of many that is far from this ideal. I have been reminded of this through the stories of two individuals who recently visited our campus, sharing experiences that paint a very different picture.
Teri Jendusa Nicolai tells a story of incredible domestic abuse. Her three-year marriage to David Larsen ended in divorce in 2001 following an escalating pattern of control, isolation and battery. Eventually courage overtook fear and she found refuge in a shelter. Even after the divorce he sought to control her life through the logistics of joint custody for their two children. Despite ongoing tension in this broken relationship, she happily remarried and began a new chapter of her life. Her ex-husband, however, was unwilling to release her from bondage. In 2004, he beat her with a baseball bat as she arrived to pick up her children. Binding her with tape, he stuffed her in a garbage can and transported her to a storage facility in a bordering state. There he placed the garbage can in a locker leaving her to die. In the bitter cold she began to freeze in the unheated space as she suffered with serious injuries. She managed to place a muffled call with her cell phone aiding the investigation. She was found about 24 hours later with severe frostbite and hypothermia. All of her toes were amputated and months of recovery followed. David Larsen was convicted of kidnapping and attempted murder and will spend the rest of his life in federal prison.
Teri tells her story as a way of sharing how domestic abuse gradually surfaces and how to detect the early signs. Her advice on how to help those imperiled by this type of bondage was very informative. As I listened, however, I was impressed by her joy, her deepened faith and her hope for the future. I think she rediscovered the meaning of liberty in her life. The freedom from oppression is so sweet that she seeks every opportunity to let her story inspire people to lift themselves and others from bondage and find the liberty she now enjoys.
Haider Hamza was born and raised in Iraq. Now 24 years of age, he tells a story of the oppression of a dictatorship spilling into the oppression of war. His life as a journalist was born of necessity. The U.S.-led invasion of his country in 2003 disrupted normal economic activity. His search for income led to work as a photojournalist serving major news organizations in the United States. He chronicled the early years of the war from the initial invasion to the devastation of societal infrastructure. Through these images, he shared the immense tragedy of war. His own family directly was impacted as his home was attacked. His deep personal loss was muted, however, as he gave a very clinical assessment of the war and all he witnessed. As photo after photo passed on the screen with his careful description, the pain and suffering of the war was overpowering. Iraqis initially viewing U.S. troops as those who would bring them liberty, experienced the inevitable violence of war in their homes and families. U.S. troops seeking to be liberators increasingly were viewed as perpetrators of violence resulting in a sense that the Iraqi people had traded one form of oppression for another.
The remarkable insight Haider offered was that this war, like all others, will end. This will continue the task of rebuilding a country and restoring hope. It was his hope for the future that surprised me the most. An audience member asked him, “At what point did you love Saddam Hussein the most and at what point did you hate him the most?” He responded by saying he loved him and hated him the most on the very same day – the day his own home was attacked. He loved him wishing the stability of life he once knew despite the oppression of a dictator would still be there, and hated him for what he had brought upon his country. Today Haider lives in New York, completing graduate study and continuing work as a journalist. He has known oppression from many sources, but is now finding liberty as the simplest freedoms bring new possibilities for his life, and hopefully for the lives of many others in the years ahead.
The idea of liberty was on the minds of the founders of our nation. The experience of oppression caused them to stand for the belief that all of humanity has certain God-given rights from which we cannot be separated by any individual or form of government – “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We dare not lose this ideal as a driving force in our personal and national psyche. To do so could cause us to forget the values inherent in our democracy. These ideals most closely associated with Thomas Jefferson are represented in his words:
“Liberty is to the collective body,
what health is to every individual body.
Without health no pleasure can be tasted by man;
without liberty, no happiness can be enjoyed by society.”
So what’s the status of liberty today? Sadly, there are many suffering under oppression in the U.S. and in countries around the world. Occasional news reports are insufficient to remind us that liberty is a challenge not simply for individuals but for societies. The work is both mine and ours. Central College’s campus ministries, along with intercultural life, CAB, FCA and InterVarsity, launched the Free|Five campaign March 27. The purpose of the campaign is to raise awareness about human trafficking and provide students and the community with opportunities to join the global abolitionist movement. Details can be found on the college website.
The International Justice Mission (IJM) is a partner for this campaign and the backbone for this global effort as it works to end slavery, sexual exploitation and violent oppression of people around the world. According to IJM, these are the facts:
• The total market value of illicit human trafficking is estimated to be in excess of $32 billion. (U.N.)
• Each year, more than 2 million children are exploited in the global commercial sex trade. (UNICEF)
• 27 million men, women and children are held as slaves. (Kevin Bales, Disposable People)
• 1 in 5 women is a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. (U. N. Development Fund for Women)
• More than 1 million children live in detention, the vast majority awaiting trial for minor offenses. (UNICEF)
Let’s reignite our passion for liberty as Americans and extend hope to those living under oppression. It begins with us.
Photo by lschriekenberg