My rear brakes were metal on metal, so I took my truck to the shop. The owner of the shop is a guy named Shin, an earnest Korean man in his early 60s. You can always count on Shin to service your vehicle comprehensively and for not much money. He is a unicorn in his field.
We have known Shin for years, if you can call being his customer knowing him. When my wife Lindsay’s parents first got to know him, they found out rather quickly that he was a Christian. Shin works like a machine for his clients and smiles all the time. He is kind and honest, and the conversation will turn to God if you allow it.
Shin asked me to follow him into the shop to look at my rotors. We wound our way through engines and parts and various tangled piles of machinery. The brake rotors were warped, and he had them on his old brake lathe. As the rotors spun on the lathe, little specks of metal shaved into a pile. We stared at the machine in silence, like men do. Then we started talking about his business and when he came to the States. Next thing you know, we’re discussing God and the state of American culture. And darkness.
We nodded and agreed that God is good and that the country is a bit crazy, much different from what it used to be. He explained how Korea is pretty Christianized because of missionaries from America.
Then Shin pulled out his phone.
As he scrolled, he said he sometimes needs encouragement in his faith. It’s not that his faith is weak but that he believes we live in a society of watered-down Christianity. We Americans, he said, are fair-weather Christians, whereas following Jesus in other parts of the world can cost your life. Then he said his sister in Korea had sent him a video of a pastor and his family in Nigeria being beaten to death and set on fire because they were Christians. Shin paused and looked straight ahead, his face tanned and slightly smeared with grease.
“I watch the video every day. It encourages me in my faith. This old man . . .”
Shin cued up the video and showed it to me. An old African man, woman, and young child are in a ditch. Men in a mob advance on them with small sticks and beat them until the sticks break. When the sticks break, another man charges and beats them until his stick breaks. The mob is irate, the hatred electric. It grows increasingly worse until the family is shoved in a hole and partially covered with kindling. The mob lights the kindling and kicks the family back in the hole as they try to writhe out.
The old man in the video doesn’t move. He just sits there and takes it, even adjusting to sit more squarely in the center of the hole as the flames lick at his flesh. He must have been somewhere else in his mind. Shin reverently spoke of the man’s faith, of his resolve to sit there and be burned alive for following Jesus. It was horrifying and moving.
The video went on, and Shin set his phone on a tray of socket wrenches as it kept playing. I felt like the blood had drained from my head. As Shin got back to work on my truck I quietly walked into the office to wait.
Not What I Expected
It has been several days since Shin fixed my brakes, and I’ve thought much about the encounter. I decided to search for the video to see what I could learn. What I found was rather shocking.
As I searched for the video, it became apparent that the video was not what Shin believed it to be. Though the exact time and place of the footage is unclear, most sources believe it came from a village in Kenya, not Nigeria. Allegedly, the family in the ditch wasn’t burned because they were Christians, but because they were accused of being witches. Witch burning was—and perhaps still is—a common occurrence in some Kenyan villages like Kisii, where the video was likely shot. Even more shocking is that the killers may well have claimed the Christian faith.
With the rug pulled out from under me, I struggled to make sense of this video. What I had thought was a family being martyred for their Christian faith was actually something quite different. Such is the danger of internet voyeurism. The heinous acts happened, just in a different context than what I’d been told.
At many points in history it has been costly to follow Jesus. The dirt is stained with the blood of those killed for their devotion to him. But we Christians do not hold a monopoly on persecution. As America changes and we are increasingly secularized, it’s easy for Christians to think we’ve got it the worst and that everyone is out to get us. We’ve been in some battles, no doubt, but we aren’t the only folks experiencing strife and hate—and even murder.
Shin was misled about this video. He thought he was watching a pastor’s family endure a heinous death for their faith in Christ. That wasn’t the case. But there’s still something here for us to learn.
We Christians are not this perfect peaceful people who must clash with the various heathens of the world. If we could remove all nonbelievers from the planet, we would not be strumming kumbaya. The world isn’t merely bad because of them; it’s also bad because of us. I don’t mean to say that Christians are the problem in the world. I do mean to say that I am.
A newspaper once asked G. K. Chesterton what’s wrong with the world today. He replied:
Yours, G. K. Chesteron
It is so easy to abdicate responsibility and deflect blame to others. But within our own chests lie dark hearts. If we have tasted the sweetness of Christ’s grace, our hearts of stone have been transformed, but they haven’t become stainless. We still carry an exhausting duality of righteousness and darkness. The good in us is Christ; the bad in us is us.
So we must cling to Christ. We must grab at his robe and seek for him in the darkness. I am the problem; he is the solution. That innocent family burned alive in the video needed Jesus. Those beating them and setting them on fire did too.
The nail-pierced hands of Jesus produce a freedom that no one can strip away. As we behold him, we become like him. And as we become like him, our families and communities will be affected by a love from on high. The kind of love that changes the world from the inside out.
I think Shin gets that, too.