My job these days is to pursue an end to the North Korea crisis.
That’s a fun one to explain to people, right? It isn’t too big of a surprise that the number one question I often get, then, is “is what you’re doing safe?”
To me, it’s a bit of a funny question. I’m in the middle of Minneapolis, which is the most dangerous place I’ve been in for a while. My route on the awareness-raising tour I’m on has taken me through Iowa, Colorado, and Nebraska- not exactly bastions of danger. Since I’ve been working for Liberty in North Korea, the biggest danger that I encounter is the thin steel spiral staircase in our office. I still have to take my time going up and down that thing.
In fact, the very thing I’m working on is to redefine North Korea as something bigger than just a security threat. While people are busy wondering if they’re going to launch a nuke at us (a concern that’s only gone in circles for years and years), people don’t notice the world of suffering and repression the North Korean people face. People don’t notice that there are things that can be done that help them, and instead choose a path of worry over their security. In fact, the most common question I get at my presentation is “what happens to Americans if they’re caught helping North Korean refugees to safety?” If they’re caught, that means the North Koreans with them will be sent to prison camps and likely executed. That’s all the motivation I’d think one should need to not get caught.
See, I think we’ve come to a point where we’ve made a false idol out of something that isn’t even really real- security.
I say this because while I’m “safe” now, my calling is to the world’s most oppressed people groups, and that won’t always mean “safety.” The area I’m hoping to spend time in around Johannesburg in the near future is fairly crime-heavy. Around the villas of Argentina, I’ve been around settings that make the neighborhoods in the U.S. that people often describe as rough seem pretty tame.
I grew up in rather safe environments. My homes were almost always suburban. I didn’t really lack any comforts. Yet the entire time I spent in those surroundings, there was a nagging dissatisfaction that bothered me. Beyond boredom, it was this nagging feeling of purposelessness. I had a strong inner knowing that I was made for something much bigger than my own comfort and personal security because there was something missing.
Don’t get me wrong, to live in a state where you don’t have a constant fear of war, of gang violence, of abduction, imprisonment, or starvation is a huge blessing. It’s one I’m very thankful for. At the same time, it’s a blessing and not an entitlement.
I know I might be told that I don’t understand the value of safety having been spoiled with it my entire life, but in reporting on my own experiences, it wouldn’t do them any justice to say that I was satisfied by it. Jim Carrey once said ”I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” In a similar light, safety isn’t the answer.
Also to be fair, I’d have to add that I’ve encountered, worked with, lived with, and seen so many people who have grown up in less than ideal conditions, safety-wise, and those people have lived incredibly fulfilling lives.
But at the end of the day, “safety” isn’t the guarantor we think it is.
We often take security in the economic stability a job provides us with, or in the physical security provided to us by living in a good neighborhood. But those things more often than not provide us with a misleading sense of comfort and the temptation of complacency instead of actual protection.
Good stories aren’t lived in the comfort zone. And I know we are called to live a good story.
On the way out from Denver, I drove by Aurora, Colorado, the mostly suburban city now infamous for the movie theatre shooting. While Aurora is a largely safe area, the things that could take your life are present in every corner of the globe. To truly be “safe” you need to do absolutely nothing with your life. Don’t get on the road for fear of an automobile accident, don’t go out in public for fear of an epidemic, don’t leave the country for fear of terrorism. In the process of protecting your own life, though, you’ll find that you’ve already taken away from yourself the very thing that makes life worth living.
It reminds me of the Biblical quote a whole lot- “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.”
That’s why I’m a bit adamant about not letting fear get in the way of living the life you were made to live. In Biblical terms, the one verse that’s just been drilled into me by life this year is Philippians 1:6- he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
I follow the God who is said to make sure sparrows get enough to eat every day and that lily plants get to grow to be beautiful. I believe I’m called by that same God to go to work with situations that might not always have the guaranteed safety and security that we’d typically desire. But that promise of completion rings true. Whether you’re in the mine-infested lands of South Sudan or the shopping centers of Southern California, the guarantee of your life isn’t in your hands to begin with. If there is a reason for you to stay alive, you will live.
Safety and smart decision making shouldn’t be made out to be anything more than good stewardship over the life you were given. But you were given that life for a reason, and valuing its protection over its purpose can get in the way of turning our lives into incredible stories.