Earlier the year, I began to research places we considered traveling this summer—Estonia and the other Baltics were competing with Iceland for top spot. We finally settled on a dark horse not in contention—Croatia and Montenegro, with day trips to Slovenia and Bosnia.
It’s been a top five destination for me since I saw a photo of Montenegro, a country I’d never heard of, on a National Geographic cover in the dentist’s office. So when I saw tickets come across that were significantly cheaper than the norm, I grabbed those and let the other two places wait for another day. (Of course, now, it’s all a giant unknown. At least we’ve had a lot of practice with that lately.)
But the research got me.
After perusing the standard tourist pages, I dove into the history of the Baltics. I learned the stories of their occupation—Estonia has hardly known freedom in its entire existence—and the particular horror since WW2. I encountered stories of families torn apart and lives lost in desperate bids for freedom boating across to Finland.
“The Soviet policy of ‘Russification,’ implemented soon after the occupation, amounted to cultural genocide. It forbade the Estonian flag, imprisoned resistors, and made Russian the official language of the country. Tens of thousands of Russian workers were brought in to dilute the ethnic Estonian population. Estonians became serfs to their masters in Moscow. Within six years of the first Soviet troops arriving in Estonia, the country lost about 25% of its population to execution, imprisonment, deportation, and escape.”
I read about over two million Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians joining hands across the length of the three countries to protest for self-rule. Who could not admire the resilience, creativity, and courage of a people whose entire population sings their way to freedom?
Moving on to our new destination, I began to read of the breakup of Yugoslavia. In these countries, sadly, people did not sing or grasp neighbors’ hands to fulfill their dreams of freedom. Instead, many turned on one another, neighbor against neighbor in Bosnia. Snipers picked off Muslim citizens who dared to leave their houses in daylight, and families buried their dead in the dark for safety. This history I’d remembered, of course. Only vaguely, though.
My own history has made me ignorant of much that has gone on in the world. I was never taught history. Oh, I remember learning American history repeatedly, year after year. Not once, however, do I recall learning world history, except as it impinged on America occasionally in the form of war.
Then in the 90’s when the seams of the USSR were ripping apart, I was giving birth to three kids and noticing very little outside my small world of diapers and Barney and trying to continue a writing career between breastfeeding and nap times. Oh, and I was also going to seminary. So world news wasn’t top of mind.
Now, however, I know.
Knowing makes the world closer. It humanizes events. It gives faces to people who only want to live with self-determination of the details of their own lives.Tweet
These are the Ukrainian people. My heart breaks for them and prays for their freedom and peace.
Leaving the European political scene, these are also transgender teenagers in Texas. These are Afghan, Syrian, Guatemalan refugees. These are women in abusive situations. These are black Americans trying to birdwatch in a park.
In Genesis God gave humans dominion to grow, learn, and be free in the land. God gifted humanity with agency and purpose. Taking those things away is the most devastating thing one can do to a human soul, because they were the first gift of a loving God who knew the created ones completely. It’s also, as Lisa Sharon Harper points out in her new book, Fortune, the first weapon of a conquering people.
Take away agency, and you take away the will to fight.Tweet
This is why I weep for the Ukranians and others who might be next in the path of a lust for power.
This is why I fight for my black siblings who still can’t live, work, get an education, drive, walk, jog, or wear a hoodie in the place of their choosing.
This is why I set up apartments for refugees and support sanctuaries to women fleeing a dictatorship in their own living rooms.
This is why I’m learning about teenagers who don’t feel like their bodies are obeying their very souls and fear telling anyone about this struggle inside.
Because God created people for good, peacemaking kinds of freedom. Not the kind of “freedom” that denies responsibility for our fellow humans in favor of personal preference and rights. that’s not God-given freedom–Paul calls that indulgent selfishness.
“You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love.” (Galatians 5.13, CEB).
God created humans to be free in the original Edenic definition.
This is why we hope for better.