One of the most challenging and convicting quotes I’ve ever read comes from a letter C.S. Lewis wrote:
“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.”
A daily challenge we each face is to determine what to do with these “interruptions.” Those decisions will be based in large part on how we view those whose lives intersect with our own. It’s one thing to believe that all people have dignity, but how does that influence our actions? Or, as Daniel Darling has written in his book, The Dignity Revolution, “God is calling all of us not just to see that people have dignity, but to act accordingly. Not just to know, but to do.”
When we look at history, much of this “doing” comes from what we might deem interruptions. When we see them as “real life,” a foundation of knowledge turns those interruptions into opportunities to act. Here are three stories of Christians who embraced such opportunities and changed many lives as a result:
After growing up in the kingdom of Prussia, George Müller moved to Bristol, England, in 1832 to pastor a church. Realizing there was a great deal of poverty in Bristol, he and a fellow pastor looked for ways to serve and provide for those who had great needs. Müller also established schools to provide biblical education to the community.
One day, Müller heard about the sadness of an orphaned boy who had been attending one of the day schools until he was taken to a poorhouse outside the city. This one child’s plight was a springboard to Müller’s life’s work—providing homes for orphaned children in Bristol.
What he could have seen as a sad isolated story, Müller instead viewed as an opportunity for prayer and thought. Not only did he decide to open an orphan house, he used it to demonstrate the faithfulness and sufficiency of God to the people of Bristol by determining never to ask for money for the great needs of the orphan ministry. As a result, more than 17,000 orphans were given homes through his ministry, and God provided over a million pounds to meet their needs (equivalent to more than $100 million in today’s American currency).
Esther Ahn Kim
Ei Sook (more famously known by her married name, Esther Ahn Kim) was born in Korea in 1908, when her country was occupied by Japan. Post-college, Ei Sook took a job teaching music at a Christian school. When Japanese officials rounded up everyone in her town, forcing them to worship at a Japanese shrine, Ei Sook was the only one who refused. Strengthened by the words of Martin Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” Ei Sook prepared herself for the punishment to come.
After hiding for a while in the country, Ei Sook ended up in Pyongyang, where she met a man named Elder Park who believed God was calling the two of them to go to Japan to deliver a warning to the Japanese officials. Embracing this call, they went, delivered their message, and were immediately arrested. From 1939 to 1945, Ei Sook lived in a Japanese prison, where she learned to see each prisoner as a woman loved by Christ.
One freezing night, Ei Sook heard what she described as an “eerie, moaning sound.” She was informed by a jailer that it was a 20-year-old Chinese convict who was scheduled to be put to death for killing her husband. She was locked up alone with her hands tied behind her back. Unable to get the woman out of her mind, Ei Sook asked that this dangerous prisoner could be brought to her cell. The jailer warned Ei Sook, saying, “She’s crazy. She bites everybody.” But Ei Sook was persistent.
The following days demanded much from Ei Sook, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. One fellow prisoner remarked, “I didn’t know it was this hard to be a Christian.” Ei Sook came to a realization, saying, “Here I was, holding a woman who was unspeakably dirty. Only Jesus’ mercy could cause me to do it.” Over time, she was able to share Christ’s love with her new friend, and their fellow prisoners were amazed by the transformation they witnessed.
When this young woman walked to her death, Ei Sook wiped the tears falling down her face, watching her walk “as though hurrying to meet Jesus Christ.” When Ei Sook decided to embrace this woman whom many called “crazy” and “dangerous,” she opened her arms to an interruption sent by God for his great glory.
In 1765, Granville Sharp was employed as a clerk in the civil service in London when he had an unexpected encounter. Sharp’s brother was a doctor who treated London’s poor for free. While visiting his practice, Sharp noticed a young black man waiting for treatment. He had been badly beaten by his master, David Lisle. The Sharp brothers took the young man, named Jonathan Strong, under their care and nursed him back to health over the course of two years. When Lisle happened to see Strong, he realized he could still earn money off him, so he sold him to be sent to Jamaica. Granville Sharp, seeing the injustice of this, brought the case before the Lord Mayor of London, who sided with Sharp. Strong’s new and old masters both tried to fight the outcome, but Strong, greatly weakened from his beating, died in 1770 at the age of 25.
Sharp was not done fighting, though. Two years later, he took up the case of James Somerset, the slave of a customs officer from Boston. In 1769, his master had brought Somerset to England, and in 1771, Somerset escaped. Upon being recaptured, Somerset was forced aboard a ship bound for Jamaica, a British colony. Granville Sharp became involved, and the captain of the ship was ordered to bring Somerset before the British court, where his case would be heard by Lord Chief Justice Mansfield. The gist of Sharp’s case was that colonial slavery laws did not apply in England. The judge ruled in Somerset’s favor, and this ”Mansfield ruling” set a precedent that led to the freedom of other slaves brought from America to England, such as poet Phillis Wheatley.
After the Mansfield decision, Sharp continued to fight for abolition of the British slave trade, working with Olaudah Equiano, Thomas Clarkson, and William Wilberforce. Seen as “the father of the [abolition] movement,” Sharp’s life had taken a trajectory he would never have predicted before that momentary meeting with Jonathan Strong. Due to a deep faith in God, Sharp immediately recognized injustice and was ready to act when the moment for action arose.
What are the interruptions God might be using in your life to point you to a place where you can act on behalf of God’s image-bearers, loving and serving them with the love and strength of Christ?