“I’ve always hated Americans,” Mary* told us through interpretation. Sitting cross-legged on the floor of this small apartment in East Asia, listening to Mary’s story, I felt very uncomfortable. Why was I here? In Mary’s eyes, I was the enemy.
Mary grew up under the tyrannical, oppressive rule of an isolated East Asian nation. All her life she’d heard about the evil Americans who were the cause of every injustice and hardship. Every time the power went out in her city, the government officials said the Americans had shut it off. When there wasn’t enough food to eat in her famine-ravaged country, the Americans were blamed for the shortage.
Learning Not to Hate
Though her government proclaimed that she was living in a “paradise on earth,” all Mary could see was poverty, hunger, fear, and oppression. Finally, at the brink of starvation, she made a desperate escape, knowing she was risking her life. Sneaking past the border guards who are trained to shoot to kill anyone attempting to leave, Mary managed to get across the river safely to the neighboring country, where she was taken in by a Christian family who gave her shelter, food and the love of Christ. This family had arranged for Mary to meet me and another couple from the U.S., which is how we found ourselves sitting in a circle on the living room floor that night, listening to this amazing tale.
“When I began studying the Bible, I learned that Jesus tells us not to hate,” Mary continued softly, “but to love our enemies, and to forgive.” She looked at the floor in silence. “And I heard that Americans are not as I’d been told, but that many from your country love God too, and that some of you are even praying for our country. I didn’t believe it was true, so that’s why I wanted to meet you to see it for myself. But now I can see in your eyes that it IS true – I can see the love of God in you.”
Encounter with the “Enemy”
Her voice full of emotion, Mary whispered, “Can you forgive me for hating you?”
The night Mary* met me was her first encounter with “the enemy.” But something miraculous was happening in that meeting. The walls of hostility were crumbling. Because we had received Christ’s forgiveness, my American friends and I were able to extend forgiveness to Mary. And as we repented on behalf of our country for ways we had hurt her people in the past, she was able to forgive us, her former “enemies,” as well.
The Power of Forgiveness
Many hugs, tears, and prayers later, we left the apartment that night filled with awe that God would allow us the privilege of participating in such a holy moment. We were able to witness the healing power of forgiveness and reconciliation through Christ.
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For He himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” Ephesians 2:13-14
* (Not her real name)