I hugged three men today. Each was physically smaller than me, but they seemed larger than life. None looked me in the eye before we hugged, but each returned the embrace.
The men did not say anything. All I could say was something like, "God bless you. We will not forget you." It seemed so weak and inadequate, but I didn't know what else to say.
These men live in West Papua, a part of Indonesia. Life is not good in West Papua.
At the Baptist World Alliance Congress in Durban, South Africa, Socratez Yoman presented videos, photos, and information regarding human rights abuses in West Papua. At the end, the moderator described the presentation as "moving, in fact, horrifying."
A number of people in the audience stood to express concern for the situation and solidarity with the Christians of West Papua.
In the midst of a part of the presentation that was in another language, I checked my email. The top story in the Washington Post dealt with the battle in New York City between Uber and taxi companies. In other words, the biggest news in one of the United States' top newspapers addressed getting rides around town while I listened to a man talking about life and death, torture and abuse in a small corner of the world.
Life is much different in West Papua. One man at the meeting in Durban travels widely had recently visited West Papua. He described it as the "most militarized place I've ever been to." He also noted the Indonesian government policy of islamization of the province, which has been primarily Christian and the environmental destruction of the region.
A man from South Africa said Nelson Mandela had not delivered his nation from injustice; rather, it was "everyone in the world who contributed something. … Some marched, some prayed, some gave."
I surely will now pay attention to what is happening in West Papua, and I pray that my family and friends will do the same. International pressure helped bring change to South Africa. West Papua is one of several places in the world that now need our prayers and our efforts to halt human rights abuses.
Freedom is important to Christians and to Americans. It is critical that we value freedom for all people, not just for ourselves. Our voices for others can make a difference -- the end of apartheid in South Africa provide it.