by Fr. Barnabas Powell
“Jack” was a missionary to Ethiopia providing free education, but his subtler task was to convert the locals from the ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Church to his modern form of American Christianity.
There was just one problem. He found himself drawn to the beauty of the faith that the apostles brought to his mission field two millennia ag
The last straw in his growing realization that he was on the wrong side of proselytizing came through an incident involving another missionary.
Jack’s group runs summer camps for children whose parents can’t afford school, but there’s a hidden cost to this gift.
At camp, children are pressured to leave their ancestral faith and embrace the missionaries’ sectarian revision.
A colleague was working with some adolescent girls at one camp, mixing his assigned subject with a dose of proselytism. Orthodoxy is mere paganism (he argued), filled with un-biblical rituals and doctrines leading to hell.
If you want to be saved, reject this idolatry and accept Jesus into your heart as your personal lord and savior. Then you’ll be assured a place in heaven.
Over successive days, he urged the students to recite a “believer’s prayer” signifying their conversion. In time, they submitted — mostly.
One stubborn holdout refused to heed the missionary, sticking to her faith despite the pressure now poured on by peers:
“The missionaries are good. They’ve come all this way to teach us. If they want us to take their religion, we should trust them.”
“No,” said the holdout, “I feel it is wrong to abandon our faith.”
The increasingly frustrated teacher noticed that the holdout wore a medallion of the Theotokos (mother of God) around her neck. A new tactic emerged.
He began teaching that icons (images of Christ and the saints) are blasphemous, even sharing select verses of Scripture to prove it. He asserted they were homes for demons, that the girl had a demon around her neck keeping her from saying the prayer and getting saved.
Confronted with this strategy, her resolve weakened. She got saved, and handed over her medallion.
To signify her liberation from darkness, the missionary held a special ceremony. Marching the girls to the edge of camp, where the latrines were located, he handed the girl her medallion. Comprehending, she tossed the image of God’s mother into the pit. Her conversion was complete.
Jack’s group celebrated this incident, but it made him wonder — isn’t Jesus a real human being? And if he’s Mary’s son — a good, Jewish son who respects his parents — how would he feel about someone throwing her picture into a pit of excrement?
This struck Jack as heretical — a rejection of Christ’s humanity. Talk about mangling Christmas!
If Christ was truly born, how must he love the woman who nursed him, changed his diapers, and taught him to speak?
You cannot love God, Jack concluded, while hating his mother.