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© Pumla Rulashe/UNHCR

Thinking small

Some of the largest stories of 2011 happened among unsung heroes without headlines

Issue: "2011 News of the Year," Dec. 31, 2011

Our annual end-of-the-year compilation is an annual challenge. As a news organization we travel in drive-and sometimes overdrive-all year long. The pause and reflect gear that's needed in December threatens to send some of us through the windshield.

In 2011 we've seen unprecedented street-inspired upheaval, uncommon natural disasters, and unimaginable political weakness at home. Yet as the headlines and headshots of 2011 have paraded before me, it's the small stories I find beckoning. God works through the kingmakers and attention stealers, but He's shaping news quietly also-in out-of-the-way places among unsung heroes.

Consider Obaid S. Christ, a Christian leader from Afghanistan living among fellow exiles in New Delhi. He has battled the UN bureaucracy, which has denied refugee status to members of his fellowship, forcing them to return to Afghanistan even as Christians there are being jailed and killed.

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Last month Obaid was at a shopping mall in Delhi one evening when a companion saw Abdullah Abdullah-a leading Afghan politician who has long stood against the Taliban. In 2009 he ran against President Hamid Karzai, won 30 percent of the vote but withdrew from the runoff over what he called the government's inability to hold fair elections.

In the food court Obaid along with six others approached Abdullah and said, "We are Afghan Christians, who are condemned to death because of our Christian faith." Abdullah replied, "Who condemned you to death because of your faith?" When Obaid answered, "Sharia Law and Afghan government," Abdullah told him he was not aware of it.

"I told him that if you win the next elections you should grant us our Afghan identity and the right to be and live as Afghan Christians in Afghanistan ... and then I told him that we will pray for you, and I shared the gospel in 30 seconds with him. He was silent and listening and then said goodbye and left."

May that "small" encounter make a difference in the coming year's headlines.

Here's another small story, from an evangelical pastor in Pakistan: Organizers for Jamia Islamia, one of the most radical Islamic parties in the country, invited him to speak at a rally in Karachi, the hot bed of terrorism in Pakistan. "I know it was a high-risk call," the pastor said, but "so far we have not heard any negative report about my sharing the gospel in such platform."

May that "small" opportunity bear fruit in the coming year.

And in Sudan: Attacks by Khartoum forces in the Blue Nile area in late 2011 have sent 40,000 refugees across the border to Ethiopia, where many lived as refugees from similar fighting decades ago. One is Santino Samuel John, grandson of the first Uduk tribal Christian and a cripple from childhood polio. In 1987 his father carried him nearly 400 miles to safety when fighting began. In November Santino, now a father, had to flee again-but this time not knowing where his parents were. They had fled away from him, south.

At the request of U.S. physician Rob Congdon, health workers at a revived mission hospital-where over 15,000 displaced also took refuge in recent weeks-went looking for Santino's aging parents and found them in the makeshift camp, along with his sister.

"They hid in the bush for several days and collected as much food as they could. ... Samuel [the father] was quite pleased to hear that Santino was safe in Ethiopia. I gave them one small packet of tea and a small packet of sugar," reported the worker. Congdon recalled missionary Malcolm Forsberg in the 1950s returning to the area to take communion from Santino's grandfather, who led a church of new Sudanese believers. Forsberg wrote: "[He] was bending over me and I was reaching out to understand. ... The communion service brought it all into focus. ... We (missionary and Uduk alike) had sought to make God Himself our goal and He had embraced all our need."

Small stories can have big impact, reminding us as we reflect in this season on Jesus Christ, that the largest man in human history was born of Mary, wrapped in swaddling cloths, and laid in a manger.



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