It never gets any easier to see or live through senseless acts of evil and violence. That is what I’ve been thinking a lot about over the last few days since the Aurora theater massacre. Hitting so close to my home here in Denver, it’s incomprehensible how someone could be brought to a point so desperately low that he could take innocent lives, young lives that were only at the beginning of their life journey.
In my career in humanitarian aid, I’ve experienced pure evil constantly on the job—from interviewing villagers in the D.R. Congo who have had their homes and families attacked by rebels, to hearing the story of a former colleague in Sierra Leone who had been kidnapped and lured into a nightmare of sex trafficking, to walking beside families in Zambia where death is an everyday reality that robs them of their children, parents and friends. Just a couple weeks ago, I learned that Rutshuru, a village in the D.R. Congo where I have visited as part of my previous job at World Relief, was attacked by rebels, just one act in a seemingly unending “war” that has taken millions of innocent lives.
I’ve seen tragedy strike in the slums of Kenya where children play in raw sewage without a hope for a future, and I’ve seen it strike a few miles down the road from where I live in a midnight showing massacre. All these stories leave me confused and angry that such evil is even possible.
And they leave me asking the aching question: why?
It makes me heart-haltingly angry. Why does God allow such awful suffering? Is it wrong to even ask that? Is that something we’ll ever fully understand? Michael Hidalgo, my pastor at Denver Community Church, affirmed this past Sunday that it is good and natural to ask these questions. He also reminded us that in times like this, we are called to overcome evil with good.
Just let that sink in.
“Overcoming evil with good” sounds nice and all, but it is also hard! Part of me wants every person who has destroyed innocent life and spirit, and who allows corruption to oppress the vulnerable, to be served the punishment justice would require. I know that if I let myself, I could get wrapped up in hatred and loathing for individuals who bring injustice, oppression and death. I don’t know if I thought it would get easier over the years or that I would become desensitized after awhile, but it doesn’t get easier.
Overcome Evil with Good
What I’ve learned through the last 10 years of international relief work is that if we don’t overcome evil with good, then evil will always win. So, where is the good? In times of destruction and death, communities are brought together in grief. Communities lean on each other—opening up homes, preparing meals, donating money and resources, praying for peace and fighting to rebuild their lives. I’ve had the privilege of meeting people who have chosen to overcome evil with good, and they can inspire us all that there is hope.
- In Kenya, an incredible man, Moses, purposefully lives in the slums so that he can walk alongside and encourage children—giving them hope for an education and a better life. He could just be angry at the corrupt government, but he uses his anger to bring good.
- In my neighborhood (the Eastside of Denver), neighbors are uniting to say that gang violence will not destroy our community—the 4th Annual Eastside Peace March is August 11, 2012.
- In DR Congo, villages are coming together to form Village Peace Committees to help resolve violent and destructive conflicts.
- In Denver, Extreme Community Makeover organizes volunteers to go into low-income, underserved neighborhoods and help with home and neighborhood improvement projects—building a sense of community.
- In response to the Aurora theater massacre, thousands of people are flocking to donate and provide assistance to the survivors and the families of the victims. From prayer vigils, counseling services and support groups—the community is responding.
In the wake of the tragedy of the Aurora shooting, my church sang this hymn last Sunday:
Oh death! Where is your sting?
Oh hell! Where is your victory?
Oh Church! Come stand in the light.
The glory of God has defeated the night.
I was struck by the powerful message that, regardless of your faith, can resonant and encourage us as we grieve. We don’t have to let death and evil destroy our community. We will come together to pray, to give, to encourage, to inspire, to bring hope and to let the world know that although there are those who have the propensity to spread hatred, there are many more who are working to make the world and our city a better place. We should never stop being angry about such senseless acts of violence and horror, but we can let our anger propel us to continue working to spread love and hope in the world.
In Denver and in communities throughout the world, the strength of love and community has the power to overcome the darkest days. And that is what can help us all through these hard times.
Sarah is the Managing Associate for Social Enterprise and Business Planning at JVA Consulting—helping social innovators across sectors become more scalable, sustainable and successful. Previously, she was a Senior Program Officer at World Relief—working with communities in Africa and Asia. She has her MBA in International Economic Development from Eastern University.