Walk a mile in someone else's shoes

With all the major, horrific crises around the world, it's easy to forget that some places have been living in crisis for decades.

Take North Korea.

There was a potent reminder recently of the conditions Christians there live under when officials announced that Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim has been sentenced to life in prison with hard labor.

Lim's alleged crimes? "North Korean officials charged that the pastor had joined the U.S. and South Korea in a human rights 'racket' against the country. They claim he fabricated and circulated false propaganda materials that tarnished North Korea's image," Catholic News Agency reports. He was sentenced after a 90-minute trial.

Lim, who is of South Korean origin, is pastor of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto. His family said he went to North Korea in January to work at a nursing home, a nursery and an orphanage. He was arrested in February.

Other missionaries have been detained for "crimes" such as distributing pamphlets or leaving a Bible in a bathroom.

When these kinds of activities are considered crimes against the state in other countries, it becomes a bit difficult to take seriously the claims of a "war on Christianity" in the United States.

Reaching out to save your own life

Argue all you want about whether there should be interfaith dialogue or not (an evangelical college outside of Chicago put a professor on leave for saying Christians and Muslims worship the same God), but one Syrian priest believes his interfaith work saved his life.

In May, Islamic State militants took hostage Syriac Catholic Fr. Jacques Mourad and a volunteer from a monastery between Damascus and Homs. They were forced into a car and driven for four days across the desert.

"We could only perceive the sense of the desert. In that moment . . . I thought it was over," Religion News Service reported.

He was held for 84 days in a bathroom in Raqqa.

"It was very difficult above all when they said, 'Become Muslim or we'll cut your head off,'" he told members of Rome's Foreign Press Association on Dec. 10.

In August, he and the volunteer were taken to another location, where they joined 250 others who had been abducted from his parish. They were eventually freed after agreeing to return home, pay a special tax for nonbelievers and live under Islamic State rule.

After living under the "unbearable" conditions for several weeks, Mourad was smuggled out of the country Oct. 10. He told reporters he wouldn't be alive if he hadn't fostered brotherhood between Christians and Muslims.

"I'm convinced I'm alive also thanks to this mission . . . the work we did contributed to preventing Islamic State [group] from killing me," he said.

Students get it, adults sometimes don't

Efforts at brotherhood — or in this case, sisterhood — have been winning praise at a high school outside Chicago.

Two weeks ago, the Muslim Student Association at Vernon Hills High School held a "Walk a Mile in Her Hijab" event, where members helped non-Muslim girls put on hijabs for a day so they could better understand what it is like to not only be part of less than 2 percent of the student population, but to wear clothing that immediately makes you stand out.

"[It will] denounce negative stereotypes and show that we are just caring, respectful, peaceful students, and your peers," student organizer Yasmeen Abdallah told the Daily Herald.

The newspaper's story and its one-minute video on the event got worldwide attention — and, of course, not all of it was positive, with some critics alleging a link between the activity and efforts to recruit young people to become Islamic terrorists.

Principal Jon Guillaume defended the students' right to participate in the activity.

"We have religious groups that do 'Prayer at the Pole,' 'A Day of Silence,' and 'A Day of Truth.' As long as what they're asking to do doesn't interrupt the educational setting, it's OK. This wasn't about promoting a religion. It was about getting kids to follow a theme we have, which is to walk a mile in someone's shoes before you cast any judgment," he told the Daily Herald.

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook.]