Tales about real life heroes are my favorites. There’s something about the depths of despair they encounter and the courage they muster in the face of crazy odds that ignites a noble place within me. I cheer for their success and, deep down, aspire to be like them.
During this summer’s Olympic games in Rio, one such account continually caught my attention. Each time I saw the commercial highlighting Yusra Mardini’s flight from war-torn Syria, I was inspired. Not so much because she successfully achieved her own personal goals, but because her heroism also secured hope and life for others.
Her story picks up when Yusra and her sister, Sarah, had already fled Syria and traversed Turkey in a desperate attempt to reach Western Europe. The women had been smuggled onto a small boat and were making a treacherous sea crossing to the Greek Isle of Lesbos when the engine of their dinghy gave out. With 20 Syrian refugees crowded into a craft designed to carry a maximum of 7-8 people, their situation was grim. Drifting aimlessly in the Aegan Sea, and with little hope of rescue, Yusra took things into her own hands. Diving fearlessly into the water, she and Sarah, along with two others, swam for 3 hours pushing the boat to safety. In her words, “I wasn’t going to sit there and complain that I would drown. If I was going to drown, at least I’d drown proud of myself and my sister. It would have been shameful if the people in our boat had drowned. There were people who didn’t know how to swim.”
Heroes are truly made of such stuff.
For freedom, she was willing to fight against overwhelming odds to save herself and others. She overcame pain and limitations, faced the unknown with courage, stayed the course, and achieved a seemingly impossible feat.
I can only imagine how her companions must have felt as they huddled in the dinghy, helplessly watching the effort the swimmers exerted on their behalf. After all, if it got too difficult, they could, at any time, simply swim themselves to safety leaving the others to face certain death. It was clear that their lives were in the swimmers’ hands. And all of this for the sake of freedom.
I’ve never had to face the terror and destruction of my homeland, nor the suffering and desperation generated by years of war and sanctions. I’ve lived in freedom all my life and I take it for granted. No one has had to save me. Physically, anyway.
In this comfortable existence, I am sorely at risk of forgetting a greater battle, however, that was valiantly fought on my behalf in an altogether different time and dimension. Incalculable sacrifice was made to secure eternal freedom for me, and precious blood was spilled.
I hail from a land of loss, Scripture says. Born into selfishness, enslaved by a lawless nature, and bound by chains of fear and shame, I was destined for destruction and death. Like one set adrift at birth, I was unable to swim or save myself, isolated and without hope, created for eternity but trapped in futility.
Seeing my desperate condition, and unwilling to just stand by and watch, Christ acted. In a gesture devoid of self and compelled by love, He stepped out of glory and dove into time. Enduring personal agony, He SAW what I couldn’t, took action to do what I never could, and offered salvation freely before I even knew I needed it. His action gifted me with hope and life although I deserved none of it.
So, hearing stories like Yusra’s reminds me of the spiritual freedom that was won for me, and fill me with wonder at the One who sacrificed His life because He deemed me worth saving.
Like the occupants of that small dinghy who will never be able to repay Yusra for her act of sheer bravery, I cannot repay Christ. I am simply the beneficiary of His kindness. And just like the refugees who KNEW what their fate would have been had Yusra not taken action, the only right response to my Savior is gratitude. The utter magnitude and mystery of the price He paid for my ransom drives me to my knees in reverence and awe.
Because of His sacrifice, then, my story is now forever intertwined with His. It is now Christ’s name I want to honor with my life, and His likeness I want to emulate. As one on pilgrimage until I reach my eternal home, I walk by faith, and in freedom, seeking each day to love God and others, fully persuaded that my destiny is sure.
I was freed for this.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 2:3-5
Tamara Carpenter is part of the Newsong Leadership Team and a regular contributor to this blog.