Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.  With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.  There was not a needy person among them . . .–Acts 4:32-34

“Our care for the derelict and our active love have become our distinctive sign before the enemy . . . See, they say, how they love one another and how ready they are to die for each other.”–Tertullian (AD155-220)

Perhaps nothing confirms my Christian faith more than the behavior of Christ’s followers in the days following Easter.  They changed in surprising ways.  Suddenly, they were fearless spokesmen for the Gospel, despite ridicule and persecution.  Suddenly, the possessions they owned weren’t for their own benefit, but viewed as how they could be used to help others.  They had nothing to gain and everything to lose, but suddenly their lives and possessions paled in comparison to spreading love, kindness, forgiveness, and mercy, always giving credit to Christ and taking none for themselves.

I had a conversation recently with a church member about alleged tortures inflicted during interrogation of terrorist detainees.  I believe in protecting the safety and security of our country.  But I wonder how we  justify inhumane treatment of any person, even our enemies.  How does that make us different from the people we’re trying to protect the world from? (Note to anyone poised to make “bleeding heart liberal” comments: I am a registered Republican who voted for Reagan and both Bushes as well as John McCain, although I wish President Obama well in leading the country and think the First Family’s dog is very cute.)

Camp Concordia lies a few miles from my home.  A Midwestern prisoner of war camp during World War II, Camp Concordia housed nearly 4,000 German officers and enlisted men from 1943-45.  Many of the Germans served in work details on local farms left shorthanded because their own sons were in Europe fighting against, and being killed because of the human rights violations inflicted by Germans.  Yet in this little Midwestern community, the German POWs were mostly treated in the spirit of the Geneva Convention: “Prisoners of War . . . must at all times be humanely treated and protected, particularly against acts of violence, insults and public curiosity . . . prisoners of war have the right to have their person and their honor respected.  Prisoners who refuse to answer questions may not be threatened, insulted or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment whatsoever.”

Camp Concordia

Camp Concordia

Sadly, I’ve interviewed American POWs held in Germany and Korea who suffered horrific treatment.  Yet, in Kansas, the enemy forged friendships with local farmers and businessmen, some that spanned decades, writes Lowell May in his book “Camp Concordia: German POWs in the Midwest.”  

“I am now convinced that the POW camp at Concordia has had an effect on the future of Europe, and, for that matter, the world.  A large number of the POWs became professors, diplomats and business leaders in Germany.  I firmly believe that what they saw and learned while POWs in the United States influenced their thought, and thus helped keep Germany in the Western cause during the Cold War.  More Importantly, how these POWs were treated here has helped bring the two countries closer together.”  Lowell, by the way, is a Command Sergeant Major, Retired, US Army, who served tours in Vietnam and Germany and spent much of his Army career in the military police, working in corrections.

May’s book includes a “secret” letter written to the camp in 1944 by the US Adjutant General:  “The detention in the United States of ever increasing numbers of German prisoners of war creates an unprecedented opportunity. These men will some day be repatriated, and as a group, will have a powerful voice in future German affairs.  Their opinions and feelings concerning America may determine, in a large measure, future relations between Germany and the United States.”  The letter announces the establishment of a program “to create and foster spontaneous responses on the part of German prisoners of war towards activities and  contacts which will encourage an attitude of respect on their part for American  institutions, traditions and ways of life and thought.”

Jesus boiled that memo down to “love your enemies”, and backed up his words with actions when he prayed “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”, from the cross.

It’s not that hard to go to church and claim to be a believer.  What counts is how we are changed by what we believe.