For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. Psalm 71:5
People are talking about Otto Warmbier, the college student on a trip to North Korea who was arrested for trying to take a propaganda poster, tried and put into a North Korean prison for 15 years. But, something happened and while we will likely never know the specifics, he was released from prison in a coma and died two days after being transported back to the United States. As many comments as I have heard about the cruelty of North Korean officials, I have heard statements about how stupid Otto was with some even saying that he deserved to die. That kind of talk makes me sick. And I cannot help but think, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” When I was a little younger than Otto, I went to Israel on foreign study. We studied Medieval History and Biblical Archaeology. About twenty-five students, two professors and their wives had a wonderful time touring ancient and medieval sites. We climbed into caves where King David might have hidden, pretended to battle at Crusader forts, swam in the Jordan River, the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, and viewed snow capped mountains and desert valleys. I never thought Israel would be such a beautiful place. Though we were warned to be careful and reminded of the nightly curfew, we were young and careless. In Tiberius, several of us left our hotel to join a group of young people dancing by the Sea of Galilee (at night). Another time, I went alone in a taxi to a city several hours from Jerusalem to see friends (who were unprepared and astonished at my arrival). In Jerusalem, attracted by some Star War movie posters in Hebrew that we saw plastered to walls near our hotel, four of us went on an adventure. Not that it was bad enough that we broke curfew, but we dressed in trench coats and ski masks and hid in doorways peeking around corners. Dumb? Almost as dumb as trying to take a propaganda poster in North Korea? I think so. Especially when I heard a voice asking what we were doing and turned around to see guns pointed at us. By Israeli soldiers. I was the only girl in the group and was shocked when the soldiers focused on me, pulling my cap off my head, shining a flashlight in my eyes and demanding to see my passport (which I didn’t have because it was back at the hotel with our professors-who no doubt didn’t expect us to be running around Jerusalem after dark.) Finally, they escorted us back to the hotel with warnings not to try such a stunt again. Later, we found out that some terrorists were using college aged American women as lookouts. They were targeting me! Holy cow! How stupid can you be? Stupid or naïve? I choose to believe naive. About me and about Otto. With only forty years and a different country separating us.