All Domenic Johansson really wants for Christmas is his life back.
He lost it about two-and-a-half years ago, on an airport runway in Sweden, where he was waiting to take off with his parents for their new home in his mother’s native India. Swedish officials – with no warrant and with no evidence of a crime – boarded the aircraft and forcibly took the then-nine-year-old child away.
What they objected to was the fact that Domenic’s parents were home-schooling him. Not that home-schooling was illegal in Sweden … authorities just didn’t like it.
So they took the boy, placed him with a social services agency, and announced that the government would do a better job of raising him than his loving Christian mother and dad. Since then, Domenic’s parents have been allowed to see their son for one hour every five to six weeks. That may not last; officials think the boy’s mother cries too much when she visits.
The Johanssons have been denied private legal support in their efforts to get Domenic back. They are required by the same government that’s holding their son to use a government-appointed public defender.
It’s a Big Brother nightmare almost beyond comprehension … but at least the Johanssons can take comfort that Domenic is still alive.
Ayman Nabil Labib was 17, one morning last October, when he sat down at his desk in a Mallawi, Egypt classroom, wearing a cross around his neck. His teacher, a Muslim, ordered him to take it off. He would not.
So, the teacher and several of Ayman’s classmates began to beat him savagely. Battered and bleeding, he ran down the hall and into other classrooms, begging for help. No one responded. Ayman died there in the school.
In India, 10-year-old Namrata Nayak was also known to believe in Jesus. Her neighbors poured gasoline over her and threatened to light it unless she denounced Christ and embraced Hinduism. She wouldn’t do it, and they lit the match.
She fled, burning, to a nearby forest, hid, and somehow survived. Her parents – also Christians – did not.
And so it goes, around the world, this Christmas season, as hundreds of millions celebrate the birth of Jesus, “the Prince of Peace.” In the United States, many of us delight to children’s choirs, buy gifts for the underprivileged, smile with pleasure as our own youngsters and grandchildren wade into their presents by the dawn’s early light.
But it is not, as Paul Harvey used to remind us, “one world.” And there are many, in countries all over the world, whose definition of peace is: You agree with us. You believe what we believe. You worship whom we tell you, how we tell you, when and where we tell you – or else.
Some of them live in the U.S., where they tell children like 11-year-old Brian Hickman that he can’t dance to a song with Christian lyrics at an afterschool talent show … or nine-year-old Luke Whitson that he can’t read his Bible at recess … or 17-year-old Chase Harper that he can’t come to classes wearing a t-shirt with a Scripture verse on it. Where state troopers can arrest 16-year-old Angela Swagler, hold her overnight in jail, refuse her requests to call her parents or a lawyer, and conduct not one but two highly invasive strip searches – all because she held up a sign on the side of a public road protesting abortion.
Incidents like that happen every week here in the “land of the free” – and, yes, it’s a long way from pouring gasoline on children, or dragging them off airplanes. But it’s probably not as far as we like to think.
Extremists, here and abroad, believe there can be no peace until everyone believes the same thing. In fact, peace depends not on a brutally enforced unity, but on thoughtfully cultivated freedom. In this season, as so many of us are thinking – as we should – of the children who don’t have toys or a turkey for Christmas, let us also remember those children who long not just for something to eat or play with, but for the freedom to honor the deepest convictions of their souls.