A week ago today our friend Jeremiah Small was killed in his classroom.
His own student pulled a gun on him. If you haven't read about it, see more here.
It happened in the city of Sulaymaniyah, and the entire community is still recovering from the shock of it all. Of course, the shock is about the violent death of an American in the oft-touted "other Iraq" region, to be sure, but the shock is also about much more than that. When the community heard that Small's family was coming to bury their son, rumors started to fly. Some thought they were coming for financial compensation, others for revenge. And in an eye-for-an-eye culture like this one, rumors like that aren't crazy. If someone hurts you, you hurt them back. And that's more than cultural, it's human nature. But that isn't preemptive love.
Until someone is willing to absorb the pain rather than pass it on, violence will only continue to beget violence. Pain has to go somewhere.
So when Jeremiah's family arrived and began blessing everyone they met, people were amazed! They were grief-stricken, to be sure, but through their great love the Small family proved to be bigger than anything most people had ever seen—they blessed rather than cursed, they sang rather than screamed; their love was furious. They even wore traditional clothing in order to show solidarity with the culture. This was their way of living out preemptive love.
Just as Jeremiah worked to love his students first—no questions asked—his family came and loved preemptively. They were remaking a broken world by choosing to forgive rather than to yield to the endless downward spiral of hate and violence.
Perhaps the most compelling example of this love was at the funeral when both the family of Jeremiah and the family of the boy who killed him embraced (pictured above). They absorbed the pain—shared it even—rather than lashing out at each other. This is preemptive love. This is the lifestyle we believe everyone can (and should) live by.
This is the better way, and the Small family used Jeremiah's death to show us that.