A very ancient practice in humanity is veneration of those that come before. In the catholic church, the process of veneration occurs after a person is gone, and the sum total of their life experiences upon reflection appear in retrospect to have elevated them beyond others who have lived as exemplary in their sanctity or in their living example to others. They are canonized, and venerated as saints for their faith and godly inspiration. Sometimes the saintly life is witnessed by tens of thousands, and the acts appear miraculous and possessing power beyond the mortal coil. Others, the life, no less inspirational, touches very few over a brief interlude, and is buried in the obscurity of every day tragedy and suffering.
Kayla Mueller is a young woman who lived in obscurity and whose good works are reproduced by thousands of people every day who see their life’s calling as selflessly helping others. She is brought to our attention only by the dark misery of her final months on earth brought about by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Examples of saintliness, often whispered, however have the power to break through the 15 minutes of focus our attention crazed culture will willingly allot to any one event. The story of Kayla Mueller, a young woman who stayed true to her convictions through the darkest and most unholy of circumstances, simply grows in stature since her death. Through the witness of others, Kayla Mueller lives on as an example of the power of faith and goodness steeped in our western civilization, and a oh so worthy venerable Ramparts People We Should Know -#30.
Kayla’s brief but exemplary life was not unique in its path. Young people imbued with intense idealism have always decried the world for its realities, and strove to do their part to elicit change. Whether the young monastic voyagers who preserved civilization in the 8th and 9th centuries as they proselytized the concept of permeable monasticism and set up centers of learning across Europe, to the missionaries of the nineteenth century across the world who expanded the Word, and with it the concepts of hygiene, education, and sustainable farming. The twentieth century was flush with organizations inspired by idealism regarding poverty, environment, refugees, and health that sought to apply these universal concepts of civilized humanity across borders. Young people flush with the desire to help have been drawn to Catholic Relief, Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, Peace Corps and many other institutions that seek to reduce suffering no matter how chaotic the environment.
It was to this world, the world of helping others as a foundational element of her own existence, that Kayla was drawn. When she left college, she knew that a routine life that she had grown up in, of marriage, children and a comfortable life in a small town in Arizona were not her calling. Her idealism tightly interwoven with her faith pointed her in a far different direction:
“For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal” Kayla Mueller
She traveled the world – to India, the Middle East and Tibet – to seek out human misery and do what she could to bring attention to, and in her own small way, alleviate suffering. Typical for a millennial activist, she was cause driven – hunger, poverty, human rights-and was often offended and idealistically desensitized to the very real politics and conflicting forces that created such conditions of poverty and suffering. This desensitization led her to make mortal mistake, when she ignored her Syrian boyfriend’s repeated advice that she stay out of the hyper-dangerous world of war torn Syria. Desiring to see first hand the calamity rather than deal with refugees across the relative safety of the Turkish border, she talked him into letting her accompany him on a job at a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo, one of the epicenters of the conflict. The August 3,2013 day trip became calamitous when she and three other aid workers were abducted by ISIS on the car ride back to Turkey.
The following 18 months can only be described as an ungodly hell. The perverted cult defined by the inner circle of ISIS saw Kayla as a particularly valuable form of chattel compared to her other miserable hostages, given her American passport and her Christian faith. She was subjected to torture, repeated rape, isolation, and humiliation in a monstrous effort to subjugate her. Her value was apparent to the king gangster, the Abbadon known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS crackpot who took her as his personal sex slave. She was forced to watch the beatings, rapes, and execution of her fellow hostages, and mercilessly, the release of others while she stayed captive. Her horrified parents in Arizona did what they could to bring her home, from working towards a demanded ransom of millions of dollars, to pressuring the US government to do something to change the brutal fate she faced. The 18 months of hell was only brought to an end on February 6, 2015, when it was declared by ISIS she had been killed in an American bombing, though those close to nightmarish story professed doubt regarding the exact circumstances of her demise.
Kayla would have been simply another of the tragic stories of innocents caught in the trap of another manmade historical hellhole, were it not for a steady and increasing witness to the very special nature of this nondescript woman. On such witness, saints are recognized. Two characteristics are common to every shared survivor of that hellhole that managed to escape Kayla’s fate. Kayla Mueller, under murderous pressure and torture, never renounced her faith and humanity, and selflessly sacrificed for others whenever she could. In the hellish world where her chief captor was ‘Jihadi John’, the sick masochist seeking fame through media recorded beheadings, the burning alive of the Jordanian pilot, and the forced sex slavery of Yazidi women and massacre of Yazidi men, Kayla was reported as directly denying Jihadi John’s boast to other hostages that she had converted to Islam, when this example of defiance most surely led to more beatings and sexual assaults. When given a once in a lifetime chance to escape with two Yazidi captive girls, Kayla selflessly declined, telling them they would have a better chance if not in the company of a western woman. While those around her achieved rare freedom, in what must have been for her unbearably painful to remain behind, she never lost her dignity in front of them and held on to her faith that god would find an answer to her suffering, much as she always hoped to bring to others. Witness after witness, the same story of the American woman who maintained her faith and dignity, and reinforced their belief in humanity, through the worst that humans can offend.
Kayla Mueller ended up triumphing despite her despair and horror, and through her suffering and martyrdom did more to bring resilience to the fight against evil than any of her previous actions. She is the purest of martyrs, not to be remotely compared to those pathetic posers who immolated themselves in service of a death cult and their own hoped for cartoon glory.
The politicians have reminded us that real world politics remain the dirty business of near scoundrels. The US government, as responsible as any for giving the murderers of ISIS the foothold they needed in the Syria and Iraq to live out their perverted fantasies, told the Muellers in their desperate attempt to pay a ransom to gain her freedom, informed the parents it was against the law to pay ransom to terrorists. The merits of such a law apparently had no sway on the administration recently when it recently paid 400 million to Iran in immediate proximity to release of hostages, a ransom by any other name. I guess it just depends whether someone’s legacy is directly at stake. Whether blaming an innocent man’s video for the death of Americans in Benghazi or paying non-ransoms for hostages, its pretty clear, politics is a dirty business indeed.
C.S. Lewis once tried to explain the incredible power of faith that provided the rock that allowed Kayla Mueller an average, flawed person to triumph supernaturally over evil:
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
Kayla wanted to tell the story of her life as if the afterlife depended on it, but not in the delusional way that current death cult drives its followers, an afterlife of dominance and personal reward for those who have been pathetic in this one. Kayla’s reward was always in her mind of living a fulfilled life in the service of others. “For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal.” Her desire to live her life in a way true to her faith rather than true to her comfort, is her triumph, not her martyrdom. Whether anyone would have ever heard of Kayla Mueller had she stayed out of Syria that fatal day and remained anonymous, her faith and selfless acts assured that her God had heard. She knew this desire, a yearning which no mundane experience in this world can satisfy, and in the depths of her despair, recognized she would ultimately triumph. On the shoulders of such giants, we flawed mortals must stand back in awe. For living her brief life always with the intent to bring meaning and alleviate suffering, Kayla Mueller is Ramparts People We should Know #30.