We recently told you about ten of the most-inspiring stories in history featuring Muslims. Awesome as that article was, no one single religion has a monopoly on virtue. Just as there are inspiring tales of Muslims out there, so are there inspiring tales of Jews, Hindus, Buddhists…and Christians.
Since the foundation of their religion, Christians have implored one another to ‘love thy neighbor’ and ‘turn the other cheek.’ While not everyone who calls themselves a Christian manages to uphold these ideals, those who do are capable of some extreme acts of inspiring selflessness. Here are ten Christians who didn’t let themselves be blinded by prejudice…but instead dug deep into themselves and found the strength to do the most-amazing things possible.
10. The Orthodox Serb Who Gave His Life to Save a Muslim
When the soldiers came for shopkeeper Alen Glavovic, he knew his time was up. A Muslim shopkeeper in the Bosnian-Serb town of Trebinje, he had the misfortune to be living at the time of the vicious 1991-95 Bosnian civil war. It was a time when mainly-Orthodox Serbs went on the rampage, slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Bosniak Muslims, and Trebinje was no exception. On this bleak day in 1993, Glavovic was to be the Serbs’ latest victim.
At least, that was how things were meant to go. But the three Serb soldiers who arrived to kill Glavovic hadn’t reckoned with one man: Srdjan Aleksic.
A Christian Orthodox Serb who was a reservist in the army, Aleksic fit the profile for a Muslim-hater to a T. But Aleksic was a little different from his fellow Serbian soldiers. He was first and foremost a Christian. So when he saw three men beating an unarmed shopkeeper to death, he bravely decided to step in.
In the resulting scuffle, the three soldiers murdered Aleksic. Yet his intervention allowed Glavovic to escape. He literally gave his life for his fellow man. Aleksic’s good deed was not forgotten. Years later, the citizens of the Serbian city of Belgrade named a street in his honor – to remind themselves that even in their darkest hour, some of their soldiers were still capable of amazing acts of compassion.
9. The Latvian Janitor Who Saved Liepaja’s Jews
It’s a cliché that some men are born to greatness, while others have greatness thrust upon them. In Robert Seduls’ case, though, it’s extremely apt. A lowly janitor living out his life in Latvia’s third-largest city, Seduls probably assumed his name would never be praised around the world.
Yet Seduls just happened to be living his life at the same time Hitler was annexing every country he could get his grubby hands on. He also just happened to be a Christian who took ‘love thy neighbor’ seriously…even when that neighbor was a Jewish man wanted by the occupying Nazis.
Under Germany’s control, punishments in Latvia for sheltering a Jew were horrifying. Nonetheless, when the Nazis liquidated the ghetto, Seduls offered shelter to his former neighbor David Zivcon, along with Zivcon’s wife and two friends. The janitor built them a shelter in the cellar behind a fake wall. He kept them hidden there for 500 days.
Over time, word got out to surviving Jews about Seduls’ efforts. More and more people turned up on his doorstep. Seduls offered shelter and food to them all. By 1945, there were 11 people hidden in the cellar, and you better believe feeding them all on a janitor’s wage in occupied Latvia at the height of the war while death squads roamed the streets was hard and dangerous work.
But Seduls stuck at it. Although he tragically died only days before Liepaja was liberated by the Red Army, all 11 Jews he was sheltering survived. Before the war, Liepaja’s Jewish population had been 7,000. After, it was a mere 30. Sedul alone had saved over a third of them.
8. The Irish Priest Who Stuck it to the Nazis
You’ve probably heard of Oskar Schindler. The former-Nazi turned humanitarian managed to save 1,200 Jewish lives during WWII. That’s a lot of people, but even that pales in comparison to the work of Hugh O’Flaherty. An Irish priest working at the Vatican during WWII, he is estimated to have single-handedly saved around 6,500 Jews and Allied soldiers from the Nazi death machine.
How he did this should be a Hollywood movie in its own right. During WWII, Mussolini’s fascist state got increasingly more, well, fascist, before finally being fully taken-over by the Nazi regime. In other words, it was far from safe ground from which to operate a mercy mission. Yet O’Flaherty managed it. Setting up base deep in the heart of the Vatican, he devised a system of safe houses and clandestine smuggling operations that stretched as far away as Malta. When the fascists came for the country’s Jews, he got them into hiding. When they later came for Allied soldiers stuck behind enemy lines, O’Flaherty saved them, too.
The best part? O’Flaherty lived to see the difference he’d made. In the aftermath of WWII, he was honored by the US, UK, France, and Italy. As the priest was fond of saying: “God has no country.”
7. The Janitor Who Saved 200 Girls from a Suicide Bomber
If there’s one strange fact we’ve taken from writing this article, it’s that Christians who are also janitors tend to be some of the bravest people on Earth. Like Robert Seduls in Latvia, Pervaiz Masih was just a regular guy working a regular job. A cleaner at the International Islamic University’s female-only campus in Islamabad, Pakistan, he probably never expected his name to hit the news. But when death came calling in 2009, the Christian was the only one with the guts to stand in its way.
In this case, death came in the form of an extremist jerk who decided to bomb the university. Unhappy at the thought of women learning, he strapped himself into a suicide vest, disguised himself under a burka and tried to walk into the campus’s cafeteria. At the time, the room was packed with around 400 girls. The bombers vest was filled with ball-bearings. A successful attack could have killed hundreds and wounded even more. Luckily for those girls, Pervaiz Masih just happened to be cleaning nearby.
As the bomber approached, Masih seems to have realized what was about to happen. Rather than call for help, he ran to the cafeteria’s door and physically blocked the bomber’s path. Like the jerk he was, the bomber detonated his vest, killing Masih. Yet Masih’s sacrifce wasn’t in vain. By intercepting the bomber, he caused the force of the explosion to rebound backwards into the empty parking lot instead of into the cafeteria. Thanks to his bravery, hundreds of girls who should have died that day lived instead.
6. The Priest Who Taught His Students the Greatest Lesson
The name Lucien Bunel should probably be known by everyone on Earth. A Carmelite priest, he ran the Petit Collège des Carmes, in Avon, near Fontainebleau. When the Germans invaded France, Bunel (also known as Father Jacques) made the decision to admit three young Jewish boys into the school to shelter them. What happened next will break your heart.
Although Bunel succeeded in keeping the children safe for most of the war, his luck finally ran out in January 1944. Some anonymous scum who knew about the boys turned informer, and gave the Gestapo details about Bunel’s heroic deed. The Nazis duly arrived and arrested the three children. Bunel, his mother, his sister, and the three Jewish boys were deported to Auschwitz or Mauthausen. They all died.
So why are we including this in an article on inspirational Christian stories? Well, shortly before his arrest, Bunel was heard to say, “I am sometimes accused of imprudence; I am told that since I am responsible for the children at the Petit College, I do not have the right to expose myself to possible arrest by the Germans. But do you not think that, if that happened and, if per chance I should be killed, I would thereby bequeath to my students an example worth far more than all the teaching I could give.”
It turned out he was right. The day the Gestapo took him, all the students at the school flocked to see. As the good father vanished into the morning mist, he turned and called out “Au revoir et a bientot” (Goodbye and see you soon). Immediately, all the watching boys erupted into thunderous applause. Even as the Gestapo shouted at them to be quiet, they kept defiantly applauding, giving Bunel the send-off he deserved.
5. The Priest Who Sheltered 1,500 Muslims from Ethnic Violence
Not all heroic Christians lived long ago. Father Bernard Kinvi of the Central African Republic (CAR) is every bit as modern as you or us. Yet his heroism is every bit as impressive as those who lived during WWII.
In 2013, Muslim rebels overthrew the CAR’s government and began a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Christians, killing men, women, and children. Fast forward to January 2014, and the Christians forced the Islamist rebels from power. Only rather than focus on promoting peace and turning the other cheek, they immediately began their own campaign of sectarian violence. An anti-balaka Christian militia rose up and went on the rampage, murdering Muslim men, women and children. Against this bloodshed stood one man: Father Bernard Kinvi.
In the small town of Bossemptele, the Father threw open the doors of his mission to those fleeing violence. Up to 1,500 Muslim civilians poured in. When the Christian militias turned up, Father Kinvi refused to hand them over. Despite being unarmed and facing the constant threat of death, he managed to stare down the killers. Through sheer force of personality, he kept the anti-balaka at bay until nearly every Muslim was safely over the border.
Most-impressively, Father Kinvi didn’t just help Muslims. When anti-balaka members were wounded, he treated them just as he would those fleeing them. His attitude directly contributed to spreading peace in Bossemptele. At one point, he even managed to convince anti-balakas to help him evacuate Muslims peacefully – something that should have been impossible.
4. The Man Who Made it His Christian Duty to End Slavery
William Wilberforce was one of the most-awesome men of the 18th century. How awesome? At a time when the vast majority of people thought it was cool to sell Africans into slavery, he took one look at the whole rotten system and said “no.” He was an ardent abolitionist, motivated by a deep-seated Christian belief that all men should be equal before God. And he used that belief to change the world.
Back in 1790, most Brits thought enslaving Africans was doing them a favor. Although there were some abolitionist movements – like the Quakers – no-one took them seriously. But Wilberforce was connected. He was friends with the Prime Minister, Pitt. Wilberforce used those connections to get himself a chance to make the case against slavery in the House of Commons. Boy, did he go for it.
For three hours, he bludgeoned everyone present with facts about slavery’s cruelties; about how many died during the voyage, about conditions in the Caribbean, about the sadism of slave masters. He ended his speech with a rhetorical flourish to the lawmakers that’s still remembered to this day: “Having heard all of this you may choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know.”
This was the speech that got the ball rolling on the abolitionist movement in Britain. Although it would take nearly another 20 years for slavery to be outlawed in Britain, and another 20 after that for the ruling to be implemented in the colonies, Wilberforce was instrumental in it all. He even lived long enough to see the end of British slavery. He died exactly two days after slavery was abolished throughout the Empire for good.
3. The Forgotten Chaplains of WWII
WWII was carnage for pretty much everyone involved. Even as a latecomer, the US lost nearly half a million men. Although the exploits of the US and other Allied armies have since become the stuff of legend, there’s one branch of the military who deserve to be remembered more: US Army chaplains.
Per capita, more chaplains were killed in WWII than any other military group, bar the Army Air Corps. This wasn’t due to there being a low number of chaplains, or a spate of accidents mysteriously targeting men of the cloth. It’s because the chaplains were driven by a deep sense of duty to go right into the heat of battle.
One representative example is an unnamed Catholic priest who was present at the infamous Battle of the Bulge. An injured officer witnessed him running full pelt towards the Ardennes, where the fighting was thickest. Apparently, he called out “Chappie, what in the world do you think you’re doing? People up there are dying by the scores!” The chaplain said, “That’s precisely why I need to be there!”
Incredibly, this story is not unique. Across the entire arena of war, chaplains from all denominations put themselves into deadly danger just to bring a tiny bit of comfort to dying men. If that isn’t heroism, we don’t know what is.
2. The Christians (and Muslims) of Albania Defy the Holocaust
This entry is split between both Albania’s Christian and Muslim communities. Yet it’s so amazing and inspiring that there’s no way we could leave it off.
During WWII, Albania was swiftly occupied by Axis troops. At the time, the country was home to a mere 200 Jews. Nonetheless, the Nazis decided to bring the Final Solution to Albania, too, like the big jerky jerks they were. It was a decision that should have resulted in 200 more deaths added to the total of the worst genocide in history. Instead, something amazing happened.
Albania’s Christian and Muslim communities decided they weren’t going to let their Jewish neighbors die on their watch. Across the country, Albanian Jews, along with 400 Jewish refugees from Austria and Germany, were taken into hiding and protected. When word got out, hundreds more Jews poured in from across the Balkans seeking shelter. And Albania’s two major religious groups provided it. Even when the Germans took over ruling the country from the Italian fascists, they kept the country’s Jews safe.
In fact, Albania’s Christians and Muslims did such a good job, that Albania became the only occupied European country to end the war with more Jews that it started it with.
1. The Polish Priest Who Made the Ultimate Sacrifice
How far would your compassion take you? Would you sacrifice yourself to save 100 others? What about 10? What about just 1? Polish priest and Auschwitz prisoner Maximillian Kolbe didn’t even have to think twice. When Nazi guards randomly selected 10 prisoners to starve to death as reprisal for an escape attempt, he did something most of us could only dream of doing.
It was August 14, 1941, a hot and bitter day in the death camp. The Nazis had rounded up the 10 men and were making an example of them. Just before they were sent to their deaths, one of them men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, fell to the ground and cried out My wife! My children! I will never see them again! Moved by his grief, Maximillian Kolbe stepped forward and did something unthinkable. He offered to die in Gajowniczek’s place.
The Nazis granted his request.
Over the next two weeks, Kolbe and nine other men enduring mind-numbing agony as they died of starvation and dehydration. Yet Kolbe tried his best to keep their spirits up, singing psalms and offering prayers. He was the last of the group to expire, executed by lethal injection after the Nazis decided he was taking too long to die.
But there’s a truly amazing twist to this story. See, Kolbe didn’t die for nothing. Franciszek Gajowniczek was so moved by his offer that he swore to survive Auschwitz and honor the dead man’s memory. And he did. Gajowniczek finally expired in 1995 aged 93. Maximillian’s Christian charity had saved his life.