Jan Hus

Composite - Jan HusToday (July 6) in 1415, Jan Hus was burned at the stake in town of Konstanz, then in Bohemia. A monument still stands in the town marking Hus’ life.

Hus was a theologian and an academic who rose to the position of Rector of the University in Prague. Already when he was a student, Hus had admired the writings of John Wycliffe, an Oxford scholar and theologian who had translated the Bible into English for the first time. Wycliffe’s translation and his writings were much criticized. His critics did not want the Bible in the language of the man on the street, preferring to keep it in Latin only. English, they thought, was not a holy enough language for a translation of the Bible and the ordinary man could not be trusted to interpret it. Wycliffe and Hus believed that the Bible should be the ultimate authority for belief and teaching. He trusted the common man to interpret it better than the theologians of his day.

Wycliffe’s writings came into prominence in Bohemia, where Hus lived, when the sister of the King of Bohemia, Wenceslaus, married King Richard II. of England in 1382. Due to her influence, the writings of John Wycliffe were widely circulated in Bohemia . Hus renewed the attachment to them he had developed as a student. He began promoting them in his sermons and writings.

Eventually, the order was given that all of Wycliffe’s writings be destroyed and all of his followers required to recant. Hus refused even after numerous attempts to persuade him, saying that he would only be persuaded to change his beliefs if they could be shown incorrect according to the Bible. When he was burned at the stake in on 6 July 1415, Wycliffe’s translation and writings were used as kindling for the fire. His last words were: “In 100 years, God will raise up a man whose calls for reform cannot be suppressed.” In fact, 100 years later, in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses of Contention on to the church door at Wittenberg.” Then Luther went on to translate the Bible into German.

So, if you read the Bible in your own language, if you believe that people should be able to express their beliefs freely, or that you should be able to decide for yourself what you believe by reading the Bible for yourself, you owe a debt to the likes of Jan Hus who died for those ideas.

Today, July 6, is an excellent day to remember that. Besides, it’s my wedding anniversary.

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Don’t forget the heroes

A few months ago I was intrigued by the following news article.

Jewish and historical groups in Poland have called for a special day be put in the Polish calendar to remember the thousands of Poles who aided Jews during WW II.

The Association of the Children of the Holocaust, the Jan Karski Association and the Museum of the History of Polish Jews have addressed an appeal to President Bronisław Komorowski to initiate a Day in tribute to Poles-holders of the Righteous among the Nations medals.

Those who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust deserve a special place in the nation’s memory and historical debate, the appeal says. Read more

Map of eastern Africa

Map of eastern Africa showing Rwanda, Congo and Kenya

Something similar is needed for Africa. We see the horrors in Africa, such as the genocide in Rwanda in which radical Hutus killed almost one million Tutsis. We rightfully ask why? How could such a thing happen? Those are excellent questions, but we should ask other questions too. If you take time to read about the genocide in Rwanda, you will notice that those killed are described as “Tutsis and moderate Hutus”. The fact is that many Hutus died protecting Tutsis from the murderous rage of the  radicals in their own Hutu ethnic group (or tribe). The movie, Hotel Rwanda, illustrates just one such case.

I was in Kenya when the 2008 election crisis caused ethnic clashes. One of my colleagues, a Kenyan who gave me computer support, was saved from certain death by people of the ethnic group which were supposedly against his ethnic group. They harbored him against the attacks of their own people.

Ed and Congolese graduate

Ed and Lamumba (not his real name) graduating with a degree in Bible translation

When I worked in Congo, we sponsored a Congolese Bible translator for advanced translation studies. I’ll call him Lamumba, as it still is not safe to use his name. When he came out of Congo to start the studies in Kenya, he told a harrowing story. In his area there was a tribal war going on. One tribe would take control of his town and then kill or imprison people from the other group, then the other tribe would take over and do the same in reverse. When the militants from his own tribe were in control, a believer from his church, but from the other tribe, was imprisoned. He took that person a meal in prison. Incredibly, people from Lamumba’s church, who were from his own ethnic group, perceived that as aiding the enemy and sought to kill him. He had to sleep in a different house every night to avoid them.

When we react in horror to ethnic clashes, as we should, we should also remember that God probably has his heroes right smack in the middle. There will be many Hutu martyrs for Jesus in heaven who died defending Tutsis against the attacks of their fellow Hutus. There are other Congolese, like Lamumba, who helped fellow believers in spite of the tribal clash that should have separated them. Some probably died for it. The instigators of the ethnic conflict in Kenya are going to be tried in the International Criminal Court, but no official body is looking into the stories of those in their ethnic group who acted against their machinations.

God remembers, and one day he is going to put on display the righteous acts of those who suffered to do right, and thereby thoroughly humiliate this world (Rev. 17:8). Don’t find yourself listening to the stories and saying, “Oops! I really should have expected that,” or, “Oh! How wrong I was to condemn all Africans!”