The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


May 13, 2009

Celebrating freedom

Earlier this week I was cheered to hear on the morning news about the release of American journalist Roxana Saberi from an Iranian prison. In April Saberi had been convicted of espionage and sentenced to eight years in prison. She grew up in Fargo, N.D., with her Japanese mother and Iranian father, and she had dual U.S. and Iranian citizenship. She graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn. , in 1997. "This is a day to celebrate," said Concordia's president, Pamela Jolicouer. Indeed it is!

As a journalist, I'm most grateful that I don't need to fear arrest or trumped-up charges of espionage for practicing my craft here in the U.S. I am aware, however, because of the travels we at The Lutheran have done throughout the world in our efforts to bring stories to our readers that they otherwise might not get, that in many parts of the world journalists have to be careful. We were often careful to say that we were "church workers"—which we are—rather than "journalists"—when we filled out documents for entry into other countries. I remember the difficulties of reporting on some of my trips, particularly one to Liberia in 1991 during the civil war that tore that country apart for many years. I wrote my reporter's notes partly in shorthand, partly in other abbreviated forms—and hid some of my notes on my person. I didn't want to cause trouble for the people whose stories I was bringing back to the U.S. and to our readers. I had to answer to rebel leaders as to why I was in the country.

That experience pales, however, when I think of what Saberi must have experienced in these last months. Now we can celebrate that she'll be returning to the U.S. with her parents, who were waiting in Tehran and hoping for her release. ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson had appealed to Iranian officials by letter in April to free Saberi—as had several officials from North Dakota and the U.S. Administration. 

Isn't it easy to take for granted the freedoms we have? It's good to be reminded that many in other parts of the world experience life very differently. It's well that we are less self-absorbed as Americans and more open and compassionate about the rest of the global family. Through many of its programs, the ELCA does a good job of both raising our awareness and then of using our dollars to respond to various situations, whether it be disaster, hunger or other needs.

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Embracing diversity