Excited to show my daughter-in-law Rhonda the plants in the Conservatory at Garfield Park, we arrived on a Friday afternoon to find out that it was closed. Why? A woman in a parked car told me the reason: closed for Juneteenth, a new holiday. It took me a while to understand what she said, but her knowledge helped us to appreciate what the day was all about. The name is short for June Nineteenth, and some may call it Freedom Day. It commemorates the effective end of slavery in the United States. Bill and Rhonda had heard about it on their drive to Indiana from Ohio. The Conservatory staff decided to observe it right away.
Today I heard about another named day, though not a federal holiday. June 29, in Christian circles, is known as the Day of the Christian Martyr. This day was established with the traditional date when the apostle Paul was martyred. The Voice of the Martyrs gives several ways to observe this day. An email arrived with the story of a young girl who was “shot to death on her doorstep by Marxist guerrillas because of her witness for Christ.” Her name is Rocio Pino.
How do these two days connect? Both speak for the hard facts of how a nation can hold people in bondage and even take their lives away. Both have the connection of humans being persecuted. Both are about our desire and need for freedom. Both call us to the place of prayer: asking forgiveness, even when we were not those who did the wrong, the evil of taking life, and asking for mercy and justice for those caught in the horrific systems built upon slavery and persecution. I dare to say, like a friend does frequently, that we should also pray for the persecutors, that they would surrender to God and have Him change their hearts and minds.