Ten years ago, on the morning of 9/11/01, I was sitting in my home office in Miami, scribbling out the closing scene of my then latest work-in-project, The DMZ, set against the Islamic involvement in Colombia's guerrilla zones where I grew up, when my husband called from our ministry headquarters in Miami to tell me to turn on the news.
"I can't; I'm finishing my last scene," I told him.
"Turn on the news," he insisted.
As I did and watched our world change forever, a phrase I'd written in the mouth of a main protagonist, encapsulating the theme of the book, suddenly took on new meaning.: "Those who are not willing to bleed and die for what they hold dear will always be held hostage by those who are."
The story behind The DMZ originated simply because I'd written my first suspense novel, CrossFire, set in the counternarcotics war in Bolivia where I'd spent 16 years, and my publishers wanted another. I'd grown up what are now the guerrilla zones of Colombia, so it was an obvious setting. As I began to research, I was stunned to uncover the completely unpublicized involvement of Islamic militant groups in Colombia's guerrilla conflict.
Then I came across a Colombian news item that never made our media of Iran trying to push through a “humanitarian aid project” to build a meat-packing plant, complete with airport, in a small jungle town smack in the middle of the guerrilla demilitarized zone, or DMZ--and incidentally 300 kilometers from the closest cattle ranching area. That set me to questioning just what Iran was doing there, which birthed The DMZ.
In real life, the U.S. embassy managed to derail that Iranian project, which permitted me to use it for my fiction plot. But I'd always wondered what Iran's Plan B was. Interestingly, that Plan B has actually materialized very closely to my plot line within the last year on the Venezuelan side of that same jungle zone in an alliance between Iran and Hugo Chavez, another startling example of seeing my fiction in the headlines.
A brief synopsis of the story:
When the US loses three major military assets in Colombia within weeks, attention turns to the demilitarized zone, a Switzerland-sized piece of territory handed over to the guerrillas in the vain hope it would make them start talking peace. The death of three American environmentalist activists in the same area bring a UN inspection/media team to the scene, including environmental journalist Julie Baker. For Julie it is at once a career opportunity of a lifetime and a revisiting of old hurts and terrors as she returns to the place of her birth—and her parents’ deaths at the guerrilla hands.
As Julie’s probing unleashes a terrorist plot that spans from the rainforests of Colombia to the Middle East and the very heartland of America, she must confront resurging issues from her own past. Does God have a right to demand our total sacrifice? Does He have the right to demand our sacrifice of those we love? "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds . . . If anyone comes to me and does not hate (count as of lesser importance) his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple (John 12:24; Luke 14:26). Are these just words or a philosophy of life God seriously expects us to apply beyond our comfortable suburban neighborhoods?
But when I was writing that morning of September 11, 2001, I was not thinking of a broader application, rather of the country where I'd grown up as a missionary kid and loved dearly, 40 million people being held hostage by less than 20,000 leftist guerrillas. A poll taken in Colombia at the time of my writing revealed that the top Colombian choice on how to handle the guerrillas was to have the Americans come in and defeat the guerrillas for them.
I never dreamed how relevant the phrase I'd written that became theme of the book would become on a world-wide scale by the time The DMZ actually went to print: "Those who are not willing to bleed and die for what they hold dear will always be held hostage by those who are".
Ten years later, those words still hold true. As we remember on this day, may we hold our lives in an open hand and be known for what and whom we are willing to lay down our lives.
"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13)."
"But God demonstrates His love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)."
"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers (1 John 3:16)."