Like the air we breathe, most Americans assume our extraordinary freedoms will always be in abundant supply.

It’s only when those freedoms are threatened or when we are otherwise enlightened to the fact that many in our world live and die never knowing the blessings of liberty, that our appreciation for it grows.

In the following collection of short essays, seven Americans write about events in their lives that resulted in a deeper appreciation of freedom.

FREEDOM’S BLESSING • by Darko Velichkovski
Twenty years ago, pursuing a dream of academic excellence and artistic mastery, I left my homeland in communist Eastern Europe and arrived in the U.S. wide-eyed and anxious. What I found was immeasurably greater than all my dreams combined. I found American freedoms, the most precious one of which I didn’t even know one needed — the freedom to know and worship God.

For, where I came from, the spiritually lethal mixture of humanism and socialism in our upbringing and education rendered God irrelevant. By the time the Party’s educational arm was through with us, atheism had set so deeply in our minds that it became the only acceptable and logical view of the world.

Led by my government, my teachers, even by my parents, I walked the wide path to the dark gates of eternal separation from my Maker. In just my lifetime, I have seen whole generations utterly lost to the deadly toxins of atheism, when the knowledge of the Creator became a heavily guarded intellectual commodity. I have seen my once proud and prosperous, centuries-old Christian nation lose the freedom of the knowledge of the Divine, disintegrate and lower itself into the chaos of one of the most violent civil wars in European history. Blood flowed like rivers, human life became cheaper than candy, and hope was nowhere to be found. For, ultimately, that’s what humanity is, void of the knowledge of God — hopeless and self-destructive.

How blessed are we, living here in this land of freedoms. Because of the divinely inspired wisdom and faithfulness of the founding fathers we are still surrounded by the freely imparted knowledge of the Almighty Creator of the universe, who in His love for us came to earth as a humble man in Galilee, and gave up His life for you and for me. Indeed, as that old song says, " America, America, God shed His grace on thee." Let us never take it for granted.

Darko Velichkovski is president and CEO of the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra in Jackson, Mississippi. He is a classically-trained clarinetist and Christian recording artist and producer.

FREEDOM’S GIFT • by Jan Champoux
I recently received an e-mail from a friend visiting an orphanage in China. I couldn’t help but smile at the images she conveyed — a flock of impish kids, clamoring for hugs, toys and precious snack bags of colorful cereal.

Xiao, a shy six-year-old girl, quietly hung back in the shadows. When Xiao was coaxed into accepting her gifts, my friend noticed that she was missing the fingers from one hand. My friend asked about the possibility of adopting Xiao, but her idea was dismissed with the wave of a hand. "Who would want such a child?" My heart sank as I read the words.

I think of Xiao often as I watch my own adopted Chinese daughter. Like Xiao, Emily is six years old and is missing the fingers on one hand. Both girls began life in much the same way, yet now their lives are so very different.

As an orphan, Xiao will receive only a limited education. She may never be accepted by others. As an adult, Xiao’s best chance may be to stay hidden away at the orphanage, caring for other children who started out life in the same way as she.

As I turn my attention back to Emily, I am reminded of the difference that a family and freedom can make. I see a lighthearted, confident showboat who brightens any room. I also see a tender, nurturing soul.

She too may end up in some role as caregiver — a doctor or nurse perhaps. I rejoice at what the future holds for my daughter, and remember to be thankful for opportunities of America. But my heart still aches for a little girl in the shadows.

Jan Champoux is a stay-at-home mom, living with her husband and four children (including Emily Huaying) in Nebraska.

FREEDOM’S PROMISEby Brigitte Gabriel
As a first generation immigrant to this great land of the free and home of the brave, I am proud of America, the dream that became my address.

My home in Lebanon was destroyed by shelling and I lived in an 8 X 10-foot bomb shelter for seven years between the ages of 10 and 17. I was robbed of my youth and the freedoms even the poorest of American children take for granted. I ate grass to live, drank dirty water from a nearby spring and spent evenings in candlelight covering my ears from the sound of the bombs exploding around me. Once, at age 13, I went to bed dressed in my Sunday best because I wanted to look pretty for burial if I was killed by the Muslims. My only crime was that I was a Christian in what was once the only predominantly Christian country in the Middle East before Islamic Jihad took hold and turned it into a terrorist haven.

As someone who lost her freedom and feared death, it pains me when I see Americans using their freedom of expression to abuse our country or tarnish its character. While sitting in my bomb shelter I would have changed places with them in an instant. America is the country that the oppressed of the world look to for freedom.

Enjoy your religious freedom, freedom of movement, freedom to assemble and freedom of speech because every day someone complains about our country they encourage our sworn enemy, the jihadists, into believing that the longer they hold out the sooner they can take our freedoms away.

Brigitte Gabriel is an expert on the Middle East conflict. She’s the former news anchor for Middle East television and the founder of AmericanCongressforTruth.com.

FREEDOM’S REQUIREMENTS • by Fred Jackson
Our little bus came to a stop after another adventure down a potholed street in a poor neighborhood of Tirana, Albania, on the west side of the Adriatic Sea.

This capital city along with the rest of the country still suffers the effects of years of communist oppression. Evangelical Christianity is barely tolerated. So it’s not surprising that on this Sunday morning in 2005, we didn’t see anything that looked like a church building. We never would.

Our guide led us down an alleyway and then opened a gate to a small compound. A man introduced as the pastor smiled warmly and directed us into a small room. The morning service had already started. Thirty or so people, many of them young adults, crammed into the tiny space that was lit by a single lightbulb dangling from the ceiling. They sang with a joy that could come only from a Spirit-filled heart. The sermon was a hard-hitting message about the dangers of sin. After the service, the people shook our hands. Some hugged us and thanked us repeatedly for coming. I didn’t deserve their gratitude. I was the one who had been blessed.

I’m back home in the U.S. now. Here, years of freedom have allowed Christianity to flourish. There’s a church on almost every corner. Our religious freedom is pretty much taken for granted.

And that can be dangerous. Because unless we are vigilant, we can find ourselves developing an apathy toward defending Biblical truths as well as our liberty to worship. And in that kind of spiritual environment, our freedom to live out those biblical truths can vanish.

So in some strange way, the growing attacks against our Christian values in America may be a blessing in disguise. Adversity has a way of igniting passions to defend what’s important in our lives. And that’s not a bad thing.

Fred Jackson, (far right in photo above) is the news director of American Family Radio News. He recently spent three weeks in Eastern Europe.

FREEDOM’S COST by Marvin Sanders
The tears burned. The ache in my heart was unexpected. The lump in my throat was unmoving. I saw the concern on the faces of my two young daughters, Michelle and Deborah, as they asked my wife, Donna, "What is wrong with Dad?"

We were in Washington, D.C. for a family vacation in the 1980s. Until that moment, Dad had been the dutiful tour guide/teacher for his contribution to the next generation.

I had served voluntarily in Vietnam. My service, like that of others, had not been appreciated by many in our country. It was the war that we wished we could ignore. We were told that the country needed to move on.

But there it was — the reminder — The Wall. I had not even wanted to go there, but we were at the Lincoln Memorial and as Donna said, "It’s right here!"

I thought it was a dumb memorial, just a polished stone wall with names on it — 58,000 names! But some of them were my friends. By God’s grace my name was not inscribed on the wall.

A mother with her teenage children wept as they placed a wreath. An old man, hat in hand, stood with his tearful wife, their eyes fixed on a single name. It was then that I realized how perfect the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was as a monument.

As bad as the experience of Vietnam was, I believed we were there for a noble purpose. I remembered the dark cloud of Communism that was extinguishing the flames of freedom around the world. I remembered that we were there to shore up the fence between liberty and authoritarianism.

An emotional wellspring was unleashed as I finally understood. Freedom is precious, but it is not free. Every name on the wall was a memorial to a sacrifice made in the name of freedom. And freedom is worth defending.

Marvin Sanders is the manager of WAFR, the flagship station of the American Family Radio network

FREEEDOM’S FOUNDATION by Michael Marcavage
In the small, dark, dingy jail cell in the basement of a Philadelphia police station, I waited. I waited for the freedom that was stripped away from me and my Christian brothers and sisters at the hands of those who swore an oath to protect it.

As each hour passed, I reflected on the sad state of our nation, and held onto the prison bars, while I stared at the metal walls etched with vile words. I realized that although I was imprisoned, I was free. "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." (Romans 8:2)

In Philadelphia, the birthplace of America, the criminalization of Christianity continues, while not only its symbols are removed from the public square, but also the Christians themselves.

It has become a city where the public celebration of sin is welcomed, while the public proclamation of the Gospel is now being labeled "hate speech."

However, it is this "hate speech" that brings freedom from the bondage of sin because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage," says Galatians 5:1.

I know now that as disciples of Christ on this earth, we will always be on trial, but must look forward to our vindication when we stand before our Lord. So then, I meditate daily on the cost of our liberation and seek to submit myself entirely to one who has declared: "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." (John 8:36)

Michael Marcavage is the director of Repent America and one of eleven Christians arrested, jailed, and ordered to stand trial in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for evangelizing at a homosexual street festival in October 2004. Michael faced up to 47 years in prison and $90,000 in fines. The host of charges, which included three felonies, were later dismissed.

FREEDOM’S COURAGE • by Daniel Brasier
On September 10, 2001, freedom was merely a word; something I definitely took for granted. The next day, however, changed my view completely.

I am a survivor from the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. On a day like that, you see more than a person should ever see in a lifetime. Nightmares become reality, and fear begins to dictate your very existence. I began to think that in this country, my home, even I — would never be able to claim freedom again.

Freedom is defined as "liberty of a person from oppression or fear." I recently moved to New York after being away for nearly three years. When I first came back to this city, I didn’t know if I could face these memories, but I have not only faced them, I have conquered them.

I don’t shudder at the sound of a jet flying overhead anymore. I’m able to ride in elevators once again. I even begin each day with a subway ride into the bottom of Ground Zero.

Freedom to me is being able to hold my head up once more; being able to cut away the shackles of fear. I am free.

Daniel Brasier, 26, lives in Manhattan where he works for a financial software firm.