Many historians believe that central to the rise of Christianity was the simple fact that Christians generously loved each other and their neighbours. They point out that in the ancient world mercy was widely seen as a character defect that ran counter to justice. Justice demanded people get what they deserved and was seen as appropriate, where mercy extended grace, love, and kindness to people who had done nothing to deserve it. Yet the Christians valued mercy. Christian communities became places where people tended to live longer and healthier lives, for when they suffered sickness, poverty or mishap they had brothers and sisters in Christ who provided for their need. And Christians extended love way beyond the boundaries of family and congregation to their pagan neighbours.
In 251 A.D. for example, a great plague struck the Greco-Roman world. Memories were revived of a plague a century earlier in which more than a third of the population died. Fear was everywhere. Those who could afford it fled to the countryside. Those who could not remained in the cities. When they went to the temples they found them empty, the priests having fled. The streets were filled with those who had become infected, their families left with no option but to push them out the door. Christian communities however took an entirely different approach. They saw it as their responsibility to love the sick and dying, so they took them into their homes and nursed them. This action meant that many people recovered who otherwise would have died. Historians suggest that elementary nursing could have reduced the mortality rate by as much as two thirds, but it also cost a number of Christian carers their lives.
In The Early Church, Henry Chadwick comments:
The practical application of charity was probably the most potent single cause of Christian success. The pagan comment ‘see how these Christians love one another’ (reported by Tertullian) was not irony. Christian charity expressed itself in care for the poor, for widows and orphans, in visits to brethren in prison or condemned to the living death of labour in the mines, and social action in time of calamity like famine, earthquake, pestilence, or war.
So striking was the Christian commitment to generous love that when the fourth century Emperor Julian sought to restore paganism to the Empire he instructed the pagan priesthood to follow the example of the Christians:
Why, then, do we think that this is enough, why do we not observe that it is their [Christians] benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism [Julian’s word for Christianity]? I believe that we ought really and truly to practise every one of these virtues… For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galilaeans support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.
Source: Historical data derived from Henry Chadwick, The Pelican History of The Early Church and Rodney Stark, the Triumph of Christianity
During the Second World War, German paratroopers invaded the island of Crete. When they landed at Maleme, the islanders met them, bearing nothing other than kitchen knives and hay scythes. The consequences of resistance were devastating. The residents of entire villages were lined up and shot.
Overlooking the airstrip today is an institute for peace and understanding founded by a Greek man named Alexander Papaderous. Papaderous was just six years old when the war started. He home village was destroyed and he was imprisoned in a concentration camp. When the war ended, he became convinced his people needed to let go of the hatred the war had unleashed. To help the process, he founded his institute at this place that embodied the horrors and hatreds unleashed by the war.
One day, while taking questions at the end of a lecture, Papaderous was asked, “What’s the meaning of life?” There was nervous laughter in the room. It was such a weighty question. But Papaderous answered it.
He opened his wallet, took out a small, round mirror and held it up for everyone to see. During the war he was just a small boy when he came across a motorcycle wreck. The motorcycle had belonged to German soldiers. Alexander saw pieces of broken mirrors from the motorcycle lying on the ground. He tried to put them together but couldn’t, so he took the largest piece and scratched it against a stone until its edges were smooth and it was round. He used it as a toy, fascinated by the way he could use it to shine light into holes and crevices.
He kept that mirror with him as he grew up, and over time it came to symbolise something very important. It became a metaphor for what he might do with his life.
I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world–into the black places in the hearts of men–and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.
Robert Fulgham, It Was On Fire When I Laid Down On It
Marjorie William’s children’s story book, The Velveteen Rabbit tells the story of a stuffed toy rabbit given to a young boy as a Christmas present. The velveteen rabbit lives in the nursery with all the other toys, waiting for the day when the boy will choose him as a playmate.
In time, the shy Rabbit befriends the tattered Skin Horse, the wisest resident of the nursery, who reveals the goal of all nursery toys: to be made “real” through the love of a human. One night we get to overhear their conversation..
‘What is REAL?’ asked the Rabbit one day, as they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, just before Nana came in to tidy up the room. ‘Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?’
‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off; and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly except to people who don’t understand.’
Source: Quote from Marjorie Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was Professor of theology at the University of Berlin in Germany in 1930’s. At this time German Christians were divided over Hitler. One group allied themselves with Hitler, they wanted a “pure” German nation. They formed an official German church which supported Hitler and banned Jews from holding official positions in the Church. Bonhoeffer was among those who could not go along with Hitler’s anti-Jewish, radically German vision. With others he set up an underground church which explicitly refused to ally itself to Hitler’s Third Reich vision. It was dangerous. In 1937 Bonhoeffer was sacked. He flees to London. Two years later Bonhoeffer’s faced with a choice. He’s been offered one of the most prestigious theology appointments in the world – lecturing at Union Seminary in New York or returning to Germany to head up an illegal, underground seminary for the churches who refuse to go along with Hitler. He decides his faith is meaningless if he takes the easy option. He heads back to Germany and finds Hitler so evil that he abandons his commitment to non violence and gets involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler. The plot fails and in 1943 Bonhoeffer’s arrested. In prison he leads worship services for his fellow prisoners, until the fateful day April 9, 1945 when he’s executed by the Nazis.
Through all this what distressed Bonehoeffer was the way so many Christians could sell out to Hitler’s evil vision. How could people who owned the name of Christ so betray Christ? How could they pray in a church which banned Jews from holding office? It convinced Bonehoeffer that religiosity in and of itself was worthless. It didn’t matter how fervently a person believed in Jesus, how many times each day they prayed, how earnestly and sincerely they sang hymns on Sundays. In the end the measure of spirituality is not how we are in the church but how we are in the whole of life. In the end the measure of spirituality is to live in the world as a man or woman who is for others.
Joni Erickson Tada is the president of JET ministries, a ministry which aims to serve the disabled. She is herself a quadriplegic. A few years ago she was a spectator at the Los Angeles Special Olympics. Her husband Ken was the coordinator for track and field events. Joni was among a large crowd watching the participants prepare for the 50 metres running race.
The starter’s gun fired and off the contestants raced. As they rushed toward the finish line one boy left the track and started running toward his friends standing in the infield. Ken blew his whistle, trying to get the boy to come back to the track, but all to no avail.
Then one of the other competitors noticed, a down syndrome girl with thick bottle glasses. She stopped just short of the finish line and called out to the boy, “Stop, come back, this is the way.” Hearing the voice of her friend the boy stopped and looked. “Come back, this is the way” she called. The boy stood there, confused. His friend, realising he was confused, left the track and ran over to him. She linked arms with him and together they ran back to the track and finished the race. They were the last to cross the line, but were greeted by hugs from their fellow competitors and a standing ovation from the crowd.
The downs syndrome girl with the bottle glasses taught everyone present that day an important life lesson, that it’s important to take time out form our own goals in life to help others find their way. Reflecting on the episode afterwards Ken was reminded of some verses from Romans 15:
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up . . . May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus.
Source: reported in Joni Erickson Tada, “It’s Called Unity”, found at joniandfriends.org
Once upon a time two brothers bought fishtanks. The younger brother’s setup was very simple – a fishbowl with some gravel and weed. The older brother’s was much more elaborate – a larger, enclosed tank with a filter, lighting and much better decoration.
The younger brother rarely cleaned his tank. The older brother was vigilant in keeping his tank clean.
The older brother couldn’t understand then why his fish died but his brother’s lived.
It turns out the cleaning chemicals the older brother was using were toxic to fish. Whenever he cleaned the tank tiny traces of the chemical remained, but these were enough to keep fish targets down.
Which all goes to show that when it comes to serving others good intentions aren’t enough. If we want to have transformative impact we need to match good intentions with good practise.
Mark was an 11 year old orphan who lived with his aunt, a bitter middle aged woman greatly annoyed with the burden of caring for her dead sister’s son. She never failed to remind young Mark, if it hadn’t been for her generosity, he would be a vagrant, homeless waif. Still, with all the scolding and chilliness at home, he was a sweet and gentle child.
Mark’s schoolteacher had not noticed him particularly until he began staying after class each day (at the risk of arousing his aunt’s anger, she later found) to help her straighten up the room. They did this quietly and comfortably, not speaking much, but enjoying the solitude of that hour of the day. When they did talk, Mark spoke mostly of his mother. Though he was quite small when she died, he remembered a kind, gentle, loving woman, who always spent much time with him.
As Christmas drew near however, Mark failed to stay after school each day. His teacher looked forward to his coming, and when the days passed and he continued to scamper hurriedly from the room after class, she stopped him one afternoon and asked why he no longer helped her in the room. She told him how she had missed him, and his large gray eyes lit up eagerly as he replied, “Did you really miss me?”
Mark’s teacher explained how he had been her best helper. “I was making you a surprise,” he whispered confidentially. “It’s for Christmas.” With that, he became embarrassed and dashed from the room. He didn’t stay after school any more after that.
Finally came the last school day before Christmas. Mark crept slowly into the room late that afternoon with his hands concealing something behind his back. “I have your present,” he said timidly when his teacher looked up. “I hope you like it.” He held out his hands, and there lying in his small palms was a tiny wooden box.
“Its beautiful, Mark. Is there something in it?” I asked opening the top to look inside.
“Oh you can’t see what’s in it,” he replied, “and you can’t touch it, or taste it or feel it, but mother always said it makes you feel good all the time, warm on cold nights, and safe when you’re all alone.”
I gazed into the empty box. “What is it Mark,” I asked gently, “that will make me feel so good?”
“It’s love,” he whispered softly, “and mother always said it’s best when you give it away.” And he turned and quietly left the room.
The movie The Elephant Man tells the true story of John Merrick. Merrick was born in the slums of England in 1862, and almost from birth experienced massive rejection due to his grotesque appearance. Merrick suffered abnormalities that resulted in a large and severely misshapen head, loose, rough skin, and twisted arms and legs.
His mother loved dearly, but died when he was ten. His new step-mother didn’t take to him, and at twelve, he was expected to work to contribute to the family finances. After two years working in a cigar shop he was dismissed because his deformities meant he could not keep up the required pace. His father found him a job, of all things, as a door-to-door salesman. This only accentuated Merrick’s self-loathing. When people opened their doors and saw him people would literally scream and slam the door in his face. Those who knew who he was refused to answer their doors.
After this “failure” Merrick’s father began beating him. Merrick wound up on the street and was rescued by a kindly uncle, the only person who would help him out. Not wishing to further burden his uncle Merrick left to live in a squalid workhouse for drunks, cripples and the mentally ill. His life there was so miserable that he offered himself to a carnival owner as a sideshow act.
Merrick was a hit. People would pay money to line up and observe him like some animal in a zoo. But the carnival finally provided him with security and a place he belonged. It was while the sideshow was in London that Merrick met Dr Frederick Treves. Disgusted by Merrick’s treatment Treves wanted to help. He gave Merrick his card, but lost track of him. The police started clamping down on the sideshows, so Merrick was sent to Belgium to work in a sideshow there. But when Belgian police also clamped down Merrick was forced to make his way back to England. As he limped down Liverpool Street station, foul smelling and misshapen, a crowd gathered simply to watch him.
The police took him aside to sort things out, but Merrick’s speech was so slurred by his deformities that they couldn’t understand him. It was at this point Merrick showed them Dr Treves’ card. The police sent someone to get him, and Treves rushed back. He took Merrick back to London hospital and began a newspaper appeal for funds to help Merrick. The response was very warm, and soon sufficient that Merrick was able to have his own house on the hospital grounds with permission to live there permanently.
Treves’ care marked a real turning point for Merrick. At first Merrick would act like a frightened child and hide when anyone came into his room, but over time he began to engage some in conversation. Dr Treves discovered that Merrick was in fact highly intelligent and sought to nurture his growth. Yet Merrick’s greatest hurdle was still to fall. All his life Merrick had known only fear and rejection from women. They had literally run from him. So Dr Treves asked an attractive widow he knew if she could come into Merrick’s room, smile at him and shake his hand. When she did Merrick broke down into a ball of tears, later telling Treves that she was the first woman in his life apart from his mother to have showed him kindness.
That was a breakthrough moment for Merrick. In the coming years more and more people, women included, would meet him and show him kindness. He began meeting Countesses and Duchesses. He even had many visits and letters from the Princess of Wales, forming a friendship with her. Throughout this time Dr Treves reports Merrick changed dramatically. He began to develop some self-confidence, to spend time traveling in the country, to discuss poetry with another new friend, Sir Walter Steel.
Merrick died in April 1890. His deformities had never allowed him to sleep lying down as most people do. He had to sleep in a sitting position, his head resting on his knees. He apparently tried one night to sleep lying down, to be more “normal”, and sadly dislocated his neck and died.
Merrick’s story shows us the power of love and acceptance. Rejected all his life, treated as a “thing”, it was the loving welcome of others that liberated him to become all he could be. His life was made tragic not by his deformities but by the response people made to them.
Source: Reported at www.elephant-house.fsnet.co.uk
It was one of the most extraordinary birthday parties ever held. Not it wasn’t in a plush ballroom of a grand hotel. No there weren’t famous celebrities, nor anyone rich or powerful. It was held at 3am in a small seedy cafe in Honolulu, the guest of honour was a prostitute, the fellow guests were prostitutes, and the man who threw it was a Christian minister!
The idea came to Christian minister Tony Campolo very early one morning as he sat in the cafe. He was drinking coffee at the counter, when a group of prostitutes walked in and took up the stools around him. One of the girls, Agnes, lamented the fact that not only was it her birthday tomorrow but that she’d never had a birthday party.
Tony thought it would be a great idea to surprise Agnes with a birthday party. Learning from the cafe owner, a guy named Harry, that the girls came in every morning around 3.30am Tony agreed with him to set the place up for a party. Word somehow got out on the street, so that by 3.15 the next morning the place was packed with prostitutes, the cafe owner and his wife, and Tony.
When Agnes walked in she saw streamers, balloons, Harry holding a birthday cake, and everyone screaming out “Happy Birthday!” Agnes was overwhelmed. The tears poured down her face as the crowd sang Happy Birthday. When Harry called on her to cut the cake she paused. She’d never had a birthday cake and wondered if she could take it home to show her mother. When Agnes left there was a stunned silence. Tony did what a Christian minister should. He led Harry, Harry’s wife and a roomful of prostitutes in a prayer for Agnes.
It was a birthday party rarely seen in Honolulu – thrown by a Christian minister for a 39 year old prostitute who had never had anyone go out of their way to do something like this and who expected nothing in return. Indeed, so surprising was this turn of events that the cafe owner found it hard to believe there were churches that would do this sort of thing, but if there were then that’s the sort of church he’d be prepared to join.
Tony Campolo tells the sad story from his high school days of how he failed to truly be a Christian. There was a boy in his class named Roger. Roger was gay. Everyone knew and tormented him for it. They heaped verbal and even physical abuse upon him. One day the abuse reached a crescendo. Five of boys dragged Roger into the shower room, shoved him into the corner and urinated all over him.
Around two o’clock the next morning Roger went down to the basement of his house and hung himself.
When they told Tony, he says he realized he wasn’t a Christian. He knew all the right answers and sincerely believed all the right things and had lots of good moral practises. But Tony didn’t live faith out when it came to Roger. If he had he says he would have stood up for Roger when the others were mocking him, he would have been a friend, and just maybe, Roger would still be alive today.
Source; Reported in Tony Campolo, Let Me Tell You A Story
Former US President Richard Nixon is infamous for his place at the center of the Watergate scandal. He disgraced both the office of the President of the United States and the United States itself in the eyes of the world. When Hubert Humphrey, a former US vice-president died, Nixon attended his funeral. Dignitaries came from all over the country and the world, yet Nixon was made to feel decidedly unwelcome. People turned their eyes away and conversations ran dry around him. Nixon could feel the ostracism being ladled out to him.
Then Jimmy Carter, the serving US President, walked into the room. Carter was from a different political party to Nixon and well known for his honesty and integrity. As he moved to his seat President Carter noticed Nixon standing all alone. Carter immediately changed course, walked over to Nixon, held out his hand, and, smiling genuinely and broadly embraced Nixon and said “Welcome home, Mr President! Welcome home!”
The incident was reported by Newsweek magazine, which wrote: “If there was a turning point in Nixon’s long ordeal in the wilderness, it was that moment and that gesture of love and compassion.”
Carter gifted Nixon with love and compassion. Nixon certainly had done nothing to deserve it. It was an act of pure grace on Carter’s part. When the bible speaks of God’s blessing it speaks in exactly the same way. Blessing is never a reward for good behaviour. It’s a gift, a gift of pure, unadulterated grace.
Oswald Golter was a missionary in northern China during the 1940’s. After ten years service he was returning home. His ship stopped in India, and while waiting for a boat home he found a group of refugees living in a warehouse on the pier. Unwanted by anyone else the refugees were stranded there. Golter went to visit them. As it was Christmas-time wished them a merry Christmas and asked them what they would like for Christmas.
“We’re not Christians,” they said. “We don’t believe in Christmas.”
“I know,” said the missionary, “but what do you want for Christmas?” They described some German pastries they were particularly fond of, and so Oswald Golter cashed in his ticket, used the money to buy baskets and baskets of the pastries, took them to the refugees, and wished them a merry Christmas.
When he later repeated the incident to a class, a student said, “But sir, why did you do that for them? They weren’t Christians. They don’t even believe in Jesus.”
There was once an old stone monastery tucked away in the middle of a picturesque forest. For many years people would make the significant detour required to seek out this monastery. The peaceful spirit of the place was healing for the soul.
In recent years however fewer and fewer people were making their way to the monastery. The monks had grown jealous and petty in their relationships with one another, and the animosity was felt by those who visited.
The Abbot of the monastery was distressed by what was happening, and poured out his heart to his good friend Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a wise old Jewish rabbi. Having heard the Abbot’s tale of woe he asked if he could offer a suggestion. “Please do” responded the Abbot. “Anything you can offer.”
Jeremiah said that he had received a vision, an important vision, and the vision was this: the messiah was among the ranks of the monks. The Abbot was flabbergasted. One among his own was the Messiah! Who could it be? He knew it wasn’t himself, but who? He raced back to the monastery and shared his exciting news with his fellow monks.
The monks grew silent as they looked into each other’s faces. Was this one the Messiah?
From that day on the mood in the monastery changed. Joseph and Ivan started talking again, neither wanting to be guilty of slighting the Messiah. Pierre and Naibu left behind their frosty anger and sought out each other’s forgiveness. The monks began serving each other, looking out for opportunities to assist, seeking healing and forgiveness where offence had been given.
As one traveler, then another, found their way to the monastery word soon spread about the remarkable spirit of the place. People once again took the journey to the monastery and found themselves renewed and transformed. All because those monks knew the Messiah was among them.
A man tells the story about a special friend he made while just a boy. When quite young, Paul’s father had one of the first telephones in their neighbourhood. Paul was too little to reach the telephone, but used to listen with fascination when his mother talked to it.
Then Paul discovered that somewhere inside the wonderful device lived an amazing person – her name was “Information, Please” and there was nothing she did not know.
“Information, Please” could supply anybody’s number and the correct time. Paul’s first personal experience with this genie-in the-bottle came one day while his mother was visiting a neighbour. Amusing himself at the tool bench in the basement, Paul hacked his finger with a hammer. The pain was terrible, but there didn’t seem to be any reason in crying because there was no one home to give sympathy. He walked around the house sucking his throbbing finger, finally arriving at the stairway.
Quickly, Paul ran for the foot stool in the parlour and dragged it to the landing. Climbing up, he unhooked the receiver in the parlour and held it to his ear. “Information, Please,” he said into the mouthpiece just above his head.
A click or two and a small clear voice spoke into Paul’s ear.
“I hurt my finger,” Paul wailed into the phone.
“Isn’t your mother home?” came the question.
“Nobody’s home but me” Paul blubbered.
“Are you bleeding?” the voice asked.
“No,” he replied. “I hit my finger with the hammer and it hurts.”
“Can you open your icebox?” she asked. He said he could. “Then chip off a little piece of ice and hold it to your finger,” said the voice.
After that, Paul called “Information, Please” for everything. He asked her for help with his geography and she told me where Philadelphia was. She helped him with his maths. She told Paul that his pet chipmunk, which he had caught in the park just the day before, would eat fruit and nuts. Then, there was the time Petey, the pet canary died. Paul called and told her the sad story.
She listened, then said the usual things grown-ups say to soothe a child, but Paul was inconsolable. He asked her, “Why is it that birds should sing so beautifully and bring joy to all families, only to end up as a heap of feathers on the bottom of a cage?”
She must have sensed his deep concern, for she said quietly, “Paul, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in.” Somehow he felt better. .
When Paul was nine years old, his family moved across the country to Boston. Paul missed his friend very much. “Information, Please” belonged in that old wooden box back home, and he somehow never thought of trying the tall, shiny new phone that sat on the table in the hall.
As he grew into my teens, the memories of those childhood conversations never really left him. Often, in moments of doubt and perplexity Paul would recall the serene sense of security he had then. He appreciated now how patient, understanding, and kind she was to have spent her time on a little boy.
A few years later, on his way west to college, Paul’s plane put down in Seattle. He had about half an hour or so between planes. He spent 15 minutes on the phone with my sister, who lived there now. Then without thinking what he was doing, Paul dialled his hometown operator and said, “Information, Please.”
Miraculously, he heard the small, clear voice he knew so well, “Information.”
He hadn’t planned this but he heard myself saying, “Could you please tell me how to spell fix?”
There was a long pause. Then came the soft spoken answer, “I guess your finger must have healed by now.” Paul laughed. “So it’s really still you,” he said. “I wonder if you have any idea how much you meant to me during that time.”
“I wonder,” she said, “if you know how much your calls meant to me. I never had any children, and I used to look forward to your calls.” Paul told her how often he had thought of her over the years and asked if he could call her again when he came back to visit his sister.
“Please do,” she said. “Just ask for Sally.”
Three months later Paul was back in Seattle. A different voice answered, “Information.” He asked for Sally. “Are you a friend?” She asked.
“Yes, a very old friend,” Paul answered.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” she said. “Sally has been working part-time the last few years because she was sick. She died five weeks ago.”
Before he could hang up she said, “Wait a minute. Is this Paul?”
“Yes,” Paul replied.
“Well, Sally left a message for you. She wrote it down in case you called. Let me read it to you.” The note said, “Tell him I still say there are other worlds to sing in. He’ll know what I mean.”
Application: Listening – Information Please gave Paul one of the most precious yet simple gifts a person can give, the gift of listening.
Application: Hope, Death, Heaven. “There are other world’s to sing in”. Beyond death lies the hope of a new life.
Application: Community, Friendship. This story reminds us that we need each other. Information Please and Paul both had their lives enriched in powerful yet simple ways by the gift of their friendship with one another.
Application: Children. We adults often make the mistake of dismissing the concerns of small children. Yet coping with the death of a budgie or telling someone that you’ve hurt your finger are the things that are important to a small child. Sally reminds us of the importance of being attentive to the needs of children, not expecting them to function as mini adults but nurturing their journey as children.
In 1972 a two year old Chinese boy, Hu Jen-chuan, fell from a table and went into a coma. When he woke up after six days he was not able to talk or move. Like any parent, his mother, was terrible distressed. Yet her distress was multiplied by the fact that she could not afford to place him in a nursing home.
Instead she has cared for Hu Jen-chuan herself, and her care has shown the unfathomable depth of her mother-love. You see, because he is unable to move Hu Jen-chuan is liable to get terrible bed-sores. So for the past thirty years his mother has done the unbelievable – she has carried her son on her back. As of May 2002 Liu Kuei-lan was 65 years old and weighed 40 kilograms. Her son, now a grown man, weighed 82kg. On many occasions Liu has fallen and fractured bones while carrying her son. Yet she continues to carry him. When asked how she can do it her reply is simple: “he ain’t heavy, he’s my son.”
Source: reported in the Taipei Times May 11, 2002
Father Maximillian Kolbe was a Polish priest who died in the Nazi death camp Auschwitz during the Second World War. His story is one of inspiring sacrifice. When Germany invaded Poland in 1939 Father Kolbe knew the firary would be seized and sent most of the friars home. With the aid of a few remaining friars he turned the resources of the friary to providing shelter for 3,000 refugees, including 2,000 Jews. He was imprisoned and released, but was not deterred. He continued to provide shelter for refugees, until May 1941 when the Nazis closed down the friary and sent Kolbe and his four fellow priests to Auschwitz.
At Auschwitz Kolbe continued his sacrificial ways. The prisoners were slowly and systematically starved, so when food was brought everyone struggled to get their portion. Father Kolbe however, made a practise of standing aside until the others had been fed, often meaning there was nothing left for him. When he did receive a portion he was often found sharing it with others.
But Father Kolbe’s love reached its greatest heights in July 1941. In order to discourage escape attempts the camp had a rule that 10 men would be killed for every person that escaped. After a man from Kolbe’s bunker escaped the rest of the men were led out to face Commander Karl Fritsch. Ten men were selected to be placed in the starvation bunker. One of them, Franciszek Gajowniczek, broke down in sobs. “My poor wife! My poor children! What will they do?”
At this, Father Kolbe stepped forward, took off his cap, stood before the commandant and said, “I am a Catholic priest. Let me take his place. I am old. He has a wife and children.”
The Commandant was astounded. “What does this Polish pig want?” he asked.
Father Kolbe pointed to Franciszek and again made his request. “I am a Catholic priest from Poland. I would like to take his place, because he has a wife and children.”
The Commandant remained silent for a minute, then agreed to Father Kolbe’s request. Franciszek Gajowniczek was returned to the ranks and Father Kolbe took his place. The ten condemned men were led off to Building 13, where they were left without food or water until they starved to death. After four weeks four of the men were still alive, Father Kolbe one of them. As the Nazis needed the chamber for more victims the four were put to death by lethal injection. And so on August 14, 1941 at the age of 47 years, Father Kolbe finally died, having given his life for Franciszek Gajowniczek. Franciszek survived the war and lived to the age of 95. He never forgot Father Kolbe or telling people of his heroic love.
Father of Kolbe of course, was following the example set for him by his Lord Jesus Christ. Just as Christ laid down his life four us, so Father Kolbe laid down his life for his brother.
Source: Information on Father Kolbe obtained from “The Holocaust” website (www.auschwitz.dk).
In his book Written In Blood, Robert Coleman tells the story of a little boy whose sister needed a blood transfusion. She had a rare blood type which she shared with her little brother. The fact that he had recovered from the same disease two years earlier made the chances of success even greater. The doctor carefully explained all this to the little boy, pointing out that without the transfusion his sister would die.
“Would you be brave and give your blood to your sister?” the doctor asked. Johnny hesitated. His lower lip began to tremble. Then he smiled and said, “Sure, for my sister.” The two children were wheeled into the hospital room – Mary, pale and thin; Johnny, robust and healthy. He smiled at his sister, the watched as the blood travelled out of his body, down the clear plastic tube. Johnny’s smile faded, and as he lay there feeling weak he looked up at the doctor and said, “Doctor, when do I die?’
Johnny thought that giving his blood to his sister meant giving up his life. Yet because of his great love for her he was prepared to pay the price.
Source: quote excerpted from Robert Coleman, Written in Blood.
Albert Schweitzer was one of the most famous missionaries of the modern era. Leaving behind both an academic career (Schweizer had Phds in both theology and physics) and a musical one (Schweizer was also a concert organist) he set up a medical clinic in French Equatorial Africa. He was 85 years old when Andrew Davison of Colgate Rochester Seminary had the privilege of visiting. Davison tells how one morning, at around 11.00, he, Schweitzer and some others were walking up a hill. It was extremely hot. Suddenly the 85 year old Dr Schweitzer walked away from the group. He made his way toward an African woman struggling up the hill with a large load of wood for the cookfires. Schweitzer took the entire load of wood from the woman and carried it up the hill for her.
When Schweitzer rejoined the group one of them asked why he did things like that. With the rest of the group this person was surprised and concerned that a person of Dr Schweitzer’s age would strain themselves so. Dr Schweitzer looked at the group, then pointed to the woman and said, “No one should ever have to carry a burden like that alone.”
Source: Reported in a letter by Andrew Davison found in Illustrations Unlimited.
It’s Christmas 2001. One thousand specially invited guests are seated on coaches transporting them to a secret location. They arrive to a splendidly decorated ballroom, find their seats and sit down to a sumptuous meal prepared by chefs from Sydney’s Regent and ANA hotels: a beautiful salad of prawns and mangos, traditional roast turkey and ham with stuffing and vegetables and to top it off traditional Christmas pudding with a gourmet custard. Guests will be treated to complimentary gifts and an evening of entertainment.
Who are these 1000 specially invited guests? They are homeless people from the streets of Sydney. They’ve been invited by Jeff Gambin, a former restauranter. In 1993 Gambin and his wife set up Just Enough Faith. Every night Gambin and his team of volunteers prepare and distribute meals to Sydney’s homeless. They also provide them with housing, employment, rehabilitation and counselling. In the nine years they’ve been running Jeff Gambin and his wife have spent $2.5 million of their own money, and plan to continue until it runs out. And at Christmas they treat the homeless to a celebration normally reserved for the rich and the celebrity.
Gambin knows he will exhaust all his resources and receive nothing material in return. Yet he says “it is easily the most gratifying thing I have ever done in my life.”
What a wonderful image of the banquet feast of God described by Jesus, a banquet to which the marginalised and the poor are invited, a banquet which turns on its head our common notions of importance, status and honour. Here is grace available to all.
Source: reported on Today Tonight news show, Channel 7, December 21, 2001.
One cold winter’s day a 10-year-old boy was standing barefoot in front of a shoe store, peering through the window, and shivering with cold. A lady approached the boy and asked him what he was doing.
“I was asking God to give me a pair of shoes,” the boy replied.
The lady took him by the hand and went into the store, and asked the clerk to get a half dozen pairs of socks for the boy. She then asked if he could give her a basin of water and a towel. He quickly brought them to her. She took the boy to the back part of the store, knelt down, washed his little feet, and dried them with a towel.
By this time the clerk had returned with the socks. Placing a pair upon the boy’s feet, she then purchased him a pair of shoes, and tying up the remaining pairs of socks, gave them to him. She patted him on the head and said, “No doubt, my little fellow, you feel more comfortable now?”
As she turned to go, the astonished lad caught her by the hand, and looking up in her face, with tears in his eyes, answered the question with these words: “Are you God’s wife?”
The nation had been wracked by conflict among tribal leaders, but Shah brought peace. Legend has it Shah led the people to a secret valley that he had discovered on his travels, a vast plain, bordered on all sides by sheer cliff faces. To protect their new peaceful way of life it was imperative that no-one reveal the hidden passageway into the plain.
One day, Ahmed Shah was approached by a very nervous lieutenant. “Emir, we caught someone revealing the location of the secret passageway.” The traitor was Ahmed Shah’s mother!
Ahmed Shah was distraught. He could release Ahmed’s mother, kill the soldiers who captured her and hush the whole matter up by killing the guards who had captured her. But all chaos would break loose once word of this got out. Shah decided he would think it over during the night and announce his decision in the morning.
When morning arrived everyone gathered in the square. Ahmed announced his mother must receive a hundred lashes, which would almost certainly mean her death. Ahmed’s mother was marched into the square and bound.
The first two lashes already saw her bloodied and buckled. Ahmed could bear it no longer. He halted proceedings, untied his mother and carried her to his rooms.. He walked to his mother and untied her and carried her to his bed. Then emerging from his hut, he demanded that no-one move. He had something to say. He then addressed the crowd,
“The penalty for my mother’s crime was one hundred lashes. She has paid two of them. I will pay the other ninety-eight.” By the end Ahmed was at death’s door, beaten, bloodied and bruised. For some weeks it was unclear if he would survive. He did survive and his people never forgot this act of loving grace.
Source: story reported in Michael Frost, Jesus the Fool (Sutherland, NSW: Albatross, 1994) pp138-144
Eminence, a novel by Australian author Morris West, tells the story of Luca Rossini, a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. Luca who now serves in the Vatican, live sin the shadow of a terrible experience he suffered as a young priest in Argentina. It was the 1970’s, a time when the military junta that ruled Argentina, acted with terrible brutality. Luca was brutalised in front of the villagers. Lucky to escape with his life he was spirited out of Argentina. Yet the scars across his back are an outward symbol of the scars he bears within. By the time we find him in West’s novel Luca is 50 years old, a confidant of a rigidly conservative Pope. He has had to deal not only with his suffering, but his sense of betrayal at the silence of many Church leaders during the “dirty war” in Argentina.
At one point in the novel Luca is interviewed by Steffi Guillerman, a journalist. They sit opposite each other, and Guillerman launches straight into it. “Let’s deal with the big questions first. What’s wrong with the Church?”
Luca’s reply is insightful and instructive, an answer that points us to the true nature of the people of God. Guillerman has asked what’s wrong with the Church. Luca replies, “The same things that have been wrong with it for two thousand years – people! Men and women and children, too, who make up the family of believers. This isn’t a community of the pure and the perfect. They’re good, bad and indifferent. They’re ambitious, greedy, fearful, lustful, a rabble of pilgrims held together by faith and hope – and the difficult experience of love.”
(Note: this is a modern retelling of the parable of the prodigal son. The details are fictional. When using the story adapt the details to your situation – eg city, etc. Also remember to point out at the end that the story is fictional)
Jenny grew up in Rankin Park, Newcastle. In her early teenage years she fell into a pattern of long running battles with her parents. They didn’t react too well when she came home with a nose ring. They were furious when she stayed out all night without so much as a phone call to tell them where she was. Her friends weren’t exactly her parent’s first choice.
One night Jenny and her folks have a huge fight. “I hate you!” she screams at her father as she slams the door to her bedroom. That night she acts on a plan that’s been forming for some time. Once everyone has gone to sleep she gets dressed, packs a bag and goes into the kitchen. Opening the kitchen drawer she rifles through her parent’s wallets. She takes the credit cards, the cash, and their bank book. She hops on the train and heads for Sydney. When she gets there she waits on the doorstep of the Commonwealth Bank so she can be the first through the door. She forges her mother’s signature and withdraws $12500 her parents had in their investment account. She grabs a cab to the airport and uses Dad’s credit card to buy a ticket to Melbourne – she figures the last place her parents will look for her is on the streets of St Kilda.
She arrives in Melbourne and pretty soon she’s enjoying the high life – a new group of friends, plenty of booze, late nights, sleep all day, no school, no parent’s hassling her about a nose ring, let alone her experiments with sex and drugs. It doesn’t take long til the $12500’s gone and the credit cards have been cancelled.
Back home her parent’s are frantic. Mum’s had to start packing shelves at night to pay off the credit card debt, and the $12500 set aside for her sister’s university fees is gone. The police are notified, the streets are searched – first Newcastle, then Kings Cross. Her parents don’t know what’s happened. They fear the worst.
Meanwhile down on the streets of St Kilda things aren’t going too well. Jenny’s soon addicted to heroin and the money she stole doesn’t go too far. She moves into a squat and starts selling herself for sex.
One day she’s walking down the street and sees a poster on the telegraph pole. It’s headed “Have you seen this girl?” Below the heading is a photo of her – at least as she used to look. The poster’s got her parent’s phone number on it, and asks for anyone with information to call. Jenny rips the poster down, folds it up and puts it into her pocket.
The months pass, then the years. Jenny’s been careless one time too many. At first she writes off her sickness as just another bout of flu. But the illness persists. She goes to the free clinic to discover she’s contracted Hepatitis C and HIV. Not even the brothel wants anything to do with her now.
As she sits lonely, tired and hungry in the squat, she looks at the poster she’d rescued from that telegraph pole and saved for the last few years. She thinks back to her previous life – as a typical schoolgirl in a middle class suburban Newcastle family. It triggers memories of the famous family waterfight one steaming summer day when she was 12; and of crazy moments dancing together; of her sister’s comforting arms when she broke up with David. “God, why did I leave?” she says to herself. “Even the family mutt lives a better life than I do.” She’s sobbing now, and knows that more than anything she wants to go home.
Three straight phone calls, three connections with the answering machine. She hangs up without leaving a message the first two times, but the third time she says, “Mum, dad, it’s me. I was wondering about maybe coming home. I’m catching a train up to Newcastle. I’ll be at Newcastle station about midnight tomorrow. If you’re not there, well I guess I’ll just stay on the train til I get to Queensland.”
The next day on the train Jenny thinks about all the flaws in her plan. What if mum and dad were out and miss the message? And what are they going to do if they heard it anyway – after all, it’s been 10 years and they haven’t heard a word from me in all that time. How are they going to react when they discover I’m a junkie with AIDS? If they do show up what on earth am I going to say?…”
The train pulls into Newcastle station at ten minutes past midnight. She hears the hiss of the brakes as the train comes to a stop. Her heart starts pounding. “This is it. Oh well, get ready for nothing.”
Jenny steps out of the train not knowing what to expect. She looks to her right and sees an empty platform, but before she can look back she hears someone call her name. Her head whips around and there’s her mum and dad and her sister and her aunts and uncles and cousins and grandmother. They’re holding a banner that reads “Welcome home”, and everyone’s wearing goofy party hats and throwing streamers and popping party poppers, and there’s her mum and dad running towards her, tears streaming down their face, arms held wide. Jenny can’t move. Her parent’s grab her with such force it almost knocks her over.
“Dad, I’m sorry. I know…”
“Hush child. Forget the apologies. All we care about is that you’re home. I just want to hold you. Come on, everyone’s waiting – we’ve got a big party organised at home.” And Jenny finds herself awash in a sea of family and love that she has not known for over 10 years.
Source: A fictional story by Scott Higgins modelled on a similar story in Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace and paralleling the story of the prodigal son
Derek Redmond was favoured to medal in the 400m sprint at the 1092 Olympics. When he tore a hamstring halfway through the race his dream died. But his determination to finish the race, with his father by his side, became the defining moment of the Games. A beautiful story of persevering to finish the race and of a father’s heart.
Dick Hoyt has a severely disabled son, Rick. After discovering his son’s love for athletic events Dick undertook to do them with him. Together they compete in triathalons, with Dick pushing his son in a wheelchair for the run, towing him in the swim and cycling tandem in the ride.
CNN television reporter Peter Arnett was once on assignment in Israel when a bomb exploded. Through a mass of wounded people strode a man carrying a little girl. She had been badly injured by the blast. The man begged Peter to take her to a hospital. As a member of the press he was one of the few be able to get through the security cordon that police had formed. Peter agreed. He bundled the man and the girl into his car. The trip to the hospital was traumatic. Neither Peter nor the man knew if the beautiful little girl would make it.
They made it to the hospital, rushed the girl in, and waited anxiously for news. After what seemed an eternity the doctor came out with the tragic news that the little girl had died. The man collapsed in tears. Peter Arnett stumbled to comfort him as best he could. “I don’t know what to say. I can’t imagine what you must be going through. I’ve never lost a child.”
The man turned and looked at Peter. “That girl was not my daughter. I’m an Israeli settler. She was a Palestinian. But there comes a time when each of us must realize that every child, regardless of that child’s background, is a daughter or a son. There must come a time when we realize that we are all family.”
Source: unknown. I have been unable to confirm the details of this story.