In 2004 Victor Yushchenko stood for the presidency of the Ukraine. Vehemently opposed by the ruling party Yushchenko’s face was disfigured and he almost lost his life when he was mysteriously poisoned. This was not enough to deter him from standing for the presidency.
On the day of the election Yushchenko was comfortably in the lead. The ruling party, not to be denied, tampered with the results. The state-run television station reported “ladies and gentlemen, we announce that the challenger Victor Yushchenko has been decisively defeated.”
In the lower right-hand corner of the screen a woman by the name of Natalia Dmitruk was providing a translation service for the deaf community. As the news presenter regurgitated the lies of the regime, Natalia Dmitruk refused to translate them. “I’m addressing all the deaf citizens of Ukraine” she signed. “They are lying and I’m ashamed to translate those lies. Yushchenko is our president.”
The deaf community sprang into gear. They text messaged their friends about the fraudulent result and as news spread of Dmitruk’s act of defiance increasing numbers of journalists were inspired to likewise tell the truth. Over the coming weeks the “Orange Revolution” occurred as a million people wearing orange made their way to the capital city of Kiev demanding a new election. The government was forced to meet their demands, a new election was held and Victor Yushchenko became president.
Philip Yancey writes
“When I heard the story behind the orange revolution, the image of a small screen of truth in the corner of the big screen became for me an ideal picture of the church. You see we as a church do not control the big screen. (When we do, we usually mess it up.) Go to any magazine rack or turn on the television and you see a consistent message. What matters is how beautiful you are, how much money or power you have. Similarly, though the world includes many poor people, they rarely make the magazine covers or the news shows. Instead we focus on the superrich, names like Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey.… Our society is hardly unique. Throughout history nations have always glorified winners, not losers. Then, like the sign language translator in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, along comes a person named Jesus who says in effect, Don’t believe the big screen – they’re lying. It’s the poor who are blessed, not the rich. Mourners are blessed too, as well as those who hunger and thirst, and the persecuted. Those who go through life thinking they’re on top end up on the bottom. And those who go through life feeling they’re on the bottom end up on the top. After all, what does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose his soul?”
Source: Philip Yancey, What Good Is God, pages 184-186
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
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.
A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the masters house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water in his masters house.
Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.
After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.”
“Why?” asked the bearer. “What are you ashamed of?”
“I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your masters house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts.” The pot said.
The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, “As we return to the masters house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.”
Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again the Pot apologized to the bearer for its failure.
The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pots side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my masters table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house.”
Each of us has our own unique flaws. We re all cracked pots. But if we will allow it, the Lord will use our flaws to grace His Fathers table. In Gods great economy, nothing goes to waste. Don’t be afraid of your flaws. Acknowledge them, and you too can be the cause of beauty. Know that in our weakness we find our strength
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
You’ve probably never heard of Enyon Hawkins. Enyon was a Welsh miner, born in 1920 and dying in Wales in 2001. Yet you probably should know about him, for Enyon characterises much of what an unknown person can do through simple acts of love. During World War Two Enyon was an able seaman aboard the British navy vessel British Dominion. On January 10, 1943, German U-Boats fired three torpedoes into the British Dominion. The ship exploded into flames and was burning furiously. Many of the crew jumped into the sea, the only way they might escape with their lives. However even that was fraught with more than the usual danger, for oil from the ships fuel tanks had spread across the water and threatened to set even the ocean ablaze.
Enyon Hawkins was one of those crewmen who jumped into the ocean. He was also a very strong swimmer, and keeping his wits about him, organised most of the sailors into a group and led them away to safety. It was his example and encouragement, especially to the weaker swimmers, that kept them going until they were rescued by the British Navy.
On two occasions Enyon left the group to turn back and save others. This meant swimming into oil covered waters that were ablaze. The risk of being completely enveloped by the flames was very high, and though Enyon escaped it was not before he suffered extensive burning to his face. However it was made worthwhile by the lives of those he saved.
After the war Enyon was awarded medals for bravery and leadership. It was recognised that apart from Enyon’s actions most of the men from the British Dominion would have lost their lives.
Application: love, bravery, courage, impact, greatness. Enyon’s story reminds us that you don’t need to be an admiral or famous to make a dramatic impact on the world. All you need to do is start loving people where you are, as you find them.
One wet and miserable morning in Ohio Ray Blankenship was making breakfast in when he looked out the window onto the open stormwater drain that ran alongside his house. What he saw terrified him – a small girl being swept down the drain. He also knew that further downstream, the ditch disappeared with a roar underneath the road. Ray ran out the door and raced along the ditch, trying to get ahead of the little girl. Then he hurled himself into the deep, churning water. He surfaced and was able to grab the child’s arm. They tumbled end over end. Within about one metre of the drain going under the road, Ray’s free hand felt something protruding from one bank. He grabbed a hold and held on for dear life. “If I can just hang on until help comes,” he thought. But he did better than that. By the time fire-department rescuers arrived, Ray had pulled the girl to safety. Both were treated for shock. On April 12, 1989, Ray Blankenship was awarded the US Coast Guard’s Silver Lifesaving Medal. The award is fitting, Ray Blankenship was at even greater risk to himself than most people knew. You see, Ray can’t swim.
Source: Reported in Los Angeles Times Syndicate.
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.
Once upon a time, in the heart of an ancient Kingdom, there was a beautiful garden. And there, in the cool of the day, the Master of the garden would walk. Of all the plants of the garden, the most beautiful and most beloved was gracious and noble bamboo. Year after year, bamboo grew yet more noble and gracious, conscious of his Master’s love and watchful delight, but modest and gentle withal. And often when the wind came to revel in the garden, Bamboo would dance and play, tossing and swaying and leaping and bowing in joyous abandon, leading the Great Dance of the garden, which most delighted the Master’s heart.
Now, once upon a day, the Master himself drew near to contemplate his Bamboo with eyes of curious expectancy. And Bamboo, in a passion of adoration, bowed his great head to the ground in loving greeting.
The Master spoke: “Bamboo, Bamboo, I would use you.”
Bamboo flung his head to the sky in utter delight. The day of days had come, the day for which he had been made, the day to which he had been growing hour by hour, the day in which he would find his completion and his destiny.
His voice came low: “Master, I’m ready. Use me as you wish.”
“Bamboo,” The Master’s voice was grave “I would have to take you and cut you down!”
A trembling of great horror shook Bamboo…”Cut …me… down ? Me.. whom you, Master, has made the most beautiful in all thy Garden…cut me down! Ah, not that. Not that. Use me for the joy, use me for the glory, oh master, but do not cut me down!”
“Beloved Bamboo,” The Master’s voice grew graver still “If I do not cut you down, I cannot use you.”
The garden grew still. Wind held his breath. Bamboo slowly bent his proud and glorious head. There was a whisper: “Master, if you cannot use me other than to cut me down.. then do your will and cut”.
“Bamboo, beloved Bamboo, I would cut your leaves and branches from you also”.
“Master, spare me. Cut me down and lay my beauty in the dust; but would you also have to take from me my leaves and branches too?”
“Bamboo, if I do not cut them away, I cannot use you.”
The Sun hid his face. A listening butterfly glided fearfully away. And Bamboo shivered in terrible expectancy, whispering low: “Master, cut away”
“Bamboo, Bamboo, I would yet… split you in two and cut out your heart, for if I cut not so, I cannot use you.”
Then Bamboo bowed to the ground: “Master, Master… then cut and split.”
So did the Master of the garden took Bamboo…
and cut him down…
and hacked off his branches…
and stripped off his leaves…
and split him in two…
and cut out his heart.
And lifting him gently, the Master carried Bamboo to where there was a spring of fresh sparkling water in the midst of his dry fields. Then putting one end of the broken Bamboo in the spring and the other end into the water channel in the field, the Master gently laid down his beloved Bamboo… And the spring sang welcome, and the clear sparkling waters raced joyously down the channel of bamboo’s torn body into the waiting fields. Then the rice was planted, and the days went by, and the shoots grew and the harvest came.
In that day Bamboo, once so glorious in his stately beauty, was yet more glorious in his brokenness and humility. For in his beauty he was life abundant, but in his brokenness he became a channel of abundant life to his Master’s world.
Source: Author Unknown.
Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer and Mahatma Ghandi were three towering figures of the twentieth century.
Schweitzer was a brilliant German theologian and philosopher who felt the call of God to work as a missionary doctor in Africa. So to the highly esteemed professsor returned to his university as a student of medicine. Family and friends thought him crazy and tried to dissuade him. But Albert was true to God’s call. He entered medical school in 1905 and spent the next seven years studying, all with the goal of missionary service.
Albert and his wife, Helene, took the long journey to Africa. and set up a hospital in a remote region of Gabon. For the next four decades they treated patients, many walking hundreds of miles to receive help. Despite the remoteness of their location Schweitzer became a celebrated humanitarian and philosopher, so much so that he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize.
Ghandi of course was the non-violent activist who brought the British to their knees in India and secured independence for his people.
The third member of our trio was Albert Einstein, the greatest scientist of his time, perhaps of any time. Why does he belong here? It’s said that throughout his life Albert Einstein had two portraits on the wall of his home – the great scientists Newton and Maxwell. They were an inspiration, they summed up the drive of his life – science. Towards the end of his life Einstein took their pictures down and replaced them with two others – two great humanitarians, Gandhi and Albert Schweitzer. He explained that it was time to replace the image of success with the image of service.
Source: story of the pictures reported in Sheronna Price, The Pastoral Partner