One small voice can start a revolution

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

The Greatest Forger

It was perhaps the greatest hoax in art history. Han van Meegeren was an artist with a grudge. Painting in the Netherlands pre World War 2, critics mercilessly panned his exhibitions. One critic described him as “A gifted technician who has made a sort of composite facsimile of the Renaissance school, he has every virtue except originality.” Stung, van Meegreen decided to strike back. He painted a work with flourishes of the style of the great Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, titled it “The Supper at Emmaus”, and submitted it to the prominent critic Abraham Bredius. Bredius took the bait, writing that “It is a wonderful moment in the life of a lover of art when he finds himself suddenly confronted with a hitherto unknown painting by a great master… And what a picture! We have here a – I am inclined to say the – masterpiece of Johannes Vermeer of Delft.”  The art world gasped, the painting was sold for the equivalent of millions of dollars, and displayed in  the Boijmans Gallery in Rotterda.

Han van Meegren planned to expose the forgery at the opening of the Gallery’s 400 Years of European Art exhibition, in which his forgery was given pride of place. His critics would be humiliated and their reputations shattered. Greed, however, got the better of him. Rather than exposing the forgery, he made more, raking in millions more dollars. When the Nazis swept through Europe, he even managed to sell The Supper at Emmaus to them.

This almost proved his undoing.After the war the victorious Allied forces were determined to return the artworks collected by the Nazis to their previous owners. A receipy led two soldiers from the Allied Art Commission to the studio of vm Meegren. They wanted to know from whom van Meegran had bought the artwork. Unwilling to divulge the truth, van Megreen was arrested on charges of treason and faced the death penalty. Confined in prison, facing death, van Megreen had a change of heart. He confessed, but no-one believed him. Experts testified that the work was indeed an original by the Dutch master Vermeer. The only way to prove his innocence was to produce another fake, anfd so he did, spending weeks literally painting for his life!

The final twist to the story is that van Meegren was not only acquitted, but became a national hero, for he had fooled the Nazis, shown them to be the corrupt regime everyone knew they were.

Source: information found in “The forger who fooled the world” The Telegraph, Aug 5, 2006
 

Yuri Gagarin

Yuri Gagarin is famous as the first man to fly in space. After the end of the Cold War some of Russia’s cosmonauts revealed the pressures under which he operated. Gagarin’s rocketship was armed with an explosive charge which could be detonated by radio signal. The Russians wanted to ensure Gagarin wouldn’t defect by re entering earth’s atmosphere anywhere but over Soviet territory. So the explosives were rigged. The charges could only be disarmed and the rocket’s re-entry system activated by entering a six digit code into the onboard system. Gagarin was given the first three numbers. The last three were to be transmitted to him just before his retrorockets were to fire.

But where the Soviet government didn’t trust it’s cosmonauts, the head of their space program, Chief Designer Korolev did. Just before the rocket was launched Korolev pulled Gagrin aside and told him the last three numbers. Korolev had faith in Gagrin, a faith for which he was prepared to lay his job and his future on the line by whispering those secret numbers. And Gagarin didn’t let him down.

Source: based on an article in Popular Science, July 1999.

Yours Sincerely

When we write letters we commonly end them with “Yours sincerely”. Have you ever wondered why you do this? The practice has its origins in ancient Rome. Roman sculptors often concealed cracks in apparently flawless marble statues with melted beeswax. When the wax dried and crumbled, the angry purchaser sought compensation. Reputable sculptors guaranteed their work as sine sera, which means ‘without wax’. Hence ‘Yours sincerely’. Likewise, we are called to be people of integrity whose words are true.

Source: reported in Talkback Trash and Treasure

Wilbur Wright

Wilbur and Orville Wright are well known for carrying out the first every successful air flight, at Kittyhawk in 1903. They came from a close family, even though their father, a bishop in United Brethren Church, was initially skeptical about their venture. Wilbur died at the age of 45. His father left a record of this tragic event in his diary. It reads:

May 30, 1912
This morning at 3:15, Wilbur passed away, aged 45 years, 1 month, and 14 days. A short life, full of consequences. An unfailing intellect, imperturbable temper, great self-reliance and as great modesty, seeing the right clearly, pursuing it steadily, he lived and died.

For Wilbur’s father it was not making the first successful air flight that made Wilbur great, but his fine character.

Source: Diary entry found at wam.umd.edu/~stwright/WrBr/Wrights.html

Where True Strength Lies

We’re accustomed to thinking of the strength as opposite to gentleness, softness and tenderness. Yet this is not always true. During World War 1 British fighter pilots made an amazing discovery, that thick layers of silk stopped low velocity shrapnel better than steel. So they wound the silk around their heads and then wore leather horse riding helmets on top of the silk.

Scientists still aren’t sure just what it is that gives silk its strength, but it’s true, that in certain situations soft, gentle, tender silk can prove far stronger than cold, hard steel.

Jesus showed us the same holds true for human character. Some people try to make themselves impenetrable to the people around them. Jesus showed us that gentleness, a heart that’s soft toward others, and tenderness are in fact qualities of great strength!

Source: Scientific info from Dr Karl Kruszelnicki’s New Moments in Science #1

The Emperor's Seeds

Once there was an emperor in the Far East who was growing old and knew it was coming time to choose his successor. Instead of choosing one of his assistants or one of his own children, he decided to do something different.

He called all the young people in the kingdom together one day. He said, “It has come time for me to step down and to choose the next emperor. I have decided to choose one of you.” The kids were shocked! But the emperor continued. “I am going to give each one of you a seed today. One seed. It is a very special seed. I want you to go home, plant the seed, water it and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from this one seed. I will then judge the plants that you bring to me, and the one I choose will be the next emperor of the kingdom!”

There was one boy named Ling who was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly told his mother the whole story. She helped him get a pot and some planting soil, and he planted the seed and watered it carefully. Every day he would water it and watch to see if it had grown.

After about three weeks, some of the other youths began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Ling kept going home and checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by. Still nothing.

By now others were talking about their plants but Ling didn’t have a plant, and he felt like a failure. Six months went by, still nothing in Ling’s pot. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Ling didn’t say anything to his friends, however. He just kept waiting for his seed to grow.

A year finally went by and all the youths of the kingdom brought their plants to the emperor for inspection. Ling told his mother that he wasn’t going to take an empty pot. But she encouraged him to go, and to take his pot, and to be honest about what happened. Ling felt sick to his stomach, but he knew his mother was right. He took his empty pot to the palace.

When Ling arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by all the other youths. They were beautiful, in all shapes and sizes. Ling put his empty pot on the floor and many of the other kinds laughed at him. A few felt sorry for him and just said, “Hey nice try.”

When the emperor arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted the young people. Ling just tried to hide in the back. “My, what great plants, trees and flowers you have grown,” said the emperor. “Today, one of you will be appointed the next emperor!”

All of a sudden, the emperor spotted Ling at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered his guards to bring him to the front. Ling was terrified. “The emperor knows I’m a failure! Maybe he will have me killed!”

When Ling got to the front, the Emperor asked his name. “My name is Ling,” he replied. All the kids were laughing and making fun of him. The emperor asked everyone to quiet down. He looked at Ling, and then announced to the crowd, “Behold your new emperor! His name is Ling!” Ling couldn’t believe it. Ling couldn’t even grow his seed. How could he be the new emperor?

Then the emperor said, “One year ago today, I gave everyone here a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds which would not grow. All of you, except Ling, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seed would not grown, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Ling was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new emperor!”

Source: reported in More Hot Illustrations for Youth Talks (Zondervan, 1995)

Maggot Therapy

One of the things most of us find stomach churning and revolting is the maggot. Finding them in your garbage bin is enough to make you puke, but imagine finding them on your body! In 1982 an orthopaedic surgeon by the name of John Church was asked to treat someone who had been in a car accident and lain unconscious for three days in a ditch at the side of the road. The victim had deep cuts to his face and body, and those wounds were crawling with massive infestations of maggots.

But here’s the amazing thing. When John Church peeled away those maggots to examine his patient he was astonished to discover that the wounds were so clean they had already begun to heal! In fact, this discovery led to a revival of the practise of maggot therapy.

You see as revolting as they may be, maggots can be agents of healing. Put them on a wound and they’ll eat up the diseased flesh but leave the healthy flesh alone. The bacteria they don’t eat they kill with a chemical they excrete. And to top it off when they crawl all over your wound they provide the healthy flesh with a gentle and therapeutic massage.

In fact, doctors have discovered that in many cases maggots are more effective than antibiotics!

Sometimes the circumstances in our life function like maggots. They may be very unpleasant, but they can also be healing. We speak of them as “character forming”. They cause us to identify what’s important in life, to develop endurance and perseverance, to depend more on God and others. And in doing so they eating away the rotting parts of our character and leaving behind healthy parts.

Source: Scientific information from Karl Kruszelnicki’s New Moments in Science #3.

In the Silence Hearing the World Cry

Chaim Potok’s book Chosen tells the story of Danny Saunders, the son of a strict Hasidic Jew. For many years Danny’s father, though very human, never speaks to Danny, except when teaching him out of the Talmud. One day the mystery is revealed. Rabbi Saunders explains that God has blessed him with a brilliant son, a boy with a mind like a jewel. When Danny was 4 years old his father saw him reading a book and was frightened. The book described the suffering of a poor Jew, yet Danny enjoyed it!

“There was no soul in my 4-year-old Daniel, there was only a mind”

The rabbi cried to God “What have you done to me? A mind like this I need for a son? A heart I need for a son, a soul I need for a son, compassion…righteousness, strength to suffer and carry pain…”

So Rabbi Saunders followed an ancient Hasidic tradition and brought the boy up in silence, for then “in the silence between us he began to hear the world crying.”

Source:  J. Stott, The Contemporary Christian pp119-120

A Good Citizen?

Jim Langstaff was a Canadian doctor who practised in the early 20th century. He was known for his extraordinary commitment to the welfare of his patients. For example, upon learning a woman who lived on an isolated farm was about to have a baby and needed medical help immediately Dr Langstaff set off. It was a bitterly cold winter’s day and the roads had become unusable. Undeterred Dr Langstaff strapped on his skis and continued. Snowdrifts on the road made skiing difficult so he took to the fields beside the road. At one point he tripped over a fence and became badly tangled in the wire. He freed himself, continue don to the farm house, delivered the baby and, once the weather had cleared, returned to his car.

People who knew Dr Langstaff say that sort of dedication was typical of the good doctor. It came from a sense of place in the world instilled into him by his father. One day Dr Langstaff’s son Walter came to his father and said “Dad, I got 99% in mathematics on my report card.” His father responded, “That’s great, but are you being a good citizen.”

Decades later the words still challenged Walter. “I have remembered that remark for the last 45 years” he said. “Was I being a good citizen?”