In the last hours of his Presidency, Bill Clinton created quite a bit of uproar. He did what all outgoing Presidents of the United States do – he issued pardons to scores of Americans convicted of felonies. He was actually exercising a unique power granted to the President by the Constitution – to release a person from the legal penalties for a crime that they have committed. In the case of the Clinton pardons, there were a few that evoked reactions that ranged from surprise to shock to even anger – people who seemingly did not deserve a pardon. Whatever the merits or mistakes of those particular actions, all of us were reminded of a power we sometimes forget the President has – he can confer mercy far beyond what a person may deserve – in the form of that beautiful six-letter word – pardon.
After the Gulf War in 1991, hundreds of thousands of Kurdish people fled Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. They made it to a mountainside just inside the Turkish border where they set up a refugee camp with little or no food, medical help, or sanitation. Christian agencies, of course, felt the urgency of people who were dying there every day, so they rose to the occasion, and they came in with a flood of emergency help and supplies. Many Christian representatives were there – but missionaries from one agency reportedly experienced a unique receptivity to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. While many Christian representatives worked from truck and distribution points, handing out food and blankets, the Operation Mobilization missionaries succeeded in getting unusually close to the people…because of the garbage. Mountains of trash just rapidly overtook that camp – dirty, smelly garbage that no one wanted to touch. But these missionaries plunged into picking up that repulsive trash. And the ones who were willing to pick up the garbage were the ones who found many people willing to hear about their Jesus.
Usually when someone has received a death sentence for their crimes, you can count on it years of legal appeals to try to stay alive. That's what makes the true story of a prisoner named George Wilson so amazing. He was convicted of killing a Federal guard during a robbery. But public sentiment at that time was so strong against capital punishment that he eventually received a full pardon from the President of the United States. But, unbelievably, when the pardon was brought to him in his prison cell, he refused it! The Supreme Court was actually called upon to decide how this very strange case should be handled. And they ruled that a pardon is a piece of paper whose only value must be determined by the one receiving the pardon. George Wilson died for what he had done - because he refused to accept his pardon.
I must confess, I never thought I'd live to see the day when it would happened, but it did - and the whole world saw it. It was that awful wall in Berlin that was there for so long, where so many East Berliners died trying to escape to freedom in West Berlin. No one tried to escape to Communist East Berlin. The Communists erected that ugly wall to keep their people in, covered it with barbed wire, and guarded it with vicious dogs and vicious guards. Most folks, I believe, thought that wall would always be there. But almost overnight, in those dramatic days in 1989, (you can probably picture it in your own mind), the people were allowed to demolish that wall. It was one of the most dramatic moments of the 20th Century. And in the streets of Berlin, 100,000 people chanted four words over and over again - "The wall is gone! The wall is gone!"
When we secured land to build our Ministry Headquarters, we barely noticed the barn that was standing on that land - until God blessed us with some truckloads of donated materials - which needed a place to be stored. Suddenly, we were taking a second look at this old pole barn filled with hay. The center was the only part that had walls - walls with rotting wood. The east and west sides of the barn had no walls, just some rotting old poles holding up a makeshift roof. We asked a contractor friend if there was any hope for the barn - especially since some folks had said to just bulldoze it. The contractor said the rafters and foundation were good enough that something might be able to be done.
If you've been to Disneyland or Disney World with children, they made sure you got on this cute little ride called "Small World." It's this little boat that takes you on a trip down this winding little canal where these precious little dolls sing to you. They're dressed like children from all over the world, and they're singing this little song to you - "It's a small world after all." And it's cute - for a while. The problem is they keep singing it to you, around every bend, from every side. By the end of that ride, you are sick of a small, small world!
There was no warning. All the power just suddenly went out in this building where we have our offices. No thunder, no lightning, no wind - just a sudden shutdown of our computers, our phones, our heat, all our power. In an instant, our building was dead. And it stayed dead for two full days making for some interesting opportunities to be resourceful, flexible, adaptable, inefficient! Our offices are in a pretty old building. And when they dug into the cause of the shutdown, they found that some antique electric part in the building had finally just died. Now, since this part was apparently original equipment - probably from sometime around the Revolutionary War - it was impossible to find another part like it. They don't make them anymore! So we're talking some creative electrical work here! Those old connections just couldn't deliver what is needed for today's demands!
The truck driver just drove up and dumped it in my driveway, but I was very happy to see it. It was my cord of wood - a winter of warm fires in our fireplace! See, we had ordered it during a special sale, which others apparently took advantage of big time. The driver told me some people had ordered five cords of wood. When I asked why, he said, "It's for their wood stoves. They're depending on it to keep their house warm this winter!" No wonder they ordered a lot of wood for the winter. And when they run out of fuel, they run out of fire. When they run out of fire, it gets very cold.
If you want to make friends fast at an airport sometime, stand there with a big "welcome home" banner. Recently, we were contacted by a young woman who has been a part of our Native American work in the past - and who is going through a time of severe struggle right now. She really wants to turn things around and asked us if she could come and spend some recovery time with our Team in New Jersey. We had been praying for her, so we were wide open to her coming. Well, we scrambled to find a way to get an airplane ticket for her - and then decided to try and let her know we still think she's special - with a special airport welcome. We got some colorful helium balloons and a bright welcome home banner - and five of us stationed ourselves at the end of the concourse she was scheduled to come in on. It was really funny to watch the reactions of the pretty expressionless arriving passengers - they laughed, they waved, they thanked us as if this welcome party was for them. It was fun - until we saw the last flight attendant coming down the concourse with no other passengers coming behind her. The person we had come to welcome - never came.
If you don't know how to swim, it's just not cool to let your friends know it - and it's just not smart not to. Especially if you're going into the lake with them to swim. This is not theory we're talking here. It's history - my history. The scene was Lake Michigan. The ten-year-old who couldn't swim was me. And I was too proud to tell my friends. Suddenly, as I waded deeper and deeper, I lost my footing, and I began drinking the lake. My friends thought it was funny. They just laughed and said, "Look at Ronnie. He's such a clown!" I was dying. I had gone under for the second time - and I can almost feel the terror of that moment even now as I'm telling you about it. Now obviously something happened or I wouldn't have lived to tell you about it. I was helpless. I couldn't contribute a thing to my getting back to shore. Thankfully, someone came who could. And that rescuer did it all.