The lady in the airplane seat next to me was from Norway. And I knew she had experienced something I needed to know about - winter months with very long nights and summer months with very long days. With our Native American team planning major summer outreach among Native young people in Alaska, I was especially interested in what our days would be like up there. My neighbor from Norway made the answer very clear - they would be endless! She said that even after all the years living there, she never can sleep much in those northern days where there is virtually no dark. I thought, "O-o-o, it should be a lot of fun getting our team to sleep at night, when there is no night." But then I was curious to know about those December days when we have only about nine hours or so of daylight. She told me about a time when it was, in her words, "almost always dark," where she lives. It's hard for me to imagine weeks where you basically never see the light of the sun. It's not hard for me to imagine the way my Norwegian neighbor said many people feel during that time - really depressed.
My dad had taken me on all kinds of rides at Riverview Amusement Park that day - but he wanted to take me on their biggest roller coaster, "The Bobs." I did not share his excitement. I'd seen the commercials with people screaming in terror as they were catapulted through space on those murderous ups and downs. But I gave in. As we were subjected to those heart-stopping heights and drops, Dad tried to talk to me. I didn't scream, I didn't cry - I didn't do anything. I was frozen. No sounds, no expression, no signs of life.
Little Eddie's daddy had agreed to play hide-and-seek with him. So while Eddie counted, Daddy hid. Then Eddie opened his eyes and started the search. Behind the curtains in the living room and the dining room. No daddy. Under the dining room table, the kitchen table, in the kitchen closet. No daddy. Which meant Eddie was going to have to look upstairs. Unfortunately, his father was nowhere in the bathroom or either bedroom. Which left only one place to look - the big closet - which had a light switch Eddie couldn't reach. With his heart beating a mile a minute, Eddie opened the closet door and stared into pitch-blackness. He felt to the left. No daddy. He felt to the right - R-R-R-R-R-R-R! It had to be a big bear! Eddie ran as fast as his little legs could go down the hall - R-R-R-R-R! The bear was chasing him! Down the stairs, through the living room, the dining room, into the kitchen, to the back door. R-R-R-R-R! He couldn't look back, but the bear was right behind him! And the kitchen door was locked! Suddenly the bear reached out and grabbed Eddie - and hugged him. It wasn't a bear trying to hurt him, it was a Daddy trying to hug him!
Our daughter's all grown up and a mother herself now. But she still remembers the day she got lost at the grocery store - and all the feelings that went with it. She was four - her baby brother was in the grocery cart - she was walking ahead of us as we browsed the aisles for our next meals. Somehow, she got way out ahead of us and into another aisle. She kept walking until suddenly she realized that her parents were nowhere around. She remembers it as one of the traumatic moments of her young life - she said, "The aisle was so long, the shelves were so high, and I felt so alone."
It's a true story, courtesy of Ida Mae Kempel. The names have been changed. Jeremy was 12 years old but he was only in the second grade, seemingly unable to learn. His body was twisted, his mind was slow, and his teacher, Doris Miller, often became exasperated with his squirming and his grunting noises. But at other times, he spoke pretty clearly and distinctly, as if a spot of light had penetrated the darkness in his brain. No one could have guessed that Jeremy would end up teaching his whole class - and his teacher.
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.