WHY ME, LORD?

We passed and nodded to each other as I exited the Bo Jangles restaurant, the WWII veteran who stormed Normandy on that longest day long ago. He’s gone now, laid to rest with so many of that greatest generation. He raised two sons here, one of whom helped start the Church I serve, and the other I met in Georgia, who connected me with that Church. I’ve had the privilege to know and be mentored by others, WWII and Korean War vets, men who lived a hundred lives in combat before mine ever began. Also, the Vietnam veterans I’ve come to know over the years, some of whom became dear friends.

Why me, Lord? Why was I born between the wars, after Korea, just before Nam? Why did I come of age after it ended, before I could be drafted? I think often of those men and those wars, as well as the men and women of the generation behind me, who’ve been fighting since 9-11, and though I honor them I am also thankful that I did not have to endure combat.

A photo from 2005 rests on the shelf in my office. I’m surrounded by Papuans, reading a Ketengban Bible. A mere thirty years prior they were still stone-age cannibals, living naked in the mountains, killing and being killed, scared of the spirits inhabiting every shadow.

Why me Lord? Why was I not born six thousand feet up the side of an equatorial mountain, child of spear-wielding cannibals? I think about my Ketengban friends, about how far they must travel, generation’s worth, before they will ever have anything like the life I’ve known.

I also think of Jackie, Randy, Doug, and others born ten years or more before me, who limp through life with great difficulty and never without a crutch, each afflicted with polio.

Why me Lord? Why was I born after the discovery of the polio vaccine and other such life-saving treatments?

I could go on and on, but I think you get my drift. I was born in the best country on earth, at the best time on earth, to some of the best people on earth, in one of the best climates on earth, in the most prosperous economy on earth, under the best health care system on earth, equipped with the best Bible scholarship on earth in order to have what I have and do what I do on earth. And so were most of you.

What are we to make of all of that? Only this: Give thanks for the providence of God and let it cause you to seek him and help others do the same.

From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.[1]

Happy Thanksgiving!

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version. 1984 (Ac 17:26–27). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

TO MAKE A GROWN MAN CRY

Bob Hughes stood on the porch on a sunlit November Saturday morning, looking out over the gathering of about fifty people who had come to celebrate, and choked up as he tried to finish the ceremony. The longtime director, and sole (part-time) employee of Tri-River Habitat for Humanity was reading off the names and organizations that helped build Tri-River’s fifteenth home in twenty years.

It wasn’t the names that brought the tears, just the gratitude. Bob knows better than most what a struggle, what a team effort it takes, and how many hurdles have to be crossed every time our small local chapter of this global ministry cuts the ribbon and hands over the keys to another harassed family. Permits, weather, coordinating volunteers, smoothing over misunderstandings, securing materials donations, following up endless details, and making sure that everyone gets properly recognized in the end is a process programmed to stretch the patience of Job. And though he will no doubt deflect this praise, Ole Bob, as he often calls himself, is better at it than most.

Bob’s aw-shucks, self-deprecating style and twinkle-eyed grin, combined with his white goatee, and somewhat Santa-Clause shape, make him easy to like. But underneath that cheerful, ever-encouraging demeanor is a truckload of smarts and quiet determination. The only thing Bob loves more than fishing the Outer Banks is seeing the words of Jesus fulfilled: “When you’ve done it unto the least of these, you’ve done it unto me.”  When it all comes together and a family of six can move in before Thanksgiving, well, that’s better than the icing on the celebratory sheet-cake. It’s enough to make a grown man cry.

I served with Bob and a half-dozen others of Halifax’s finest in his first few years with Habitat. We are blessed to have citizens like him and all the others who serve the boards of our volunteer organizations. As we enter the Thanksgiving season, let’s take a few moments not only to give thanks for their leadership, but to consider how we might follow in their footsteps.