The Escape: Ten Years Later

This time a decade ago I was unsure if I would see Australia or those I love the most ever again.

It was April 2008. I was meant to be in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, for just over a week. Around 48 hours after arriving, I was back at the airport praying for the arrival of a plane to get us out of a city in chaos. Violent rioting and looting had taken over the streets.

The Global Financial Crisis of the time had created a Global Food Crisis. People in some of the world’s poorest countries could no longer afford even the most basic of foods.

I was in Haiti as part of my work for 98five Sonshine FM. I was one of four radio announcers invited by Compassion Australia to see their work first-hand. What we saw was the kind of desperation that grips people when they can’t put food on the family table.

A news report at the time described the scenes in Port-au-Prince.

The Haitian capital was paralysed by food riots yesterday as the United Nations gave warning that soaring food prices were spurring unrest around the world.

Rioters returned to the streets in Port-au-Prince a day after UN peacekeepers had to fire rubber bullets to prevent hungry Haitians from storming the presidential palace. Columns of smoke rose over the city as demonstrators, demanding that the Government take action over the rising price of foodstuffs such as rice, beans and oil, set fire to barricades made from tyres.

At least five people have been killed and more than 20 injured. Protesters compared the burning hunger in their stomachs to bleach or battery acid.The Times Online

The BBC reported the riots in a story titled, ‘Hungry mob attacks Haiti palace’.

Crowds of demonstrators in Haiti have tried to storm the presidential palace in the capital Port-au-Prince as protests continue over food prices.

Witnesses say the protesters used metal bins to try to smash down the palace gates before UN troops fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse them.

Several people are reported to have been injured in the clashes.

At least five people have been killed in Haiti since the unrest began last week in the southern city of Les Cayes.

The demonstrators outside the presidential palace said the rising cost of living in Haiti meant they were struggling to feed themselves.

“We are hungry,” they shouted before attempting to smash open the palace gates.

In recent months, it has become common among Haiti’s poor to use the expression “grangou klowox” or “eating bleach”, to describe the daily hunger pains people face, because of the burning feeling in their stomachs.BBC

After seeing just one Compassion project in action our team had to retreat to the relative safety of the local Compassion office. While watching panicked crowds running down the main road outside the office, the room we were in was showered with glass. A rock thrown from the streets below had smashed through the second story window where we had stood just moments before.

When the situation eventually reached a temporary calm we climbed into a couple of four-wheel drives and retreated to our hotel. The bustling streets we had travelled that morning now looked like a war zone. Businesses up and down the road had been attacked and looted. I remember noticing a service station that morning which was operating normally. Cars were filling up with petrol, people were going in and out of the attached shop. On the way back to the hotel that evening the same service station looked derelict. Not one piece of glass remained in place and every shelf in the shop had been completely stripped.

We were glad and relieved when we drove through the gates of the hotel. From there plans were made to fly us out the next day.

The Airport Journey

When the morning arrived we packed our luggage into the four-wheel drives to head towards the airport. We had no idea of the dramatic journey ahead.

As we began the drive we found that more and more roads had been barricaded and blocked. We had to take smaller and smaller side roads. Most seemed to be rocky, narrow, dirt tracks.

The further we went the more people seemed to be surrounding us. It was hard to tell if the crowds were just people wanting to go about their day to day business or if they were likely to attack our vehicles seeking food or money to purchase food. To make sense of what was happening we could only rely on those in our vehicles who spoke Haitian Creole and even then we only got some of the story. They were more than a little occupied with trying to navigate our way out and in keeping us all safe.

At one point an angry man with a steel bar seemed to be trying to incite the crowds against us. Just as the mood was heating up someone in the crowd pointed to the Compassion logo on the side of our vehicle and said something along the lines of, “They’re from Compassion. They help our children. Let them go.”

There was another incident when a man with a machete jumped onto the back of our vehicle. Thankfully, he jumped off almost as quickly.

We eventually passed that area but the ever-growing crowds made the trip very slow and we had to stop many times as people swarmed in front of our vehicles.

At one stage we came to a complete standstill. Edouard Lassegue, Compassion’s Vice President of the Latin America and Caribbean Regions was travelling with us. Originally from Haiti, Edouard got out of our vehicle to speak to people around about us to see if there was a way forward. He stayed in contact with the local Compassion staff in our vehicle via mobile phone as he wandered through the crowd. At one stage one of the men with us who had been speaking with Edouard just shook his head and said, “There’s no way out. There’s no way out.”

Thankfully Edouard did find someone willing to show us a way through. At that point, we didn’t know if the young man who had offered help could truly get us out or whether he had friends waiting for us and we were being led into a trap, but we couldn’t stay where we were.

Weapons of Mass Distraction

We moved very slowly down the narrow laneways. It seemed that if we’d opened the windows of our vehicles we could have reached out and touched the buildings on either side.

Eventually, we turned a corner to see a crew-cab ute or ‘pickup’ parked in the middle of the street ahead of us. There were several people standing on the rear tray of the vehicle, all heavily armed with automatic weapons. Thankfully, they were also wearing police vests.

Edouard once again stepped out of our vehicle and moved slowly toward the police with his arms high in the air to show he wasn’t armed. After hearing about our situation, the police gave us an armed escort the rest of the way to the airport.

Our troubles weren’t over at that point but we were safe. We then had to wait many hours for a flight out of Haiti.

Mixed Emotions

Finally, we boarded the plane which would take us back to Miami before a flight the next day to visit Compassion’s work in the Dominican Republic.

As we gathered speed along the runway I remember seeing smoke rising across Port-au-Prince.

I felt relieved that we were leaving, that we were safe, but at the same time, I knew that for millions of Haitians, there was no option to leave. They were still in the streets facing the reality of the daily battle to find food. They didn’t know when they might next be able to feed their families. Life in one of the world’s poorest nations was just getting tougher.

I knew at that point that I needed to tell and retell their story. We had been in danger for a short time. The people we had just left behind were still in danger without any way of escaping.

The children that were sponsored through Compassion would continue to receive care, and I was so thankful for that, but so many more needed help. I knew that I needed to tell more people about the opportunity to make a difference for those children and their families.

Those events of a decade ago convinced me that I would do whatever I could to partner with Compassion to see more children released from poverty in Jesus’ name. For a few years after that incident, I used my position working in radio to speak of Compassion’s work. Then late in 2013, I had the opportunity to work for Compassion, which is where I’ve now been for over four years.

There’s much more to be done in places like Haiti and the other countries where Compassion works.

Later this year I’ll be cycling 4,300 kilometres from one side of Australia to the other to raise money for Compassion’s Highly Vulnerable Children’s Fund. If you’d like to donate towards that fund just follow this link. Maybe you’d like to make an ongoing contribution by sponsoring a child. You can do that right now by following this link.

Ten years ago I escaped a dangerous situation but for millions of children around the world, the danger goes on. Please consider what you might do to change their world.

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What are you spending?

If I gave you a thousand dollars (I’m not going to but let’s pretend for a moment) what would you spend it on?

You might have something in mind and as soon as the cash passed from my hand to yours you’d be out the door, ready to spend. However, if you’re anything like me, you’d consider a few possibilities before deciding who you’d hand my hard earned money to in exchange for a product or service. Of course, a thousand dollars would only go so far and you certainly wouldn’t be able to spend that money more than once.

That all might seem fairly obvious and it’s the kind of thing we try to teach our children but do we apply the same kind of logic in other areas of our lives?

We try to teach children the skills of weighing up options and making the best decisions with money but what about with our time, emotions, thoughts and activities?

You want more?

Have you decided you want more of the good stuff in 2018? Have you made resolutions that involve enjoying more of the best that life can offer?

I spotted this image online a day or so ago. It was posted as a checklist of things that would make the new year better.

I appreciate the intent but once all those ‘more’ items are added to our daily lives, I begin to wonder what we might put on the ‘less’ list.

For most of us, our lives are already full so if we decide to spend more time on the things we think will make our lives better or more livable, common sense tells us we need to have a list of things we’ll subtract.

What are we prepared to let go so that we can enjoy more laughter, more long walks, more sleep and more road trips? If I want more music, books, and sunsets in 2018, what do I need to do to make room for them in my busy schedule? How do we balance the responsibilities of life with those things that make us feel more alive?

Maybe 2018 won’t be known so much as the year for ‘more’ but as the year for ‘less’. It’s not until we are spending less time on the things that occupy our minutes, hours, days, weeks, and months that we’ll be able to accommodate some of the ‘more’ that we seek.

Will it be less social media, less television, less time wasted in worry?

Check your spending habits.

How we spend our money says a lot about who we are and what we value. In the same way, how we spend our time is a clear indication of our true values. In both cases, we need to make very real choices.

If we simply keep adding all the extra ‘good stuff’ we’ll just end up burning ourselves out. We need to accept the fact that time, just like money, is finite. We don’t get to spend it more than once so we’d better work out a spending plan that brings the return we’re seeking.

We also need to realise that simply finding time to do more of the stuff we love won’t satisfy the bigger needs within. We need to ditch the frantic busyness of our lives and find time to connect with the one who gave us life in the first place.

There are times that we feel that the pace of life is a modern issue, and to some degree, the pace of life and what is expected of us does continue to increase, but there have been pressures and expectations from the beginning of time. Here’s what Jesus said to those who felt the pressures of life around 2000 years ago.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
– Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

Author Eugene Petersen has tried to capture the essence of those verses by paraphrasing them in the following way.

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
– Matthew 11:28-30 The Message

Rest for your souls.

That simple phrase, rest for your souls, causes me to slow down and exhale. It’s what we were designed to experience.

Even when we begin to spend our time well there can still be a kind of rest that we’re missing, rest for our souls. I wonder if 2018 might be the year you truly experience that kind of rest.

When Jesus brings us that kind of rest for our souls it touches every area of our lives and makes a difference in how we spend our time, our money, our emotions, and our thoughts.

Are you prepared to ignore the voices of frantic activity that call for your time so that you can more clearly hear the voice of the one who offers rest for your soul?

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The Light Shines in the Darkness

Sometimes, every fibre of your being tells you that the darkness has won. The darkness has snuffed out the light and there’s no way forward; no hope for the future.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

We’re just less than a week into a brand new year. Over the past week or two, many people have been looking back and looking ahead. A number of people I know have been saying that 2017 was an “annus horribilis” and for some others, not just a horrible year but the worst they’ve experienced. They have high hopes for 2018 because it can’t possibly be as bad as 2017. The personal trials that we face are very real. Shattered relationships, lost loved ones, sickness, depression and more can threaten to crush and swallow us.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

When we look a little wider we see unspeakable atrocities across the world. Innocent people slaughtered, children being trafficked for the perverse desires of others, natural disasters, wars, violence and more. While anyone who has the opportunity to read this is probably living relatively comfortably, there are millions of people living in extreme poverty. Most are wondering where they might find their next meal. The numbers of those who are refugees, internally displaced, or seeking asylum is in the millions. Our world seems to be beyond help. How can there possibly be a way back from this?

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

I’ve seen some of the world’s injustices first hand over the past few years. I’ve sat in the homes of the poor and heard their heartbreaking stories. The nature of my work means that I am constantly immersed in stories of people who are powerless to change their circumstances and who are at the mercy of others who take advantage of them in the lowest possible ways. Constantly hearing such stories has brought me to tears several times. This world can be such a dark place.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The good news is, no matter how bad things get, no matter how dark it gets, the darkness will not overcome. Yes, it will feel like the darkness has won and that there is no way to turn things around, but there’s something bigger going on.

It’s helpful to remind ourselves that the darkness is no surprise to God. He hasn’t been caught off guard. He is still in charge, and He is still sovereign. Even before time began, even before the darkness began to descend, God had a plan to shatter the darkness with light … light so powerful that it can never be put out. That light is God Himself in the person of Jesus.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:1-13

As you start this year, a year that will no doubt bring a mixture of joy and disappointment, remind yourself that no matter how dark it may seem to be, you don’t have to fight the darkness alone. In those moments look for the light that shines in the darkness. It may seem faint at times but it’s there.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

This is an updated post, first published in January 2016.

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Mid Year Stock Take

I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that time keeps slipping away at an ever increasing rate.

Today is the first day of the second half of 2017.

Here in Australia, the 1st of July marks the beginning of the new financial year. For businesses, it’s a time to draw a line under one year and to look ahead to what the new financial year will bring.

For all of us, being halfway through the calendar year means it’s a good time to look back before looking forward. It’s as good a time as any to reassess where our lives are heading and look at making adjustments or changes where needed.

Every day gives us an opportunity to start again but I think there can be something special about setting a new course on certain landmark days such us the start of a new year, the midpoint of the year, the start of a new financial year or on a birthday. There’s nothing magical about those days but we can use them as markers throughout the year that remind us of where we’re heading or perhaps where we should be heading.

What about you? Are you going to review the goals and resolutions you made at the start of the year?

Are you prepared to put the broken resolutions behind you and start again? I just love the fact that what has happened in the past doesn’t have to decide the direction of our future. While we can’t erase the past, we can deal with it and move forward.

When I look back over the first half of 2017 I see both triumphs and disappointments. I guess that’s what life is all about. It won’t always be smooth sailing but it’s how we deal with the tough times that helps us develop and grow into the people we will become, for better or for worse.

One of the things I’ve wanted to do this year is spend more time on my bike. I need a lot more kilometres in my legs over the next twelve or so months if I’m going to be ready to cycle across the country in September next year. (You can read more about that adventure in my post, Going the Distance.)

While I haven’t cycled as much as I would have liked, I have cycled a lot more than I did last year, so things are improving. Now I get to reasses, reset and move on with the plan to ride more.

There are always things in my private life, my family, my spiritual journey and my work that need reflection and readjustment.

If you’re interested in help towards a mid-year spiritual stock take, I recommend listening to a couple of messages that Rob Furlong preached recently. Check out The Springs of Life and Keeping the Springs Fresh.

How is 2017 looking for you? What adjustments will you make to ensure that you achieve at least some of your goals by the end of the year?

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Working on the Stuff We Love

It’s a weird concept but I’ve been thinking again recently about the self discipline we require to do the things we love.

We might imagine that we’ll just get on and do the stuff we love doing and that we only need to discipline ourselves to do the things that we don’t like to do; the things we have to anyway.

It takes real discipline and resolve for me to do any gardening and a bunch of other things that aren’t really my thing but what about the things I really enjoy doing?

Shouldn’t those things come easy to me?

Perth’s beautiful weather makes my city the perfect place for cycling. It’s one of my favourite passtimes yet if I don’t discipline myself to get out there on my bike I’ll miss out on something I love. It’s easy to sleep in on a Saturday morning instead of rising early to ride with my cycling friends but I know that if I put in the effort I’ll get greater benefits from cycling than I would from an extra hour in bed.

When I force myself into the habit of regular cycling I feel fitter and more energised, yet that discipline can slip away so easily. With a ride right across Australia on the horizon next year, I’d better get that discipline happening soon or I’ll miss out on my big adventure.

If I love reading so much why do I need to discipline myself to sit down with a book for an hour?

A week or two can often go past without me sitting down to soak in some words from the pages of a good book yet when I make the time to read I can easily get lost among the words and I thoroughly enjoy every moment of it. Sitting down with a coffee in one hand and a book in the other is one of the most satisfying things in the world yet I can waste my time on the trivial things of life rather than reading.

We need to work on our relationships.

Some relationships are easier than others, but we even need to put in a great deal of effort on our relationships with those we love.

Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well. ? Theodore Roosevelt

Do you find the same thing happening?

Are there things that you really love yet you find you have to discipline yourself to invest your time pursuing them?

I find the same thing with my faith. I’m never happier than when I feel that I’m in tune with the Creator yet I can let time slip through my fingers without making the effort to recharge my spiritual batteries.

The simple spiritual disciplines of prayer, reading the scriptures, reflecting and others that are absolutely life giving can be easily crowded out in our busy world.

Why do we let ourselves get robbed of the real stuff of life?

It’s somehow strange that we should have to exercise discipline and self-control to do the things that make us feel most alive but sadly it’s true. I guess that’s where priority setting comes into play.

What are you like at doing the things that you love? Are there things you love, things that truly energise you, that you have let slip away?

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