My New Hero

I wrote yesterday about “a Good Friday kind of love”, that perhaps sacrificial love is the only love that can save the world. Today I share a story which to me is an example of living that kind of love…

My New Hero

Last year (2011), I wrote a meditation for Holy Saturday but never sent it out. It was about an attack on World Vision’s office in Afar Ethiopia, which happened just before Holy Week. My reflection was that in Afar we were in the in-between time: we knew about the bad news, but we didn’t yet know what good news (“gospel”) would come of it. I wrote, “This day, the day between Crucifixion Friday and Resurrection Sunday, is the ‘not yet’ day, the day when the worst had already happened, and no one knew the best that was about to happen.  The disciples thought it was over; they could not envision another chapter to a story they thought had already ended in tragedy. But the best was about to happen; God was using death to bring life in all its fullness.” I’d closed with this twist on Tony Campolo’s famous sermon: “In Afar, it’s Saturday; but Sunday’s comin’!”

But I didn’t send it out, partly because it seemed a bit glib and simplistic. I thought about posting it this year but, as I complained to Janet today, it’s a year later and there’s no Easter ending to the story yet.

Now Janet and I are in the side chapel at church, spending a reflective hour as part of the Good Friday prayer vigil. To start my prayer time, I decided to employ an ancient ritual for focusing the mind on God by “walking” along a handheld labyrinth with a stylus.  While traveling toward the center of the labyrinth, my mindset as usual was that of moving into God’s presence.  But then it shifted to a reminder of Christ’s arduous but willing journey up to Golgotha, the place of his ultimate suffering.  As you can imagine, my usual joy upon arriving at the center of the circle became a serious if not ominous experience.

Then my mind shifted again, to the suffering in Afar last year, and finally to something that happened only weeks ago, when I was in Afar myself once again. On this trip, I was blessed to bring along my 16-year-old granddaughter Emmy. She was an absolute delight and stole everyone’s heart, not least her proud grandpa’s.

This past weekend, Emmy and I reflected on our recent trip. I asked her: Who does she remember most when she thinks about Afar? I was expecting her to say the newborn baby she’d held in her arms, or the teen girls she met, or the students she addressed. Maybe even the camel she rode.

But she surprised me by answering, “I always remember Yared. He’s my new hero.” Yared was WV’s project manager in Afar, and one of several hosts for our group. When Emmy learned that Yared had been injured in last year’s attack on the World Vision office, she felt moved to write him a letter and give him the Valentine’s Day teddy bear that her mom had sneaked into my suitcase for her.

She prepared the letter and gift that night, and the next morning we had a lovely time at an Afari secondary school, interacting with the students in their classrooms. When we first arrived, we had walked the happy gauntlet of wall-to-wall students clapping and shaking our hands, hundreds lined up on either side of us.

After the morning visit, Emmy and I intentionally climbed into a vehicle alone with Yared so Emmy could give him her letter and gift. As he read her note, Yared wiped silent tears which streamed down his face. I gently asked if he would mind telling us about the attack. The story was dramatic and painful.

A rowdy mob of young people had attacked a high school teacher, and as the adrenalin-soaked herd headed into town, they passed the World Vision office, where they decided to wreak more havoc. They hit Yared on the head with bricks and left him and three other staff bleeding and semi-conscious inside the wrecked office.  The wounded were moved out of the area for treatment and recuperation over several months. Yared was then reassigned, to the regional office. He told us that, though he comes back to the Afar office and has had to give depositions in town, today was the first time he’d been back in the actual project communities.

He became very quiet, turning away toward the window and wiping his face profusely.  I flashed back to our high-energy time at the high school that morning.

“Were…any of your attackers at the school we just visited,” I asked sheepishly.

“Yes. There were several.” 

Did they do or say anything? Was any kind of remorse shown?

No, everyone just acted as though nothing had ever happened.

I didn’t need to ask him how he was feeling about this; he was doing his best to hide his face from us and furtively dry his tears.  I prayed for him instead.

We returned to the same school the next day for a second morning of “teaching” and, to my surprise and admiration, Yared came with us again, even knowing what he now knew; and he translated for us in the classroom, though other staff could have done so.

Today, pausing in the center of my handheld labyrinth, my heart went out to Yared and his colleagues as they continue in their slow healing process, and I decided to travel back out of the center “walking” in Yared’s shoes, walking out from the epicenter of his pain, down from his personal Calvary, taking the circuitous route one must follow out of the labyrinth, sweeping away from the midpoint, practically around in circles, back toward the now-unwelcome center, and finally, finally out…to freedom.

I told the story to Janet as we drove away from the prayer vigil, and I pondered that Yared was clearly still in pain; he hadn’t “arrived” or done anything outwardly “heroic”.  Then I thought again: but he came back to serve anyway.  And, every day at our early morning devotions in the desert, Yared was one of the most enlivened worshippers.

Now I saw where the analogy to Holy Saturday, that liminal space between the pain of Good Friday and the redeeming miracle of Easter Sunday, fits authentically.  The place where we still don’t actually know Sunday’s comin’, except by faith.

Yared is facing and walking through the pain from his own Friday; and while it’s Saturday he’s holding firmly onto faith in the God who redeems all things.

I think he’s my new hero, too.

April 2012

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